Between June 2011 and June 2012, UNRWA’s Barrier Monitoring Unit (BMU) and the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) conducted joint research on the environmental impacts of the Barrier, the effects on Palestinian livelihoods, and the already-vulnerable Palestine refugee population. This joint survey targeted over 170 directly-affected communities and consisted of focus group discussions with village council and municipality representatives, and farmers owning land behind the Barrier. Access restrictions were assessed for their impact on land use within the closed military area located between the Barrier and the 1949 Armistice Line (Green Line), also referred to as the “Seam Zone”.
Barrier impacts on the environment and rural livelihoods
Barrier construction frequently results in land degradation, fragmentation of ecosystems, erosion and compaction of soil, heaping up of earth walls, arbitrary disposal of waste and accumulation of dust on agricultural lands and trees. These results impact the productivity of lands and often severely diminish the agricultural production and income of Palestinian farmers.
Impacts on agriculture and land use
The Barrier’s associated gate and permit regime restricts Palestinian access to land, which has resulted in a decline in agricultural production and changes in the farming practices of affected communities. To date, thousands of productive trees have been uprooted for the construction of the Barrier.
Two-thirds of the 68 agricultural gates that control Palestinian access to land across the Barrier are open for just one or two months per year during the annual olive harvest. Not permitted to regularly access and maintain their trees, impacted farmers report a 50 to 60 per cent decline in the yield of their annual harvest.
For the vast majority of communities, land for grazing within the “Seam Zone” has become inaccessible for shepherds and their animals. With limited pastures remaining, and unable to bear the high costs of commercial fodder, these communities report a loss of up to 60 per cent of their livestock. This places a heavy burden on households where meat and dairy products were previously used for domestic consumption and generated vital sources of income.
The construction of the Barrier has damaged, destroyed or rendered inaccessible vital sources of water such as wells, cisterns and springs. Once damaged or destroyed, these water sources can rarely be repaired or replaced due to planning restrictions.
The Barrier obstructs the flow of surface water in many areas. Water trapped by the Barrier often causes flooding and the degradation of adjacent agricultural lands. Drainage pipes built under the Barrier often become blocked by debris. However, Palestinians are not permitted to approach the Barrier to clear the blockages that have led to severe flooding in some areas.
The Barrier significantly impacts the management of sewage and solid waste, as disposal sites are inaccessible due to their proximity to or location behind the Barrier. As such, affected communities must either transport their solid waste to distant sites at their own cost, or burn the garbage within residential areas – releasing toxic emissions and leachate into the soil. Raw sewage is also disposed near or on agricultural land, resulting in the contamination of soil and groundwater.
Joint BMU-ARIJ event: presentation of preliminary findings
On 7 June 2012, on the occasion of World Environment Day, the BMU and ARIJ organised a shared event to present the preliminary findings of their joint study. The event was hosted at ARIJ's offices in Bethlehem and was attended by Felipe Sanchez, West Bank Director of UNRWA operations and the Palestinian Authority's Minister of the Environment Dr. Yousef Abu-Safieh.
Directly-affected communities: According to criteria applied by UNRWA’s Barrier Monitoring Unit, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and various other organisations. The directly-impacted communities list includes communities whose lands have been isolated by the Barrier and communities located between the Barrier and the Green Line, excluding most within the Israeli-defined Jerusalem municipal area (May 2012).