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Animal migration

Vanessa O'Brien, West BankNovember 2, 2012

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.

Eine Gazellen, in der nähe von der Israelische Sperranlagen (West Bank barrier). Bild von Palestine Wildlife Society Executive Director, Imad Atrash . Bild gemacht in 2010.
Image: Imad Atrash

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.

Israeli troops take positions along part of Israel's separation barrier before a demonstration marking the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, or 'catastrophe', the term Palestinians use to describe the uprooting they suffered at the time of Israel's founding on May 15, 1948, at the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, Sunday, May 15, 2011. (Foto:Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP/dapd)
Israeli troops take position along part of Israel's separation barrierImage: AP

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.

Eine Schliefer, in der Nähe von der Israelische Sperranlagen (West Bank barrier). Palestine Wildlife Society Executive Director Imad Atrash , Bild gemacht in 200
A hydrax, or rock rabbit, sits near the West Bank barrierImage: Imad Atrash

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."

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man (L) overlooks the Palestian town of Bethlehem as he stands at the end of a raffiti-painted protective wall in the Gilo neighborhood in the southern part of Jerusalem that is due to be taken down in the coming days, Jerusalem, Israel on 14 August 2010. The wall was was put up during the 'al-Aqsa Intifada,' the second Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, and was meant to protect Gilo residents from bullets fired from nearby Bethlehem and Beit Jala, some of which did hit Israeli homes in that era. Israel now thinks the walls are not needed for protection. EPA/JIM HOLLANDER
The wall blocks animals that breed in one place and feed in anotherImage: picture-alliance/dpa

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.

Durchgang unter die Israelische Sperranlagen (West Bank barrier). Bild gemacht von Ron Frumkin (2011)
The Israeli army is opening parts of the wall to allow small animals to migrateImage: Ron Frumkin

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.