Brown: Israel-Palestine: Walled In
Kenneth L. Brown gives us a guest editorial on the Israeli security wall being built in the Occupied West Bank. A form of it earlier appeared in an Italian newspaper, Europa. It is worth revisiting in the light of the light of the finding of the World Court in the Hague that the Wall is illegal, and in light of the subsequent UN General Assembly denunciation of it. Jeremy Pressman and Joel Beinin earlier weighed in on the subject here.
Israel-Palestine: Walled In
At the end of last year, the UN General Assembly had passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice in the Hague to render an urgent opinion regarding the legality of the construction of the separation barrier.
Eyal Weizman, an Israeli architect based in Tel-Aviv, argues that the border between Israel and Palestinians is no longer a single continuous line, but a sequence of convoluted boundaries, security apparatuses and internal checkpoints—a series of unstable pockets. (see “Ariel Sharon and the Geometry of Occupation” at www.opendemocracy.net.) The Sharon government is preparing a fragmented Palestinian state by establishing facts on the ground,––– scattered and separated territorial islands surrounded and perforated by Israeli territory. A state without borders to the outside world. These islands will be, strung together by tunnels and bridges under and over Israeli territory and they will have no jurisdiction over water resources or airspace.
Israel has periodically launched major operations in cities like Nablus “to strike at terrorists,” deploying soldiers, snipers military vehicles, tanks, and bulldozers. In the view of a radio journalist from Nablus, the purpose of this siege of the city was to turn attention away from Israel’s construction of its “Wall” across the West Bank, its policy of strangulation.. The true aim of this stranglehold, as John Berger has phrased it, is the destruction of the Palestinians’ sense of temporal and spatial continuity so that they leave the country or become indentured servants.
As a result of the 1967 war Israel, by occupying the West Bank ,the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, tripled the territory under its control. Military and government considered the pre–1967 borders , the Green Line drawn in the cease–fire agreements of 1949 and recognized as an international border, “indefensible”; Abba Eban called it “the Auschwitz line”, In their euphoria of victory, the Israelis claimed that the West Bank and Gaza were “disputed territories” which had never been under the control of a sovereign state, and that they were now occupied legally, for reasons of self–defense and until permanent borders could be determined by final peace agreements.
Since 1967 Israel ,considering the borders between the state and the occupied Palestinian territories fluid and elastic, has incorporated an increasing number of settlements. (Since 2002 when A. Sharon was elected, 56 officially recognized settlements have been added to the previous 145 settlements., a total population of some 400,000 settlers , including the Jewish neighborhoods created in East Jerusalem). At the same time many factors encouraging creeping agoraphobia among Israelis––––demographic expansion of the Palestinian population in the territories, insurrections, terrorism, international pressure, economics and public opinion ––– have made the existence of a Palestinian state inevitable. The Israeli government is determined to determine the form and nature of that inevitable state..
Most Israelis want a physical separation from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Over the past year their government has set about establishing that separation unilaterally by the construction of a serpentine course of fences, barriers, walls. A new, effective border, not the Green Line, but a “seam line” is being drawn and constructed. It includes the unilateral annexation of 6% of the land of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority sees this as a policy of Bantustanisation, the creation of isolated cantons instead of the viable state which has long been promised.
For the Haaretz correspondent D. Rubenstein these constructions are becoming a “wall of strangulation”. Over 350 kilometers of barriers are projected at an estimated cost of two million dollars per km; one–third, the northern section, has been completed.already, and the rest is planned for by the end of 2005. According to a UN report these constructions will isolate some 274,000 Palestinians in small enclaves. An additional 400,000 will find themselves west of the wall with restricted access to their agricultural land, jobs, schools, hospitals.
The last phase of the Sharon plan for separation will be the “Eastern Barrier”, a projected wall of 700 kilometers. In effect then, the Palestinian state and its population will have no contact with the outside world that is not under Israel’s control.
Last winter, I attended a conference on Oral History at Birzeit University in the occupied Palestinian territory. The hotel I stayed in in Ramallah was about ten kilometers from the university normally a fifteen minute drive away. However since Intifadah II, the Israeli army has separated the two towns by placing a substantial mound of earth along the road making it impossible for vehicles to pass. Students and teachers and whoever else wants to go from one side to the other must leave their car, taxi or bus, climb over the mound and then find a ride in a taxi or bus to their destination. Usually, there is a checkpoint at the mound and documents have to be presented to the Israeli military to be allowed to pass. Hours may be spent crossing these ten kilometers. The occupation has made time and space uncertain, unpredictable.
The scene of the crossing viewed from afar looked like nothing so much as a massive movement of refugees in a war zone; one can easily understand the fear of Palestinians that the Israelis want by such practices to humiliate them and to expel them from the land.
On the second day of the conference the Israeli soldiers were not at the checkpoint, and the mound of earth had been partly cleared away by Palestinians so that some vehiclescould pass through. Nonetheless, outside the entrance to the university, Israeli troops had appeared , lined up about 30 students and were agressively checking their identity papers. Another form of harassment. By the next day, the mound of earth had reappeared, been reconstructed by Israeli tractors during the night.
When we left the university at the end of the day, one of our hosts offered me a ride back to Ramallah. He wanted to show me the ‘scenic’ route, 30 kilometers over back roads to circumvent mounds and checkpoints. Unfortunately, we had an accident, a collision with a mini-bus in which several people were injured and needed hospital care.
First to arrive at the scene was an Israeli command car. Several boyish–looking soldiers approached , aiming their machine guns at us, and wanting to know what was going on. They seemed frightened and confused, victors fearing the defeated Luckily we managed to calm them, to convince them that it was only an accident. They cursed us and drove off. Eventually, a Palestinian ambulance arrived and managed to transport the injured to hospital.
Such absurd situations are ‘normal’ and indeed undramatic in the occupied territories of Palestine. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are 65 staffed checkpoints in the West Bank of which only nine separate it from Israel ; the rest control traffic between West Bank communities. There are 607 physical roadblocks preventing passage of vehicles—457 mounds of dirt, 94 concrete blocks, 50 trenches. The name of the game is fragmentation.
Israel rejected the Court’s authority on the issue and justifies the barrier in terms of its needs for security. The government’s assessment of the U.S. position, the only one that counts for it, is that the Americans understand Israel’s security needs and accept the construction and the route of the barrier. Nonetheless, Washington rejects Sharon’s idea of an “Eastern Barrier” which it sees as a means to annex the Jordan Valley and the ridges dominating it in order to close the Palestinians into a holding pen. At the end of the day, however, the Israelis find encouragement in the lack of enthusiasm in the U.S. for respecting or strengthening international institutions.
Kenneth Brown, Emeritus professor of Sociology, University of Manchester (U.K.), Director of the review Mediterraneans, Paris, France: medit a t msh-paris d o t fr .