Warring Communities Separated By Wall

B A T  H E F E R, Israel, June 6, 2002 -- Avner and Meirav Bancover say their lives are free from terrorism because of a wall built around their small community, Bat Hefer.

The wall is a mile-long slab of concrete that stands as a barrier between them and the Palestinian city of Tulkarm, located about a mile away. "I feel that I'm surrounded by something," said Meirave Bancover, "that no one can come in and hurt me and my children."

The wall was constructed in 1994 as the Oslo Accords were being negotiated. Community leaders feared that if negotiations went awry, they might become the target of Palestinian backlash. When gunfire broke out from the direction of Tulkarm at the beginning of the second Intifada, the wall was extended and raised at the cost of $2 million.

While the community of Bat Hefer may be considered a pioneer in separation, the idea has been catching on among other Israeli communities. Many say they would like to see the wall extended all along the 200-mile border of the West Bank.

And it appears that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government is planning on doing just that. Sharon's cabinet recently approved a plan to seal off inner Jerusalem from the territories. The plan will not be implemented for a few more months, but government officials say it would entail building walls, fences, ditches and anything else necessary to create a so-called buffer zone between Israelis and Palestinians.

Complete Division Impossible, Undesirable for Some

Supporters of the concept point out that the Gaza Strip, which is already fenced off from Israel, produces few successful suicide bombers. Palestinians say walls and fences will never totally prevent militants from infiltrating Israel.

"As long as Palestinians have no peace and no rights… Israelis will have no security," said Mahmoud Jallad, the mayor of Tulkarm. A wall along the entire West Bank would create significant hardship in the lives of many Palestinians. Tens of thousands employed in Israel would probably lose their jobs. Families with ties to both sides, such as Israeli-Arabs, would potentially be separated.

However, those concerns don't move many Israelis. The Bancovers believe it is the best solution for now. "I don't want to see them," said Meirave. "I think they should be in their place and we have our place. We can't live together right now. It's not good for us."

So while Israelis used to dream of co-existence, now they're willing to settle for peace behind concrete walls.