ago, I urged readers to forget about President Bush's "Road Map to Peace"
– on which so much attention was wasted at the time, by now a dead letter –
and concentrate on the real map of Palestine, radically changed by the construction
of Israel's Apartheid Wall, which was virtually ignored by the international
media. A year has passed, and the silence has been broken: thanks to the work
of several conscientious journalists, thanks to Palestinian efforts culminating
in referring the Wall to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which
is due to decide on its legality soon, and – last but not least – thanks to
thousands of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, of Ta'ayush,
Gush Shalom and many other
groups, whose daily non-violent demonstrations are dispersed with ruthless
brutality by the Israeli army. The Wall is now on the agenda, and it should
be. But is it a Wall at all?
The term has been disputed from the outset: "the Apartheid Wall" is the Palestinian
name for what official Israel calls "Separation Fence" of "Security Fence".
I preferred the Palestinian term: a fence sounded like a ludicrous euphemism
for 8 meter (26 ft.) high concrete walls with a 100 meter (328 ft.) wide "security
strip" just to start with. At present, the surveillance arsenal includes not
only patrols and cameras, but even remote-control machine guns are being developed,
which, as the Israeli media proudly report, will enable gentle female soldiers
to shoot at "suspicious movements" (i.e. human beings) from behind a monitor
in an air-conditioned office miles away. For the industry of killing, the sky
is the limit.
In fact, both terms – Fence and Wall – are misleading. Even though most people
know by now that the Wall is not constructed along the Green Line, but deep
in Palestinian territory, de facto annexing to Israel a great part of it (one-third?),
both Fence and Wall suggest some kind of contiguous line with the Palestinians
on one side and the Israelis on the other. "We over here, they over there,"
as Barak's election slogan went. But is this what's going on? Not quite. Reality
is far more horrible.
What the Wall Really Is
Have a look at the following map, adapted from Amira Hass' recent article (Ha'aretz,
June 25, 2004). It shows just a small detail of the Wall, in the so-called Christian
Triangle south of Jerusalem.
for a larger version
The red lines are the Wall – in part already constructed, in part under construction,
in part to be constructed. Now have a look at the four Palestinian villages
on the left: Nahalin, Hussan, Batir, Walaja. On which side of the Wall are they?
Obviously, a wrong question. They are actually encircled by the Wall, trapped
by it all around. Batir and Hussan together, Nahalin and Walaja each on its
own. Consider the scale: crossing any of the enclaves, from wall to wall, would
take 10-20 minutes walking. Any inhabitant of these villages is never more than
a kilometer (0.6 mi.) away from the wall. Not only agricultural land, but schools,
hospitals, clinics, markets, shops, work, not to mention recreation, are all
outside. To get out, you have to pass through a gate, through an Israeli army
checkpoint. The gate is probably closed – because it's open just a couple of
hours a day, or because someone up there declared a state of high alert, or
because of a Jewish holiday, or because the soldier in charge didn't get up
on time. And if the gate happens to be open, the soldier might let you pass
(if you have got the necessary permits), or not (for whatever reason, or for
no reason), or ask you for something in return: a small gift, or cursing Mohammad,
Jesus or Arafat, or maybe a tip on your neighbor or brother. If your work, or
your health, or your child's life depends on getting out, you'd do anything.
Same if you want to get into the village – as guest, truck driver, electrician,
There are dozens and scores of villages encircled like this all over the West
Bank. Danny Rubinstein reports on some 200,000 Palestinians living north of
Jerusalem, many of them holding Israeli identity cards, all totally dependent
on the city for schools, hospitals and jobs, all having to get to it through
the single filthy, overcrowded checkpoint of Calandia:
"The residents of these neighborhoods have also been informed of the further
construction of internal fences that will provide passage into the settlements.
These fences, the second phase of the separation fence project, will create
five large islands in which the Palestinian populace will concentrate in quasi-ghettos."
June 27, 2004)
Sometimes houses are fenced individually: Israel's TV Channel2 (June 25, 2004)
recently reported of two houses on the edge of a Palestinian village, around
which a Jewish settlement has grown. The two families have therefore been encircled
by "their own" fence, separating them on three sides from the Jewish settlement,
and on the fourth side from the rest of their own (encircled) village.
So this is no exception: it is the rule. All Palestinians should end up locked
in such fences; the lucky ones might enjoy a somewhat larger cage. The location
of the walls follows the standard Israeli rule-of-thumb: minimum land for the
Palestinians, maximum for the Jews. The walls are constructed just meters away
from the last houses of the village, but in many cases, houses are destroyed
to make room. Even cultivated fields and water wells are mostly left outside
the walls, so they are no longer accessible to their owners. On the map you
can actually see how all the open areas are assigned to the Israeli settlements
of Gilo, Har Gilo or Betar Illit, whereas the Arab villages and towns have no
free inch left.
"Wall" a Misnomer
Now this is neither a Wall nor a
Fence. Just like you don't call a book "a paper," or bread "flour," you won't
call this a Wall. What Israel is building in the West Bank is made of
walls and fences, but it is not a wall or a fence. It is something very
different. I am not sure about its proper name: ghettos? Extra-judicial detention
centers? Open-air prisons? A network of cages for humans? I am not sure there
is a name for it; I am not sure it has a precedent in human history.
Not only has it got nothing to do with the comparatively miniature Berlin Wall,
it has clearly very little to do even with the Apartheid
Bantustans, which encompassed tens of thousands of square kilometers each.
The West Bank cages often comprise just a few hectares, which is a different
Decades ago, a common Israeli argument was that the West Bank and Gaza were
too small for a viable Palestinian state. Be that as it may, nobody would claim
that a fully built-up 2 x 2 km (1.5 sq. mi.) cage, with no public facilities,
no land reserves for housing, no fields, and with a gate guarded by a hostile
army, is a viable place to live in. The Israeli authorities know this very well;
after all, their own passion for land is insatiable. Their intention is clear:
sooner or later, the hopelessly caged population will have to leave simply to
escape starvation. This is ethnic cleansing, making life impossible so that
the Palestinians are forced out. The nearer we get to the Green Line and to
major settlements, the smaller the cages get. These are the areas that Israel
wants most, so living conditions should drive away the indigenous Palestinian
population there as soon as possible.
Those interested in fair peace in the Middle East
should therefore find a proper term for the caging network constructed these
days in the West Bank, a term that reflects its true nature, and start a major
campaign to explain its significance. It is not separation, but a systematic,
intentional destruction of the most basic conditions for human life, which inevitably
leads to mass starvation – or ethnic cleansing.