Israeli authorities have reportedly allocated 5.5 millions of shekels to build a wall around part of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beit El, where 6,500 residents live side-by-side the Palestinian refugee camp Jalazone.
Yaacov Havakook, who heads the International Media Department at Israel's Defense Ministry, stated the plan to build a wall in the western part of Beit El and stressed that the move "is based on security circumstances and needs."
Havakook pointed out that on more than one occasion gunfire has been directed towards the Jewish community, and therefore "work (on the wall) will begin in several weeks, after the completion of its planning and the receipt of permits."
When asked whether there are plans to build similar structures around other West Bank Jewish settlements, Havakook did not respond.
According to Beit El Spokeswoman Yael Ben-Yashar, the request to build a wall came after "Palestinians attacked the community several times over the last year, including shootings at houses and using explosive devices and Molotov cocktails, which have started fires."
"Just one month ago," she continued, "there was a huge fire in the middle of the day, which caused injuries from smoke inhalation and damages of around 500,000 shekels (about $139,000).
In June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a project to expand Beit El by 300 housing units, a request first put forward in 2012. A statement from Netanyahu's office confirmed that the prime minister told Beit El Mayor Shai Alon that "the units would be approved for the next stage in September."
Abu Al-Abed Ibrees, a leader of the Jalazone camp, slammed the proposed building of a wall around Beit El as a land grab. "They (the Israelis—ed) came here in the 1970s, but we are here since forever and the nearby villages also," he stated. "They stole our lands, to which we have full rights."
Jalazone, established in the 1940s on sixty-two acres of land, was originally home to 2,500 residents; today, however, it numbers 16,000. While the population has grown, Ibrees said that the refugee camp's land area has not. "People from the refugee camp are tired, unsafe and poor. There is no space in the camp—the situation is really sad."
Ibrees further claimed that residents of Beit El attack the residents in Jalazone on a daily basis. "The main road was closed for 15 years, and on the first day after it reopened, the settlers attacked us and burned five cars," he said. "They always attack our kids by throwing rocks, destroying houses and threatening us."
Ben-Yashar called these accusations "a huge lie—whatever they say we are doing to them, they are in fact doing to us." She further stated that "it is propaganda. The government would not allocate 5.5 million shekels to build a wall unless there was a reason for constructing it."
The closest Palestinian facility to Beit El is a school run by the United Nations Relief & Works Agency, which is located in the northern area of the camp. Ibrees voiced concern over the safety of the students, whom he said are prevented from leaving at any time during the day, "as the Israeli army would shoot at them."
"We were asked to transfer the school to another area, but we refused."
Ben-Yashar, however, claimed that "just last Friday, the children (in Jalazone) left school and started throwing rocks at us, while tires were set on fire."
For many Palestinians, the Beit El barrier building project will be viewed as "another brick in the wall," an extension of the hundreds of kilometers-long barrier built by Israel at the height of the Second Intifada. While the Israeli government said it views its construction as a security necessity—stating that, in fact, it sharply reduced if not altogether eliminated the incidence of suicide bombings in Israel—many Palestinians refer to it as an "apartheid wall" wthat greatly inhibits their freedom of movement.
Currently, there is no direct communication between the Beit El and Jalazone communities, with all messages relayed through IDF liaisons. Soon there will be another physical barrier of separation between the peoples thereby, further diminishing any chance at reconciliation.
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line .