A conflict that has claimed over 2,540 Palestinian lives and over 900 Israeli lives, most of them civilians on both sides, is now reaching perilous new depths.
It’s not hard for me to imagine why so many of Israel’s supporters are bending over backwards to insist the wall that the Israeli government is currently building on the West Bank is a transitory matter of chain links, existing only to fight terrorism. The truth of the matter is so sinister, it’s far easier to fall back on the simplistic platitudes of the Israeli government. Who really wants to believe the government of the State of Israel is actually building a massive series of concrete walls, gun towers, trenches and razor ribbon to keep the vast majority of Palestinians on the West Bank penned into permanent ghettos, while the territory outside the walls is then absorbed into “Greater Israel?”
Palestinian, Israeli and United Nations human rights organizations all believe it. “...What we are presently witnessing in the West Bank is a visible and clear act of territorial annexation under the guise of security.”
These are the words of John Duggard, the U.N.‘s Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in his most recent report, dated Sept. 8, 2003.
He continues, “At times this barrier takes the form of an eight-metre-high wall (near Qalqiliya). Mostly it takes the form of a barrier some 60 to 100 meters wide, which includes buffer zones with trenches and barbed wire, trace paths to register footprints, an electric fence with sensors to warn of any incursion, a two-lane patrol road and fortified guard towers at regular intervals. No-go areas over 100 meters wide on each side of the barrier will be policed by IDF [Israeli Defense Forces].” The total projected cost of the wall is approximately $1.4 billion (the total Israeli defense budget runs around $9 billion a year).
The wall does not follow the “Green Line” border with Israel, but instead meanders deep into Palestinian territory. Mr. Duggard estimates that the total length of the wall, when complete, will be between 450 and 650 kilometers. Maps on Gush Shalom’s (the largest Israeli peace group) Web site show it running in three gerrymandering rings, one in the north of the West Bank, one in the south and one around the West Bank city of Jericho. The city of Qalqilia has already been totally encircled by the wall. There is only one gate in and out of town, open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., a crossing controlled by the Israeli army.
B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, estimates that the 150 kilometers of the wall that have been completed to date are now infringing on the human rights of 210,000 Palestinians in the north of the West Bank. These include village farmers, who are now prevented from accessing their agricultural land, whole towns, which have been encircled, and hundreds of acres of fertile farmland that have been raised for the construction of the wall. The vast majority of Palestinian groundwater will also be outside the wall.
The Israeli government has said that gates will be built into the wall to allow Palestinians to pass through, but as B’Tselem notes, “Even assuming that all planned crossing points are established - which is doubtful - Palestinians in these areas will be totally dependent on Israel’s defense establishment. In the past, Israel has relied on extraneous reasons, and not just security considerations, to restrict the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to achieve unlawful objectives. It is likely that Israel will act in a similar manner in regard to the crossing points.” As it stands, the current network of Israeli checkpoints throughout the Occupied Territories has already turned even the shortest of Palestinian journeys into a nightmare of endless waits, fear and random violence.
The government of Israel argues all of this is necessary to prevent suicide bombers from infiltrating into Israel, but, in his latest report, the Special Rapporteur questions how effective such a strategy would be, noting that a report by the Israeli State Comptroller in July 2002 found “IDF documents indicate that most of the suicide terrorists and car bombs crossed the seam area into Israel through the checkpoints, where they underwent faulty and even shoddy checks.”
Even if the wall does lead to a reduction in suicide bombings in Israel, most fundamentally, as a matter of principle, it represents everything that should not happen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If these two communities are ever to have a lasting and just peace, the walls that already divide them must be torn down. Building new walls will only further solidify mistrust, misunderstanding and, on the Palestinian side, rage. The humiliation and despair engendered when an entire people is caged into a ghetto will inevitably foster new levels of hatred and desperation, and the greater the oppression, the greater the forces that rise up against it.