Few argue with Israel's right to defend itself. Heads of state across the globe agree with that. But what they're saying is where this particular fence is being built may prove less an obstacle to terror than to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
It has been called "The Barrier," "The Obstacle," "The Fence," and "The Wall." And when you drive along it, you discover it's all these things -- part wall, part fence, and more. But measured in miles, it's more fence than anything else. Correspondent Bob Simon reports.
It snakes through the olive groves, and stamps the landscape with a network of barbed wire, guard towers, cameras, and sensors. There are gates; there are checkpoints. It's about a third built right now, but by the time it's finished, it will be over 400 miles long and carry a price tag of some $2 billion -- a staggering sum for the cash-strapped state of Israel.
"It is very simple here to understand why we need this fence," says Gen. Eival Giladi is the chief of strategic planning for the Israeli Army, which is in charge of building the fence. He took 60 Minutes to a place where suicide bombers have managed to pass from the West Bank into Israel.
"As you see, it's an open area. Once you start walking here, there is nothing to stop you," says Giladi.
That is until the Army started putting up the fence. And Giladi claim that in the areas where it's been built, attacks have gone way down: "It is very effective, very relevant, and prevents a lot of terrorism. It is very expensive, but I think it is much cheaper than the price of life."
The controversy is not over Israel's right to defend itself from terrorism, but how it's doing it. In this case, the struggle is over exactly where it's building this fence.
The Army first suggested putting it up more or less on what is called the Green Line, the border between Israel and the West Bank, which is the territory Israel conquered in the 1967 war.
That was also the plan of Israel's Labor Party, which first conceived of the fence. But no one really had a problem with that fence, not the United States or the United Nations -- no one except Ariel Sharon and his followers, most notably the Jewish settlers on the West Bank. So when Sharon became prime minister, he radically changed the route of the fence.
His fence cuts deeply into the West Bank. It puts dozens of Jewish settlements and large chunks of Palestinian land on the Israeli side of the fence. But the fence being built today doesn't only cut through Palestinian land. It cuts through Palestinian lives.
In the West Bank town of Qalqilya, home to 40,000 Palestinians, the fence is a wall 30 feet high on the side of the city that faces Israel. The wall also goes all around the town, closing it off from other Palestinian villages in the West Bank, which was not at all the idea when the fence was first conceived.
Now, if the residents of Qalqilya want to leave, there's only one exit: an Army checkpoint. And they're not allowed to drive their cars through.
They've literally been moved back in time. Unemployment is 60 percent today, and a third of the shops have closed.
"They are surrounding us. They are catching us from our neck so as not to remain here," says Palestinian farmer Atta Atta, who lives in Qalgilya, and says he hasn't been able to get to his greenhouses, which lie on the other side of the wall.
He asked Simon why America so often seems to take Israel's side. "When the American people watch television and see Israeli children with their heads and arms and legs blown off by a terrorist bomb, I think they're very sympathetic to the Israelis," says Simon.
"I'll answer you. If the Israelis give us our rights, give us our land, we will live together like brothers. We must fight so as to return our land," says Atta. "The Israelis are the stronger, and we are the weak. We can't do anything."
But more and more Palestinians have been doing something: blowing themselves up. There have been 90 suicide bombers in the last three years -- killing over 400 Israelis. And if the objective of terrorism is to create terror, it has succeeded. Israel is a nation living in fear, and Israelis have been calling for a fence, a wall, anything to separate Israel from the Palestinians and keep the bombers out.
"The issue is not the fence; the issue is terrorism. The fence is necessary to prevent terrorism," says Minister Uzi Landau, a member of Sharon's cabinet. Until recently, he was in charge of public security.
"If I have to choose how to really defend my people, my women and children, from suicide bombers, and if this demands me just to build a wall, build a fence, or put a curfew, even if this means the harder life of the Palestinians, what other choice do I have?"
But to Landau, and to other members of the Sharon cabinet, the fence is more than just a security measure. It suggests a future border between Israel and the West Bank, which they see as Jewish land -- the place where the Jews had ancient Biblical kingdoms called Judea and Samaria.
"The Palestinians must know that they're not going to have all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza," says Landau. "King David was born in Bethlehem, Judea, not in Bethlehem of the West Bank. Please note that. Judea, Samaria and Gaza are part of our homeland."
And that is the heart of the matter. The Jewish homeland he's talking about was 3,000 years ago. Today, two million Palestinians live there, under Israeli military occupation, and they want the land for themselves.
"Listen, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is about land. Everything else, believe me, is a detail," says Suad Amiry, a Palestinian author and architect who lives in Ramallah, the West Bank's largest city, which is also being fenced in.
"If I tell you they're grabbing land, you know there is no peace. You cannot be serious about taking my house, taking my garden, taking my olive grove, and then we say we have no partner for peace."
Living under occupation was difficult before, Amiry says. But since Israel started building the fence, simply getting to work has become a hit-or-miss affair, even if you're a successful architect.
Some days, the soldiers let Amiry through the checkpoint. Some days they don't. The day 60 Minutes went with her, they turned her back. She couldn't get from her home to her job.
"I have to make it very clear I am absolutely against the suicide bombs. I am against any involvement of the civilians, and the Israelis involve me. I don't want to be part of this, but I am deprived from reaching my job. This is called collective punishment," says Amiry, who says she feels sadness every time she goes through the checkpoint.
"Not sadness about myself. I get very, very moved when I see older people. It's difficult. It's a very sad experience … I think for anybody to go through that humiliating in front of themselves, or their children, or their wife, is something that is unbearable."
And life has become unbearable for some Palestinian farmers like Sharif Omar.
With the way the fence is routed, through the West Bank, instead of around it, the fence comes between his home and his olive fields, and has cut him off from his crops and his water supply.
The Army built gates in the fence to allow Omar and his neighbors to get through. So every morning, the farmers and their families line up to make sure they don't miss the 15-minute window when the soldiers open the gate. And every night, it's the same thing. They wait for the soldiers to unlock the gates so they can cross from their fields back to their homes.
Sometimes, the gates never open at all. In October, they were closed for two weeks straight.
How would Gen. Giladi feel if he woke up one morning on your kibbutz, and he couldn't get from his house to his farm?
"It's something that I can't even imagine, because I was never taking part of being a society that will allow or support or encourage terror events. I can't get into this position, because I've never hidden a terrorist in my house or in my yard," says Giladi.
But Simon points out that the Palestinian farmer, Omar, who he talked to a few days ago had nothing to do with terrorism, and had never knowingly harbored terrorists or helped them in any way.
"Many of them have never done so. I fully agree with you," says Giladi.
So, whatever the justification of the fence, doesn't it come down to collective punishment?
"No, absolutely not. Do they pay a price for it? Absolutely yes. Do we pay a price for it? Absolutely yes. We don't like it. We don't enjoy it," says Giladi. "But I don't see any other way to secure effectively the Israeli people."
What about the argument that the wall is worth it if it saves an Israeli child from getting blown up by a suicide bomber?
"It's not gonna do that. This wall will create more young people on the Palestinian side who have no work, or who have no schooling, they have no job, and this will make, unfortunately, they will make more people who are ready to do nasty things," says Amiry.
Some Israelis agree. And not just any Israelis.
Ami Ayalon was commander of the Israeli Navy, and was decorated for valor on the battlefield. He's also a former head of the secret Israeli agency charged with preventing terrorism, the Shin Bet. Last month, Ayalon and three other former heads of the Shin Bet dropped a bombshell in Israel's largest circulation newspaper when they came out against the fence and against the Sharon government's harsh treatment of the Palestinians.
"The more Palestinian territory that we are annexing by building this fence, the more violence we shall see in the future," says Ayalon. "Look, what I'm saying, it's not because I love Palestinians. I don't. It's not because I care about Palestinians. I don't. It's only because I care about Israel and the way I understand Israel should be."
And Israel, he says, should not be controlling the two million Palestinians of the West Bank simply because, as he says he discovered in his years of fighting terror, there is less terrorism when Palestinians have more hope for a state of their own.
"Unless this hope will be created, we shall not have any security no matter how high will be the wall that we shall build," says Ayalon.
So giving Palestinians hope is the more effective security measure than building a fence?
"Exactly, it's the only security," says Ayalon. "We have to fight terrorism but in addition to create this hope."
During his state visit to London, President Bush called on Israel to end what he characterized as the daily humiliation of Palestinians, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placement of walls and fences.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded defiantly, saying we're accelerating the fence and we won't stop it, because it's essential to the security of the state. In turn, the Bush Administration has decided to impose an economic sanction, which will cost Israel about $4 million next year. Israel gets $2.6 billion in aid from the United States every year.