July 7, 2008 / 10:25 PM / in 11 years

Palestinians say Israel's barrier "stealing" land

BILIN, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian farmer Suleiman Hussein peers through the electrified barbed wire fence that snakes around three sides of his home and points to the olive trees he once tended.

A Palestinian youth throws a stone towards Israeli troops near the West Bank village of Nilin July 7, 2008. REUTERS/Fadi Arouri

“It makes me feel sick,” he mutters, retreating as a bulldozer rumbles past on the other side of Israel’s West Bank barrier, about 25 meters (yards) from Hussein’s home near the village of Bilin, its driver checking for holes or tunnels.

On July 9, 2004, the World Court in The Hague ruled that Israel’s construction of its proposed 720-km (430-mile) barrier on occupied Palestinian land was illegal.

The United Nations says Israel has ignored that ruling. So does Hussein.

Israel began building the section of the barricade that virtually encircles his modest concrete home, separating it from his family farmland, three and a half years ago, he says.

It has not been moved, despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling last September that part of it should be re-routed to circumvent agricultural land belonging to residents of Bilin, which lies about 25 km (15 miles) east of Tel Aviv.

Israel argues the barrier, a mix of wire fence and concrete walls, keeps suicide bombers out of its cities. “This fence saves lives,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said.

Palestinians call it a land grab which loops around Jewish settlements and slices through swathes of Palestinian farmland.

At Bilin, it curves 3 km (2 miles) inside the Green Line, established by a 1949 ceasefire, which divides Israel and the West Bank — it does so to ensure Jewish settlements, including Modiin Illit, lie on the Israeli side of the barrier.

“This is not about a wall, it’s about land,” said Hussein, 76, angrily jabbing his finger toward the barrier. “They say it’s about security, but are my olives and goats really a security threat? They just want to steal our land.”

PROTESTS

Israeli security forces and protesters, including left-wing Israelis and pro-Palestinian activists from abroad, square off in weekly confrontations in Bilin. Demonstrators hurl rocks and soldiers fire tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.

Last week, clashes erupted outside Hussein’s house. A pile of tear gas canisters lay in his garden and the soil was black where soldiers razed several trees.

“Gas bomb,” says his granddaughter Mayadah, a toddler, pointing at one. Who fired it? “Army”, she replies.

Protesters have in recent months taken their fight to the nearby town of Nilin, hoping to disrupt construction of another section of the barrier. The army has kept the town under curfew for four days since those protests turned violent.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hopes the West Bank will form the main part of a future state. But activists say the barrier and dozens of fortified Jewish settlements are carving it into scattered “bantustans”, like areas set aside for blacks in apartheid South Africa, and undermining hopes for peace.

“What we are seeing on the ground is ghettos for the Palestinian people,” said Jamal Juma, campaign coordinator for the Stop the Wall group. “They are making peace impossible.”

Additional reporting by Hamuda Hassan; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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