Copyright 2004 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc.
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE (Massachusetts)

March 11, 2004 Thursday, FINAL EDITION


"Pro-Palestinian activists decry Israelis' divider;
System cripples economy, group says"



- The 450-mile-long divider Israel is building through the West Bank has
surrounded entire Palestinian communities, separated farmers from their crops,
students from their schools and is intended to drive people from their land, two
pro-Palestinian visitors to the area said last night.

''The wall does not create security for Israel, it creates extreme insecurity
for Palestinians,'' Bobbie Louton of the New England Committee to Defend
Palestine told about 50 people at the Worcester Public Library.

Israel contends the fence, opposed by the United States, is a temporary
measure necessary to deter suicide bombers and other forms of terrorism. The
Palestinians, who recently argued against the wall at the International Court in
the Hague, call it, among other things, a grab for land and water.

''The wall is the biggest act of aggression and land acquisition since the
'67 war,'' said Noah Cohen, an American Jew who favors a single, secular state
of Palestine comprising the land that is now Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.

Ms. Louton and Noah Cohen, who traveled through the West Bank last summer,
showed slides and a short video of what they described as the paralyzing effects
of the Sharon administration's security fence and other Israeli measures
restricting Palestinian mobility, such as barricades, ditches, razor wire,
curfews, checkpoints and bypass roads for Jews only.

Trips that would ordinarily take 30 minutes can take up to six hours or more.
In some instances, Palestinians have to plan for a day to travel each way, to
and from work.

''These 'security systems' have crippled the Palestinian economy, humiliated
the people and made conditions so miserable, the people will leave,'' Mr. Cohen

A South African native, Ms. Louton said when she first visited Israel in the
early 1990s, she was struck by how closely the Palestinian status resembled that
of non-whites in the old South Africa.

''It was apartheid all over again,'' she said.

In the village of Jayyus near Ramallah, Ms. Louton said farmers were
informed, in notes nailed to their olive, trees that the Israeli government was
taking their farmland to build the wall.

The wall in its concrete form surrounds Qalquilya, a city of 40,000. There is
only one way in and out, Ms. Louton said; a gate controlled by the Israelis that
is locked at night and sometimes remains locked for weeks. All Qalquilya roads
eventually end at the wall.

Once the district's commercial center with a hospital and a lively farmer's
market, Qalquilya has withered behind the wall. A video taken from a car moving
through the city's streets showed a bleak urban wasteland, with few cars and
fewer people. In the background was the inescapable wall.

''A recent survey showed 80 percent of the adults are unemployed,'' Ms.
Louton said.