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The West Bank barrier is blocking animal migration between Israel and the Palestinian territories. But now, the Israeli Defence Force is seeking ways to allow animals to get over - or even through - the wall.
Hundreds of kilometres of concrete, iron and barbed wire cut through the West Bank, across deserts, over mountains and through forests. Israelis call it a security fence while Palestinians call it a racial separation wall.
But, whatever your politics, it's plain to see that the barrier is an impassable structure which cuts a substantial visual scar across the landscape. Pass through any of the main checkpoints with their vast security system of cameras, scanners and iron gates, and it becomes clear just how difficult it is to move from one side to the other.
Spare a thought then for the wildlife in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Cut off from feeding grounds
Imad Atrash is the Palestine Wildlife Society Executive Director and says the barrier divides animal families. In an interview with DW, he explained that before the barrier was built, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the red fox population was separated by a fence. "The male was on the Israeli side and the female was inside Palestinian lands," he said. "The male dug a hole and came to the female."
But then the West Bank barrier was built. "How many families of animals were separated in the West Bank?" Atrash asked.
Israeli ecologist Ron Frumkin says the barrier has had a significant impact on local species of gazelle, ibex, fox, porcupine and badger. He said splitting animal families often results in genetic mutation and inbreeding.
"Many animals that live here, 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."
Frumkin's reports on the ecological impact of the barrier have made it to Israel's High Court. They were instrumental in overturning a plan from the Ministry of Defence to extend the barrier in southern West Bank. There, the ibex needs to move between the vegetation of the high places in the winter to the water source of the oases in the summer. According to Frumkin, construction of the barrier could have wiped the creatures out altogether.
Frumkin explained that the barrier interrupts ecological corridors - pieces of land that connect nature reserve habitats. Unfortunately, it's too late for one section of the barrier, which divides north and south.
"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 told DW. He added that the barrier also harms plants that depend on animals to help disperse pollen and seeds.
Court supports animal protection
Court rulings against Israel's Ministry of Defence in recent years have resulted in a significant slowing down on the barrier's construction. The army now works with environmental organizations to find solutions to allow small animals to pass from Israel into the Palestinian territories and back again. It has created zigzag passes in places to facilitate the passage of small wildlife.
Nobody knows yet exactly the scope of the ecological damage on both sides of the barrier. Imad Atrash from the Palestine Wildlife Society says his group is working with the University of Kent to obtain funding for a three year study on the impact of the West Bank barrier on local wildlife. He hopes that Palestinian and Israeli environmental organizations will work together on the research in future.
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