When many walls divide

Download this fact sheet as a PDF. 

More than a border

In 2002, Israel began construction of the separation barrier around the West Bank, citing the need for increased security. Today it is about 430 miles long (with many more miles under construction). The wall is twice the length of the Green Line, the internationally accepted border between Palestine and Israel.

Israel calls it a Security Fence. Palestinians call it the Separation Barrier or the Israeli Apartheid Wall because it severely restricts their movements.1

Israel’s wall separates Palestinians from agricultural land, water, education, businesses, religious sites, social and health services and community networks. Life is especially difficult for Palestinians in the “seam zone” — the area between the wall and the Green Line.


In urban areas, the barrier is a concrete wall up to 26 feet high. In other areas, it is a series of fences, barbed wire, roads and electronic sensors.


The wall divides Palestinians from Israelis and separates Palestinians from each other. Israel says it has improved security. But the wall also enables Israel to solidify control over West Bank territory while absorbing a minimal number of Palestinians.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall is illegal and violates the Fourth Geneva Convention 2 and human rights treaties,3 because about 85 percent of it is inside the occupied West Bank. Israel has ignored the ruling and the call to dismantle the wall.4

Bir Nabala

Bir Nabala, a town in the West Bank northeast of Jerusalem, is almost surrounded by the wall. A tunnel connects it to the West Bank, while access to East Jerusalem is cut off. Once a thriving community, Bir Nabala has become a ghost town.5

Controlling the movement of Palestinians 

Palestinians require permits to enter East Jerusalem and/or Israel for everything from work to worship, family visits and medical care. Many applications are denied, especially for adult males under the age of 55.

Israeli authorities use 100 types of permits to control Palestinian movement and access. Thirteen separate permits govern travel in and out of the seam zone (between the wall and the Green Line).6


There are 98 military checkpoints along the separation wall, and nearly 3,000 temporary ones along roads, to enforce permits. These checkpoints make life very difficult for Palestinians.7


At Checkpoint 300, Palestinians with permits to work in East Jerusalem or Israel wait for hours to pass through the checkpoint, even though the distance to their workplace is only a few miles.

Gaza: an open air prison

Israel first built a separation barrier around Gaza in 1996. Torn down by Gazans in 2001, the barrier was rebuilt with sections of concrete wall and electrified fences in 2001.

The blockade along Gaza’s coastline restricts fishing to six nautical miles and sometimes less. Additionally, Egypt controls its border with Gaza tightly.

A one-kilometer buffer zone prohibits Palestinians in Gaza from approaching the wall. Those who do are likely to be shot.8

In 2017, only 54 percent of the applications to get medical treatment outside of Gaza filed by Palestinians were approved.9


  1. George Lowery, “The effects of Israel’s West Bank barrier: Hopelessness, shattered lives and distrust, says Cornell scholar,” Cornell Chronicle, 10 July 2008.
  2. Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, Article 49.6.
  3. This includes the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Art 12(1) (the right to liberty of movement) and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Arts 6, 11, 12 & 13 (the rights to work, health, education, and adequate standard of living).
  4. International Court of Justice, “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Advisory Opinion, 9 July 2004. The international community has not exerted any pressure on Israel to adhere to the ICJ ruling.
  5. B’Tselem: The Israeli Information for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem), “Welcome to Bir Nabala,” November 2012.
  6. Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, “The permit regime,” March 2013, p. 11.
  7. B’Tselem, “Restrictions on Movement,” 11 November 2017
  8. B’tselem, “Gaza Strip,” 11 November 2017.
  9. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, “Palestinian access from Gaza Strip declined sharply in 2017,”15 January 2018.

This story is part of A Cry for Home, which offers stories, videos and fact sheets from MCC on Palestine and Israel. Learn more about A Cry for Home. 

Make a difference