IN PHOTOS: Two Decades of Israel's Separation Barrier

Eighty-five percent of the barrier, which Israel began building during the Second Intifada, snakes beyond the green line and carves off nearly 10 percent of West Bank territory

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Palestinians cross into Israel from the West Bank through an opening in the Israeli separation barrier, February.
Palestinians cross into Israel from the West Bank through an opening in the Israeli separation barrier, February.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Twenty years after Israel decided to build its controversial separation barrier, the network of walls, fences and closed military roads remains in place, even as any partition of the land appears more remote than ever.

A vendor sells goods to Palestinian laborers as they cross from Israel back to the West Bank at the end of working day, next to a section of Israel's separation barrier in Meitar crossing in the West Bank, March.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Israel is actively encouraging its Jewish citizens to settle on both sides of the barrier as it builds and expands settlements deep inside the occupied West Bank, more than a decade after the collapse of any serious peace talks.

Palestinians living under decades of military occupation, meanwhile, clamor for work permits inside Israel, where wages are higher. Some 100,000 Palestinians legally cross through military checkpoints, mainly to work in construction, manufacturing and agriculture.

Palestinians walk by a section of the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank village of Abu Dis in the outskirts of Jerusalem, January.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Israel decided to build the barrier in June 2002, at the height of the second intifada, or uprising, when Palestinians carried out scores of suicide bombings and other attacks that killed Israeli civilians.

Authorities said the barrier was designed to prevent attackers from crossing into Israel from the West Bank and was never intended to be a permanent border.

Jewish settlers who live in the Rachel's Tomb compound enjoy their playground located next to a section of Israel's concrete barrier, separating them from the West Bank city of Bethlehem in the background, March.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Eighty-five percent of the still-unfinished barrier is inside the West Bank, carving off nearly 10 percent of its territory. The Palestinians view it as an illegal land grab and the International Court of Justice in 2004 said the barrier was “contrary to international law.”

The United Nations estimates that some 150 Palestinian communities have farmland inside the West Bank but west of the barrier. Some 11,000 Palestinians live in this so-called Seam Zone, requiring Israeli permits just to stay in their homes.

Palestinian man crosses into Israel from the West Bank through an opening in the Israeli separation barrier near Meitar crossing south of West Bank, March.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

The UN also estimates that about 65 percent of the roughly 710-kilometer (450-mile) structure has been completed.

The security benefits of the barrier have long been subject to debate and while the number of attacks has fallen sharply, other factors may be at play.

Palestinian women wait to cross the Qalandia checkpoint on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, April.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
Workers rebuild a section of Israel's separation barrier after a part of it collapsed, between Jerusalem and the West Bank village of Al-Ram, February.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

The intifada began winding down in 2005, after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died and was replaced by President Mahmoud Abbas, who is opposed to armed struggle. Most leading militants were captured or killed, and under Abbas, the Palestinian Authority cooperates with Israel on security matters. Israeli troops regularly operate in all parts of the West Bank, and Israel often announces that it has thwarted attacks before the assailants ever left the territory.

Earlier this year, during a renewed wave of violence, Israeli media reported that authorities have long ignored gaps in the barrier because they are used by Palestinian laborers. Those are now being closed, but the barrier is not expected to be completed anytime soon.

The West Bank city of Bethlehem behind a section of Israel's separation barrier is seen from Jerusalem, March.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Last week, Israel began construction on a new barrier, some 45 kilometers (almost 30 miles) long in the northern West Bank, to replace a security fence built two decades ago. It says the new barrier will be 9 meters (30 feet) high — more than twice as high as the Berlin Wall.

Concrete walls that high can already be seen snaking through Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other urban areas. Near a main Israeli highway, the barrier is concealed behind dirt embankments planted with trees and flowers. In other rural areas, it consists of barbed wire fences with surveillance cameras and closed military roads.

Ultra Orthodox Jews wait for transportation next to the concrete separation barrier built by Israel to secure the Rachel's Tomb Judaism's third holiest shrine, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, March.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.

In Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the Hamas militant group seized power from Abbas' forces in 2007, Israel recently completed a high-tech barrier that runs along the 1967 boundary.

Palestinians cross into Israel from the West Bank through an opening in the Israeli separation barrier between the West Bank town of Qalqilya and the Israeli Kibbutz Eyal, February.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
Strawberries are offered for sale on a section of Israel's concrete separation barrier at the West Bank city of Qalqilya, March. Arabic on the wall reads "Palestine is all ours, water and salt."Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized by the international community, and it views the entire city as its capital. But towering concrete walls cut off dense Palestinian neighborhoods that are within the Israeli-drawn municipal boundaries and have largely severed the city from the occupied West Bank.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has limited autonomy in major population centers, but Israel retains total control over 60 percent of the territory. There it has built more than 130 settlements that are home to nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers. Many live on the other side of the barrier but have access to a rapidly growing highway system linking the settlements to Israeli cities.

Palestinian women sit on a section of Israel's concrete separation barrier next to a small market at the West Bank city of Qalqilya, March.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

With any peace process effectively frozen, the government has instead pursued what it refers to as goodwill gestures — mainly the issuing of more permits so Palestinians can enter through checkpoints and work inside Israel.

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