The Israeli government is considering pleas from wildlife groups in Israel and Palestine to give wildlife a way through the separation barrier between the two countries that’s now approaching it’s tenth anniversary.
The impassable barrier, part wall, part series of barbed wire fences, that stretches for 490 miles, was designed to keep Palestinians out of Israel. But like so many other separation barriers that nations have erected against each other over the centuries, it’s devastating to the other animals for whom these boundaries are meaningless.
Now faced with growing concerns of wildlife groups on both sides, the Israeli military is looking for ways to allow certain animals to find a way through the barrier without having to line up for a security check.
According to the Associated Press:
In the Wadi Qelt area, the barrier’s proposed route would encompass the stream’s main spring, where turquoise-winged kingfisher birds hunt fish. Animals on the West Bank side would be cut off from the water.
In the Wadi Fukin area of the central West Bank, the Israeli-Palestinian branch of Friends of the Earth has persuaded Israel’s Supreme Court to halt work on the barrier, arguing that natural springs would be destroyed.
Wadi Fukin’s 3,000 Arabs need the springs to irrigate their parsley, radishes and beans. Dozens of wild animals also rely on this water, said farmer Mohammed Manasra, 60.
“We want the gazelles and the porcupines to wander our land as they always have,” he said.
Imad Atrash, executive director of the Palestine Wildlife Society, explains that before the barrier was built, fences separated the two people in certain parts of the land, but didn’t totally block the animals. Between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, for example, red foxes could still reach each other. “The male was on the Israeli side and the female was inside Palestinian lands,” he told Deutsche Welle. “The male dug a hole and came to the female.” The separation barrier is impenetrable to animals of every kind.
But the separation barrier is impenetrable to animals of every kind. According to Israeli ecologist Ron Frumkin, the splitting up of animal families is leading to genetic mutations and inbreeding, in particular for gazelle, ibex, fox, porcupine and badger populations.
“They need their habitats, or breeding and feeding areas,” he said. “They can eat in one place but hide in another place. So animals, especially the bigger ones, need open space for their existence.”
The ibex, for example, needs to move between the vegetation of the high places in the winter to the water source of the oases in the summer.
When the barrier was being built, Frumkin went to Israel’s High Court to extend the barrier into the southern West Bank. Construction of the barrier there could have wiped the creatures out altogether, he explained. The court agreed.
But in other parts, it’s too late. “The fence prevents all animals along the Judean Mountains in the south to move toward the Samaria mountains in the north, and later on to the Carmel Mountains,” Frumkin said. He added that the barrier also harms plants that depend on animals to help disperse pollen and seeds.
Animals may have their grazing areas on one side of the barrier and their nests on the other. Other kinds of animals may have their grazing areas on one side of the barrier and their nests on the other. (The same applies to farmers, who have ended up with their homes on one side of the wall and their fields on the other.)
“This is the first time in the history of the land of Israel in which you take land that has been one land … geographically and naturally, and divide it with a physical barrier that is meant to prevent the passage of anything larger than a rat,” Avraham Shaked, regional coordinator in Jerusalem for Israel’s Society for the Protection of Nature, told the A.P. “This damages the connectivity that is one of the elements that many species rely on.”
Plans are for another seven miles of fence to cross the Wadi Qelt – an operation that will effectively destroy a canyon in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea. The canyon is thought to have been home to John the Baptist, as well as to prophets and others who were fleeing the Romans and found refuge in the caves and springs. It was likewise home to leopards, wolves and eagles, and is today one of the areas in the region where wild animals still roam freely. But that will end if the separation barrier is extended there.
Even some of the Jewish settlers oppose the extension of the barrier. Roee Simon, a settler and environmental activist, said that continuing the construction there “will destroy it all. When it comes to opposing the barrier, I agree with the Palestinians.”