Homes in the Beit El settlement, West Bank .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israeli authorities have allocated millions of shekels to build a wall around part of the West Bank Jewish community of Beit El, where 6,500 residents live side-by-side the Al-Jalazoun Palestinian refugee camp.
Yaacov Havakook, who heads the International Media Department at Israel's Defense Ministry, told The Media Line about 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 by The Media Line whether there are plans to build similar structures in other West Bank Jewish communities, Havakook did not respond.
According to Yael Ben-Yashar, spokeswoman for Beit El, the request to build a wall came after "the 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 500,000 shekels [about $139,000].
In June, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu approved a project to expand Beit El by 300 units, a request first put forward in 2012. A statement from Netanyahu's office confirmed that the premier told Beit El Mayor Shai Alon that "the units would be approved for the next stage in September."
Beit El is at the forefront of the Israeli settlement enterprise, from which Netanyahu draws a lot of right-wing support. Israel has in the past faced pressure not to build across the 1967 borders, but this has eased slightly since U.S. President Donald Trump came into the office. In this respect, American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is known for his past support of Beit El, having previously headed an organization that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the settlement.
Despite this, most of the international community considers Israeli construction in the West Bank as illegal under international law, but the Israeli government disputes what it considers to be a political moniker rather than a legal judgement.
Abu Al-Abed Ibrees, a leader of the Al-Jalazoun camp, slammed the proposed building of a wall around Beit El as a land grab. "They [the Israelis] came here in the 1970’s, but we are here since forever and the nearby villages also," he argued to The Media Line. "They stole our lands, to which we have full rights."
Al-Jalazoun, established in the 1940’s on sixty-two acres of land, was originally home to 2,500 residents; today, however, it numbers 16,000. While the population has grown, the camp has not according to Ibrees. "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 their counterparts in Al-Jalazoun on a daily basis. "The main road was closed for 15 years and on the first day after it reopens the settlers attacked us and burned five cars," he stated. "They always attack our kids by throwing rocks, destroying houses and threatening us."
For her part, Yael Ben-Yashar called the accusations "a huge lie—whatever they say we are doing to them, they are in fact doing to us," she told The Media Line. "It is propaganda. The government would not allocate 5.5 million shekels to build a wall unless there is 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.”
On the flip side, Ben-Yashar claimed that "just last Friday, the children [in Al-Jalazoun] got out of school and started throwing rocks at us as well as tires that were set on fire."
For many Palestinians, the Beit El 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 viewed its construction as a security necessity—it has, in fact, sharply reduced if not altogether eliminated the incidence of suicide bombings in Israel—many Palestinians refer to it as an "apartheid wall" which greatly inhibits their freedom of movement.
Currently, there is no direct communication between the Beit El and Al-Jalazoun communities, with all messages relayed through the Israeli army. Soon, there will be another physical barrier of separation between the peoples thereby, in all likelihood, precluding any chance at reconciliation.