|In 2002, following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Israel started constructing the West Bank Barrier, which restricts the mobility of Palestinians and cuts Palestinian farmers off from their land. The construction process and the Barrier’s physical structure severely impact the Palestinian population and their surrounding environment.|
Between June 2011 and June 2012, UNRWA’s Barrier Monitoring Unit (BMU) and the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) conducted joint research on the environmental impacts of the Barrier, the effects on Palestinian livelihoods and the already-vulnerable Palestine refugee population. This joint survey targeted over 170 directly-affected communities1 and consisted of focus group discussions with village council and municipality representatives, and farmers owning land behind the Barrier. Access restrictions were assessed for their impact on land use within the closed military area located between the Barrier and the 1949 Armistice Line (Green Line), also referred to as the “Seam Zone”.
barrier impacts on the environment & rural livelihoods
Barrier construction frequently results in land degradation, fragmentation of ecosystems, erosion and compaction of soil, heaping up of earth walls, arbitrary disposal of waste, and accumulation of dust on agricultural lands and trees. These results impact the productivity of lands and often severely diminish the agricultural production and income of Palestinian farmers.
In Al Walaja village, Bethlehem2, with a population of 2,041, three-quarters of which are refugees, dynamite and deep digging were used to embed the Barrier’s concrete slabs. This fractured the soil and channelled rainwater in a way that permanently damaged the surrounding environment and residential houses.
impacts on agriculture and land use
The Barrier’s associated gate and permit regime restricts Palestinian access to land, which has resulted in a decline in agricultural production and changes in farming practices in affected communities. To date, thousands of productive trees have been uprooted for the construction of the Barrier. In Qalqilya city alone, with refugees accounting for over 75 per cent of the total population of 41,739, about 12,000 olive, almond, and fruit trees were uprooted with detrimental impacts on farmers’ incomes.
Two-thirds of the 68 agricultural gates that control Palestinian access to land across the Barrier are open for just one or two months per year during the annual olive harvest. Not permitted to regularly access and maintain their trees, impacted farmers report a 50 to 60 per cent decline in the yield of their annual harvest.
In many cases, farmers are not allowed to bring tractors, ploughs or fertiliser through the gates, and irrigation is limited and cumbersome. As a result, many farmers have resorted to replacing their citrus and other fruit trees with olive trees that require less maintenance but also generate less income. Farmers who previously cultivated crops have been compelled to leave their lands barren, losing a valuable source of reliable income. Loss of access to land due to the Barrier has further resulted in the overexploitation of remaining community lands.