Israel Removes Barrier That Protected Gilo

— Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Despite Settlement Freeze, Palestinians Have Yet to Agree to Direct Talks

Following a dramatic decrease in attacks, Israel is removing an 8-year-old security barrier between the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo and the Arab town of Beit Jalla, where Palestinian terrorists had been using homes to shoot at Israeli civilians. The barrier between the two areas isn’t part of Israel’s security fence. Meanwhile, nine months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) still hasn’t agreed to direct peace talks with Israel.  

Security Barrier Protecting Gilo Neighborhood

Starting in 2000, Fatah militants took over the homes of Christian Arabs living in Beit Jalla to shoot at Gilo residents. Terrorists fired on Gilo more than 400 times from 2000 – 2002. As a result, Israel erected the protective barrier in 2002, helping to decrease the attacks. Israel later launched a defensive campaign – Operation Defensive Shield – to stop terror attacks during the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising), which stopped the attacks altogether. Gilo residents have expressed mixed emotions to the barrier coming down, with some fearing a resumption in attacks; others have said they’re optimistic that there won’t be more attacks and look forward to not being forced to live behind a wall.
On Sunday (Aug. 15), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began to take down the 2,000-foot (600-meter), barrier and plan to remove the remainder during the next two weeks.

IDF Lt. Col. Hezi Ravivo said, “Right now the security situation is better and we do not see any reason not to take it down. We will keep the parts that comprise the wall and if the need arises, we can build it anew.”

Israel’s Ongoing Settlement Freeze

Netanyahu instituted the settlement freeze in an effort to restart peace talks with the PA and bolster confidence between the two sides. His decision, which became law Nov. 25, 2009, applies to all residential building in West Bank settlements, although completion of 3,000 units already under construction was permitted. The freeze doesn’t apply to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside of the pre-1967 borders, as the Israeli government considers them distinct from those in the West Bank.

Whether the freeze continues beyond the Sept. 26, 2010 expiration date remains uncertain. Netanyahu’s government faces international pressure to extend the moratorium, even though direct talks have not come to fruition.

On July 29, 2010 Arab League foreign ministers approved Abbas entering into direct talks with Israel; if those talks begin, settlements will be among the disputed topics.

Israel’s commitment to the moratorium:

  • In February 2010, along with efforts to enforce the freeze, Israeli security forces sent 300 summonses to settlers in the West Bank who broke Israeli law by continuing construction.
  • During the freeze, Israeli security forces issued and made public a list of 28 settlements that violated the freeze. After the government received the list, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai confirmed that a court order to halt construction had been given out.
  • Settlers protested the settlement freeze, blocking security forces from entering West Bank settlements. As a result, Israeli police forces arrested the head of the Beit Aryeh council, Avi Naim. Beit Aryeh is a community with 3,900 residents. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated Israel’s commitment to the freeze saying, “…the IDF and especially the [civil] administration are getting ready to ensure that the decision [to implement the settlement freeze] is carried out.”
  • In further efforts to persuade Palestinians to restart peace talks, Israel has taken steps to stop the Jerusalem district planning committee from carrying out construction projects in Jerusalem, even though the area is excluded from the freeze.
  • On Aug. 15, 2010, Netanyahu approved building 23 temporary classrooms in select West Bank settlements – an emergency measure to enable students to attend class. Educational institutions, however, are exempt from the moratorium.

Neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Legal Settlements

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will include boundary and land discussions. Many settlements that some in the international community consider illegal are in fact legal neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Some neighborhoods, such as Neve Yaakov and Gilo, were purchased by Jews prior to World War II.

Click here for a map of Jerusalem area neighborhoods and settlements.