Haifa father remembers son who security barrier could have saved

Four years after The Hague ruling against fence, budget woes slow down completion.

fence 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
fence 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Asaf Zur would have spent this year traveling around the world and surfing in Hawaii and Australia if he had not been killed at age 16 in March 2003 by a suicide bomber who slipped from the West Bank into east Jerusalem. In the weeks after his son's death, Yossi Zur was struck by the narrative of how the terrorist had simply walked across a street in Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem, and caught a ride that led him to the Zur home in Haifa. At that moment, Yossi became an early convert to the necessity of building a security barrier that would prevent other families from suffering the same kind of loss. More than five years later, he is puzzled that the Jerusalem portion of the barrier still has not been completed - including sections around that same area of Abu Dis - and that only 56 percent of the entire barrier has been finished. What is worse, he said, is that no one seems to care. "It has gone off the front pages," he said. In a memorial to what would have been his son's year of travel after the army, Yossi has launched an Internet campaign asking people traveling around the world to take a photograph of Asaf with them. While he has been able to convince 200 strangers to help memorialize his slain son, he has does not know of a single MK who is actively and publicly advocating on behalf of the barrier, which could have saved his son's life. "There is no one," he said. On Wednesday, United Nations representatives here in Israel marked the fourth anniversary of the ruling against the barrier by the International Court of Justice at The Hague by releasing information about the suffering the barrier has caused to Palestinians. In protest of the barrier, a Palestinian bulldozer on Wednesday tried to topple the structure near Kalandiya, north of Jerusalem. In the nearby West Bank town of Na'alin, Palestinians threw rocks and tried to smash a bulldozer being used to carve the barrier's route through their farmland, beating a civilian employee, the IDF said. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters, and three were arrested. But Yossi is among the many Israelis who were not swayed either by plight of the Palestinians or the nonbinding Hague ruling that construction of the barrier in the West Bank, where 87% of it lies, is illegal. A consensus had developed here that the structure was necessary to save Israeli lives, Yossi said. Four years ago, when the issue was first raised at the International Court of Justice, he said, the nation was divided on the issue. Back then, he said, "it was not clear that the fence would work. There were many people who said that it would not help and that it would not reduce the terrorist attacks. Today there is no doubt that it works." Therein lies the problem, he said. It was hard to know how to push the stalled project forward when most Israelis and politicians said it was a priority because it saved lives, while in practice, very little was happening. Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, chalked the problem up to budget issues and the ongoing petitions before the High Court of Justice on about 100 km. of the route. Both of these things, he said, had delayed construction. Work on the fence was temporarily halted altogether in November 2007 when funds ran out after a NIS 500 million cut in the budget. This year, some NIS 1.05 billion was allocated for construction, but Dror said it was still unclear how much of the money was actually available. Last year at this time, the Defense Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that only 450 km. of the 790 km. route had been completed. This year, Dror said, the planned route has been expanded to 804 km. Work has continued on planning for new sections of the route and fixing existing portions, but there has been little progress in actually completing new sections. He dismissed claims made Wednesday by the B'Tselem NGO that the state had ignored an order by the High Court to adjust the route in three places; at the settlement of Alfe Menashe in Samaria, the Palestinian village of Bil'in, north of Jerusalem, and at the villages of Azzu and Nebi Alias. Those projects, he said, have been folded into the overall program of construction and repair work, all of which have been delayed. But Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, a member of the Council for Peace and Security, took issue with the Defense Ministry's claim that budget problems were critical to the barrier delays. Arieli, who has long advocated a shorter route, closer to the Green Line, said the portions of the fence that could be constructed had been. The rest, he said, could not be built, either because the IDF, which in charge of the fence's construction, knows that these routes will not be authorize by the High Court or would create problems for Israel with the international community, particularly with the Americans. Among the more problematic areas of the route that have yet to constructed is the section around the E-1 area of Ma'aleh Adumim and the finger section that includes the settlement city of Ariel. Mark Luria of the Security Fence for Israel group disagreed. There were many areas where construction could take place to which there was no legal barrier and where Israel would not be swayed by international pressure, such as Jerusalem, he said. Udi Salvi, a senior member of Public Security Minister Avi Dichter's staff, also blamed budget problems for the slow progress in Jerusalem, where he said only about 3 km. had been completed this year. Of the funds that were available, he said, a large portion had gone to the Jerusalem section, which remained a high priority. AP contributed to this report.