A Wall Runs Through It

Sometimes you read certain things that make you want to rub your eyes, to ensure that what you are seeing is really there, and in the minutes of the Knesset plenum for that matter. Among them is the reply of Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai to a question by MK Uri Ariel of the National Union. Ariel wanted to know the reason for the delay in the opening of Jerusalem's eastern ring road, which is of course located in the West Bank. Vilnai replied in detail:

"Highway 45, the eastern ring road between Anatot and A-Zayim, was built with a confiscation order, before becoming part of the security fence route in the Jerusalem envelope. The road is divided in the middle by a wall, in order to separate Israeli and Palestinian traffic. The highway can be operated only when there is both Israeli and Palestinian traffic. This solution was also proposed by the security establishment in the Civil Administration's committee for highways and during the process of land confiscation.

The National Roads Authority has completed only the Israeli side. The National Roads Authority must complete the highway on the Palestinian side in order to allow traffic, at this stage, to the villages of Anata, Hizma and A-Zayim.

When the highway is completed on the Palestinian side, the defense establishment will be required to complete the security components of the crossing next to Metzudat Adumim, in order to examine the question of how to enter Jerusalem. It will furthermore have to complete an electronic and fibreoptic fence and on the wall separating the two sides, so that the obstacle will be operational. Then the highway can be opened to traffic, subject to the transfer of the required budgets."

Is it possible that Israel is really planning to build a road on the border of Jerusalem that is half-Israeli and half-Palestinian, with a wall in the middle? No, it is not just planning to do so. The truth is that the highway with the wall in the middle is already in an advanced stage of construction. Last Friday, attorney Danny Seidman of the Ir Amim association took me to see the Defense Ministry's latest innovation: a binational highway with an ethnic divider.

In the beginning, the highway had been part of Jerusalem's ring road - in other words, part of the plan to ease traffic congestion in the city. But its designation was changed in the wake of the intifada and it became an integral part of the separation system. This highway ensures that no car that deviates from its lane will cross the separation fence, which rises to a height of about five meters.

The barrier's concrete is designed in a style imitating Jerusalem stone, another aesthetic innovation. And this gives rise to the question of whether it is possible that nobody in the defense establishment understood that when something is planned like apartheid, constructed like apartheid and looks like apartheid - the entire world will conclude that it is apartheid.

Is the purpose of this highway entirely defensive? Ir Amim claims it was built for diametrically opposed reasons: to enable the construction of the new neighborhood of Ma'aleh Adumim in the area of E1. And exactly how will the highway enable this? Area E1 completes a Jewish ring around Jerusalem and interrupts Palestinian contiguity between the north and south of the West Bank. Seidman explains that Highway 45 realized E1's commitment by imposing a 16-meter-wide transportation contiguity. The Israeli highway will connect the settlements of Mateh Binyamin with Jerusalem, and there will be interchanges all along it. The Palestinian highway will allow for traffic from the north (Ramallah) to the south (Bethlehem), and it will include bridges and subterranean crossings. But there will be no possibility of turning west to Jerusalem.

Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, who was a senior negotiator in the Barak government and one of the people behind the Geneva Initiative, is an expert when it comes to maps of the West Bank's fences and roads. Arieli says that according to the Israeli government's latest concept, the highway is part of Palestinian transportation contiguity, like the new "Palestinian" road planned by Israel, which will connect Abu Dis, adjacent to Jerusalem, to Jericho. This road is designed to separate the Israeli traffic in the direction of the Dead Sea from Palestinian traffic. "This is a poor man's contiguity," he says. "It's nonsense. Israel is demanding urban contiguity for itself, but is telling the Palestinians, 'Be satisfied with transportation contiguity.'"

The response of the IDF Spokesperson: "The separation fence that was erected on this stretch of road is part of the barrier, which is designed to protect local residents from terrorist infiltrations. The building of a road between Judea and Samaria is part of the network of routes that is supposed to allow Palestinian residents freedom of movement and to improve mobility."

The southern promenade

Although Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter did not know how many illegal entries into Israel have occurred on the Egyptian border in 2007, he said there were over 3,000 such penetrations in 2005, in other words, almost 10 a day. Dichter made this statement at a joint meeting of the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse and the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women that took place last Monday. Most of the illegal entries in 2005 were by Bedouin smugglers. Since then the problem of the infiltrators from Africa has been added, so we can assume that the number of penetrations has increased significantly and that our southern border can be described as a promenade.

Dichter left no room for illusions regarding the chances of solving the problem. "The borders with Egypt and Jordan are not high on the list of national priorities. Completion of the fence in Judea and Samaria and the Jerusalem envelope is a much higher priority. How we deal with the Gaza Strip is a higher priority." In a reality where there is no money to complete the separation fence in the southern West Bank, it is superfluous to say that the construction of a patrol road on the southern border has not begun yet, either.

Nor did Dichter leave room for illusions with regard to the results of constructing the fence. He proposed that "the committee not be misled by people who say, 'We'll build a fence and rest, and the land will be quiet for 40 years.' We are liable be caught in a trap. We will invest billions and in the end the smuggling will continue." A fence, he said, is not only metal, but patrols and equipment and deterrence and trials and punishment - in other words, it amounts to a very large operating budget.

But Dichter believes that more can be done even without a fence. He criticized the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Ben security services for focusing only on preventing penetrations aimed at terror activity and for allowing widespread smuggling on both borders. He says, "No matter how you look at it, responsibility for the borders of the State of Israel belongs to the IDF. Smuggling takes place despite the IDF forces deployed along the border."

Dichter is not used to being so outspoken. When the chair of the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women, Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad), claimed that his criticism of the IDF was only implied, he replied that, "If it was only implied then I have a problem." But even during his second attempt, he was unable to be much more outspoken. Dichter proposed transferring responsibility for guarding Israel's borders with Egypt and Jordan to the Border Police. The problem is that in order to do so, far more manpower will have to be added to the Border Police, it will have to receive a great deal of sophisticated equipment and its members will have to be trained to use this equipment. And that apparently will not happen, since the southern border is not a top priority.

Immunity from wiretapping?

In order to wiretap an attorney or any other professional who enjoys immunity, the police must issue a court order, indicating the fact that the subject is such a professional.

But what happens when the police are wiretapping another suspect, and he is talking to a lawyer or a psychologist? According to police procedures, the moment the wiretapper understands that he is listening to someone with immunity, he must stop the wiretapping (but not the recording).

If the police are interested in listening to these conversations, they are supposed to turn to a judge. The judge is supposed to listen to the recordings and decide whether the police are allowed to listen to all of them, some of them, or none. But what actually happens? In 19 out of 20 instances in which the Israel Police International Investigations Unit asked for a court permit to wiretap conversations with professionals who enjoy immunity, the judges approved the request without even listening to the conversations. In the one case in which a judge listened to the conversations, he forbade the police to listen to them.

These astonishing findings were delivered last Sunday by the head of the wiretapping division at the International Investigations Unit, Superintendent Tali Rubin, to a Knesset Inquiry Committee on Wiretapping. Rubin claimed that in at least three instances the wiretapping led to indictments against those with immunity. While this is impressive, it also means that it is possible that in 16 other cases, the police wiretapped protected conversations that they had no reason to listen to.

In response, the deputy director of the Courts Administration, Judge Alon Gillon, claimed that the judges rely on external and intelligence evidence, which may constitute a sufficient basis for a decision to permit listening to the recordings. He also said that the police cannot know whether the judge listened to the tapes in his office.

The chair of the inquiry committee, MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), said the state had transferred the supervision of wiretapping to the courts, and during the committee's entire work, "the court has disappointed us."

He was referring, among other things, to data that was revealed at the committee's earlier meetings, to the effect that 99 percent of police requests for wiretapping in 2006 were granted by the courts.

Another finding that was revealed in the committee by Prof. Yoram Shahar of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya: In Israel (with 7 million inhabitants), 1,250 wiretaps were approved in 2006, as compared to 1,839 wiretaps in the entire United States (with about 300 million inhabitants).