Walls, in their definition are designed to separate or enclose. They are used to define boundaries, either one room from another in a house, or along the border of a property. In a larger sense, walls have been used to define nations; whether they are made from natural barriers, political arrangements or un-natural man-made buffers.
The Israeli- West Bank barrier was one created by man, and has been used, in its physical sense, to separate the Israelis from the Palestinians for nearly two decades.
But this wall not only separates humans. Hundreds of kilometers of concrete and fencing has inadvertently divided non-human animal species, carving up the millennia old ecological corridors into fragments of what they once were.
The wall and occupation not only instills apartheid against West Bank residents, but also has a devastating impact on biodiversity in the occupied Palestinian territories. Unless the separation wall is removed in the near future, many species may well be gone forever.
Wrong side of the fence
The Israeli West Bank barrier is located along an ecological corridor running from the Judean Mountains in the south to the Sumerian mountains in the north, creating a barrier east to west. The shape of the wall also cuts off north-south migration, further damaging the functionality of the mountain range as an ecological passage for animals.
According to the Palestinian Authority’s 2010 report on the impact of annexation and expansion of the wall on the Palestinian environment, there are 16 species of animals facing extinction as a direct result of the separation wall.
Executive Director of the Palestinian Wildlife Society, Imad Atrash, has been working on mitigating the effects of the occupation on animals and the environment for 20 years. He has witnessed the stress the separation wall has had on native species in the region.
Animals like the red fox and gazelles, wolves and moles. Even some birds, like the stone curlew, chukar, and all lark species. These are all under threat of extinction, Atrash explained to Palestine Monitor.
For animals who ended up on the wrong side of the fence, Atrash said life will never be the same. Species like the red fox, which were once only separated by a fence they could dig under, are now permanently divided by the wall.
First of all, the wall is destroying the landscape, destroying the habitat of the wildlife and destroying the vegetation. In regards to animal husbandry, when the wall was built some of the males were inside the wall and females outside of the wall, or vice versa.
This is the main problem. Before animals could cross over but now everything is affected, Atrash.
According to Israeli ecologist and environmental consultant Ron Frumkin, separation is one of the leading issues which animals and the environment face today, where the wall itself becomes an ecological barrier.
The most vulnerable are the larger mammals. For example, in the West Bank where we have the mountain gazelle, they obviously cannot cross the fence. So they are isolated in certain areas usually within the Palestinian territories.
The number of Palestinian mountain gazelles has dramatically dropped in the past 15 years to only 2,000 gazelles left in the wild, with the cause directly attributed to loss of habitat due to the construction of fences, infrastructure development as well as predation and collisions with cars.
Frumkin went onto explain how the barrier can have devastating effects on animal populations as animals interbreed with each other as a result of having their larger populations split.
[The wall] causes smaller population of animals to remain on both side of the fence in cases where the fence crosses. The smaller the population size, the less healthy it is, and is more vulnerable for extinction due to interbreeding.
There is hope however, for the smaller of the animal species which need to cross the barrier. In several sections of the Israeli West Bank wall, Israel has allowed ‘s’ shaped passages where animals are able to pass through.
The idea was once you create the fence to leave places where every several hundred meters or so where small and medium size mammals can cast through. Obviously it is something you should plan in a way a fox can go through, but not a child or a thin person, Frumkin reasoned.
However, the issue with these passages, Atrash explained, is the larger mammals get left behind and are left to suffer. All the largest animals, anything larger than hare or rabbit, are threatened. The gazelle, the hyena. All these species are threatened because of Israel. They don’t care about the nature in Palestine.
Frumkin said there is also the problem of major highways and bypass roads causing separation and impacting migration, mainly endangering larger animals who have no safe crossing options. Obviously other infrastructure like roads and railways also create barriers. So what you have is in fact a series of north south barriers like the fence, roads, and they all create barriers for east-west movements.
The solution to this problem, is far from simple. Both Atrash and Frumkin remain pessimistic about the future for many local mammal populations and its impact on the environment. Some animals could well face local extinction, Frumkin concluded. I wouldn’t say global extinction, but locally some may well disappear.
Frumkin believes it is all a question of politics, however is not hopeful the ecological situation is going to get better anytime soon. Even if the political situation improves – even if there is peace – it doesn’t mean the situation, or status of the wildlife will be much better. It could be worse in some respect, because peace means much more development.
Either way you look at it, it’s not encouraging.
Source: Palestine Monitor