Naalin Crossing (West Bank): Israel on Sunday
began tearing down a section of its contentious West Bank
separation barrier near a village that has come to symbolise
Palestinian opposition to the enclosure, the military said.
The re-routing marked a major victory for the residents
of Bilin and the international groups that have backed their
But they said it fell short of their demands to remove
the structure from the village altogether and vowed to
continue with their weekly protests.
The dismantling of the section near the village of Bilin
comes four years after Israel`s Supreme Court ordered it torn
down, rejecting the military`s argument that the route was
necessary to secure the nearby Modiin Illit settlement.
Col Saar Tsur, the regional brigade commander, said the
military has begun taking apart a two mile (3.2
kilometre)-stretch of the barrier and has replaced it with a
1.6 mile-long (2.7 kilometre) wall adjacent to the settlement.
He said the new route would give the military less
response time in case of a potential infiltration.
"This is a new threat but we can handle it," he said,
adding that the work would be done by the end of the week.
Bilin lost half its land to the barrier, and years of
weekly protests there have frequently evolved into clashes
between activists and Israeli troops.
Israel began building the barrier in late 2002 to keep
out Palestinian attackers amid a wave of suicide bombers
targeting its cities. It says the structure is needed to keep
militants from reaching Israeli population centers.
But the barrier juts into the West Bank, and critics say
the route is designed to grab land that Palestinians want for
a state. The barrier, when completed, is projected to swallow
some 6 to 8 per cent of the West Bank.
Tsur said the new route will put some 140 acres (55
hectares) back in Palestinian hands. He said the total cost of
the project is USD 9 million.
The protests have become a ritual of sorts each Friday,
making the once out-of-the-way farming village a fashionable
cause among activists.
Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu
are among the notables who have participated. Naalin started
similar marches three years ago.
The Bilin protests, attended by villagers as well as
Israeli and international activists, usually involve a mix of
marching, chanting and throwing rocks at Israeli troops. Two
Palestinians, and five in the nearby village of Naalin, have
died and hundreds others have been wounded since the protests
began in 2005.