(photo credit: )
Legal appeals to the High Court of Justice continue to delay the construction of the West Bank security fence, which now may not be finished until 2010, The Jerusalem Post has learned from the Defense Ministry.
That projection extends by two years the completion date of 2008 provided at the end of 2006. It also makes the barrier an eight-year project instead of the yearlong endeavor envisioned in 2002, when the cabinet approved the measure.
To date, only 56.9 percent, 450 kilometers, of the 790-km. structure has been completed, according to the ministry. Work is progressing on an additional 85 km., of which only 50 are expected to be completed by the end of 2007, leaving some 290 km. to be constructed in the next three years.
Included within the as-yet unbuilt 290 km, are some 255 km. in areas around Jerusalem, Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, the area in the south leading to the Dead Sea and the finger that will encase the settlements of the Shomron.
In addition, there is an environmental dispute over the construction of the security barrier along some 31 km. in the southern Hebron Hills, according to the Defense Ministry.
A Defense Ministry report issued in January said that the High Court of Justice has heard 109 cases against the fence and there were an additional 39 cases pending.
But not everyone is satisfied with blaming the issue on the High Court of Justice. MK Danny Yatom (Labor), who heads the Knesset lobby group for the fence, and Marc Luria of the non-profit Public Committee for the Security Fence for Israel, said part of the problem was government apathy.
Luria said the fence was important in preventing suicide bombings and that every day that passed without its completion endangered the lives of Israelis.
But even as fence proponents lamented the slow progress, the United Nations on Monday released a report that blamed the fence for cutting Palestinians off from their land, social fabric and a host of social services such as schools and hospitals.
The report was issued three years to the day after the International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled against the fence. According to the court, all construction of the fence beyond the pre-1967 border was illegal. Only 20% of the projected fence route would be built along that 1967 line, according to the newly-released UN report.
"Three years have passed [and] Israel has not complied with the ICJ opinion and the barrier construction continues," said the report.
It cited in particular concerns for the Palestinians living in areas of the West Bank that would be included on the Israeli side of the security fence.
"Completion of the barrier around the Ma'aleh Adumim bloc will separate east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, restricting access to workplaces, health, education and to places of worship," according to the report.
It added that "further south, the route of the barrier around the Gush Etzion settlement bloc will sever Bethlehem from Jerusalem and isolate the majority of Bethlehem's agricultural hinterland."
In a survey of 57 Palestinian communities impacted in the northern section of the fence, the report said only 26 of 61 gates were open to allow farmers to cultivate their land on the other side and that even then, farmers could only access that land 64% of the time.
"Less then half have direct, regular access to their land," the report said.
"Seventy-two percent of the surveyed communities complained of regular verbal abuse and humiliation by IDF soldiers at the gates. Twenty-four percent reported damage or refusal of entry of agricultural products," according to the report.
It added that the barrier cut through 85% of the rural roads used by Palestinians in the areas.
Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, disputed many of the figures provided in the report.
The issue of the gates alone, he said, could not be determined by a survey. Gates are opened by the IDF upon Palestinian request. It can be time-consuming, he admitted, but the Palestinians do have the ability to pass through the gates in the fence.