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Gaps in the wall: Israel's unsecured border

July 23, 2013 3:58 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 10, 2013 1:27 P.M.)
We started our trek through a valley in al-Walaja, crossed a set of railroad tracks and began the climb up a mountain, towards Jerusalem.

Between 20,000 to 30,000 Palestinian workers make a similar climb every year, according to Israeli group Kav LaOved, opting to avoid the arduous, often impossible process of obtaining a legal work permit.

Instead, they cross from the West Bank, and into Israel, through one of many large gaps in the security barrier.

Leading the small group of internationals climbing their way to Jerusalem was a young man from al-Azza refugee camp in the West Bank.

He is one of the millions of Palestinians who are not eligible to receive a permit to work in Israel. Regardless, he is able to enter Israel as he pleases.

"It's very normal to cross like this," he said. "Palestinians can take this way, but it is more dangerous without internationals with them. There are more difficult ways to climb that the workers would usually take."

Ten minutes into the climb we spotted an Israeli police truck driving by above us on the mountain. We dashed over the rocky path to hide behind a group of trees and boulders.

However, our Palestinian guide assured us with confidence that the police truck was no problem, and urged us to continue our way up over the uneven slope of the mount.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the separation wall has reduced Palestinian attacks in Israel by 90 percent since construction first began in 2002.

But after ten years of construction, and billions of dollars, the wall still isn't finished. Only 62.1 percent of the barrier, including fences, ditches, razor wire, sand paths and patrol roads, has been completed, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA.

Critics of the separation wall claim the barrier is unrelated to security. Instead, they say the wall is a strategic land grab which imposes unilateral borders and physically separates Palestinians from Jerusalem.

About a third of the way up the mountain, we passed a spring that was annexed by Israeli settlers. Young people sunbathed next to the spring, seemingly indifferent to our presence. We waved, said 'Shalom' and continued the climb up through sparse trees.

After we passed the spring we were no longer climbing through prickly weeds and over burgeoning rocks, but along a worn out, winding path. The trail led the way. We never encountered a single sign that marked a border, or warned us not to cross.

Within an hour we found ourselves at the top of the mount. We were in Jerusalem. It was that easy.

Eighty-five percent of the barrier will be built inside the West Bank, on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, according to OCHA, creating a situation in which thousands of Palestinians are isolated from their farm land and water sources.

The wall's total length will be 708 km when complete, twice the length of the 1949 Armistice Line, and 29.9 percent of the barrier is planned but not yet constructed.

Although Israel argues that the separation wall has made its citizens more secure, it does not stop so-called 'undesirable' Palestinians from entering its borders, and hasn't for the past ten years.

The trek is not without risk, but it's achievable.

Once we finished crossing through a piece of the 200 km of open, unsecured border, we spotted an Israeli Egged bus, asked the Palestinian bus driver directions and were on our way.
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