Walling in the Palestinians
Israel's strangling of the
by Ida Audeh
International Socialist Review,
During its spring 2002 offensive to reoccupy
Palestinian territories and destroy Palestinian civil infrastructure
(under the guise of destroying the "terrorist infrastructure")-and
as most of the West Bank was under round-the-clock curfew-Israel
confiscated thousands of dunums' of Palestinian land to build
a wall. The idea of building a wall was not a new idea in 2002,
when construction first began, and it was not triggered by the
suicide bombings of the 1990s (which became frequent only since
2000), although suicide bombings certainly breathed life into
an old idea. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin may have had
something similar in mind in 1992 with his slogan "Us Here,
Them There." Initially, Likud was cool to the idea of a wall
that would concede any territory, no matter how small, to the
Palestinians until it saw how a wall combined with checkpoints
and access roads could destroy Palestinian society and continue
to consolidate "greater Israel."
A wall or a fence? Land grab or security?
Israel's policy of enclosing Palestinians
within walls began in Gaza in 1994, before the rash of suicide
bombings. One-third of the Gaza Strip, a 365-square-kilometer
[140-square-mile] strip along the eastern Mediterranean, was confiscated
to provide Israeli settlements for 7,000 Israeli Jews; 1.3 million
Palestinians live on the remainder. The Gaza Strip is completely
enclosed; Palestinians are essentially imprisoned, and trigger-happy
soldiers shoot the residents without restraint. In 2003, UNRWA
reported that 70 percent of the population was unemployed, and
the UN Development Program estimated that 84.6 percent fell below
the poverty line.
Now Israel wants to do to the West Bank
what it did to Gaza, taking into consideration the differences
in terrain and demography. By July 2003, it had completed a 145-kilometer-long
[90-mile-long] segment of a much longer wall extending from the
northern village of Zububa in the Jenin district to Azzun Atma
in the Qalqilya district. I went to the West Bank in August 2003
and interviewed Palestinians who lived in the path of the wall
to get a sense of the impact of Israel's grand plans on the people
it ruled. The end of the first phase of construction seemed like
an opportune time to take stock. (The entire wall, expected to
be 727 kilometers [452 miles] long, is scheduled for completion
When the wall in the West Bank is completed,
it is expected to be four times as long and in some places twice
as high as the Berlin Wall, another powerful symbol of oppression.
And like the Berlin Wall, Israel's wall is a system of control.
Israel's wall includes concrete barriers, watchtowers, trenches
on either side, military patrol roads, surveillance cameras, trace
paths to register footprints, an electronic warning or "smart"
fence, and a concrete barrier topped with barbed wire. This system
carves through West Bank communities in a manner calculated to
exact the maximum human, economic, environmental, and political
Palestinians call it an apartheid wall.
This term captures the racist function of the wall, which cages
Palestinians in small spaces and separates them from their lands,
their livelihoods, their water wells, and each other. But what
Israel is doing to Palestinians goes well beyond the apartheid
policies of the former South Africa. Palestinians refer to Israel's
policy as a land grab. That is accurate but does not describe
the long-term effect of this policy, which will be to decimate
Palestinian society. Not even the Berlin Wall, as oppressive as
it was in purpose and as a symbol, could be accused of that.
Israel and its supporters refer to this
wall as a security fence or barrier to thwart Palestinian suicide
bombers. There is no doubt that suicide bombings have unnerved
a society that has long accepted as a given that it can rule over
another nation, but the need for security does not explain (let
alone justify) the wall. Were security the motivator, Israel would
have built it along the Green Line, the internationally recognized
demarcation line between it and the West Bank. A wall separates
Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast, yet neither community
claims that the wall has affected them adversely and disproportionately.
Building a state piecemeal
Indeed, the security rationale is belied
by the course that the wall takes. If the course of the wall is
maintained according to projections, the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO) Negotiations Affairs Department estimates that
as much as 43 percent of the West Bank will be annexed to Israel;
these lands include the fertile agricultural lands of the northern
West Bank and the Jordan valley, and they include the lands on
which 88 percent of the settlers live. At least 522,000 Palestinians
(22 percent) will lose access to their land; and about 343,300
Palestinians (15 percent) will be trapped in the no man's land
between the wall and Israel, where they are cut off from the larger
neighboring Palestinian towns that provided school, social services,
and medical facilities. Palestinians will lose access to at least
fifty water wells. The wall veers sharply into the West Bank to
cut around the Keddumim and Ariel settlements, encircling them;
large parts of the Hebron and Bethlehem districts are lopped off,
and although the eastern wall plan is unclear, initial plans suggest
that much of the fertile Jordan Valley will be beyond the wall
and thus beyond Palestinian reach.
In fact, the wall is a logical continuation
of the policy that the Zionist movement, and later Israel, followed
to create and expand the Jewish state. In the 1940s, the Zionist
movement pretended to accept the UN-defined Jewish state that
would grant it 55 percent of Mandate Palestine, but then went
on in 1948 to conquer 78 percent, expel 700,000 Palestinians,
and (contrary to international law) deny their return to their
homes. In 1967, it occupied the West Bank (including East Jerusalem)
and the Gaza Strip and began immediately, and in violation of
international law, to chip away at the territorial contiguity
of the territories by transporting Israeli settlers to live in
illegal settlements built on confiscated Palestinian land. The
failed Oslo process was merely a time-buying measure; Israel turned
over policing functions to the Palestinian Authority (a body it
undermined at every turn) but accelerated the pace of settlement
building. Today, more than 200 illegal Jewish-only settlements
scar the West Bank landscape, occupying hilltops overlooking Palestinian
towns and villages, surrounding them, preventing natural growth
and expansion. The wall complements the settlement policy; the
largest settlements are in fact outside the wall, which means
that they are easy to incorporate within an Israel whose borders
have never been defined.
Human reservations and "gated communities"
Israel's plan seems to be to restrict
the Palestinians to certain areas, to control them, to prevent
them from thriving as a people, and to deny them state-building
potential. If the wall is completed according to plan, three non-contiguous
cantons covering half of the West Bank will be carved out: one
for Jenin and Nablus, one for Ramallah and Salfit, and one for
Hebron and Bethlehem.
The plan for East Jerusalem can only be
explained as an attempt to end once and for all Palestinians'
hopes that it will one day serve as their capital. More than 90
percent of the East Jerusalem district will be absorbed by Israel;
about 280,000 Palestinians will be stranded in walled enclosures
and cut off from both East Jerusalem and other urban centers.
Palestinians who remain within the wall
will be confined to unviable Bantustans where they can be more
easily controlled. Even now, with only part of the wall completed,
many Palestinian towns and villages have been turned into "gated
communities" of sorts: all roads leading into and out of
town are blocked except for one or two, and gates are placed on
them. The Israeli army locks them at night, in effect placing
everyone under town arrest. In theory, the gates are unlocked
the following morning, but in practice the gates are unlocked
(or not) at the discretion of the soldiers on duty. When the gates
open, Palestinians stand in line and wait for a soldier to inspect
their ID cards and wave them through to the other side, or wave
them back to town.
Perhaps the most oppressive gated community
is Qalqilya, a city that is completely encircled by a 26-foot-high
concrete wall except for a single road through which residents
pass on foot. Merchants carrying goods into town must unload their
trucks at the gate, submit to inspection by an Israeli soldier,
and then carry their goods by hand to a waiting truck within the
wall gates. Since the wall has gone up, 40,000 Qalqilya residents
have been deprived a view of the sunset.
Areas between the Green Line and the wall
are referred to as "military seam zones," and when the
wall is completed, some 343,300 Palestinians will find themselves
living in such designated areas. Those who live there will be
required to prove home ownership and must secure permits to live
in their ancestral homes. These permits are granted at the discretion
of the Israeli authorities. Those who cannot secure permits have
no courts of appeal.
Loss of land and livelihood
The completed segment of the wall affects
the Jenin, Tulkarem, and Qalqilya districts, which have a combined
population of more than 500,000 people (22-24 percent of the West
Bank population) and accounted for 45 percent of the West Bank's
agricultural production. In these three districts, the wall separates
51 villages from their lands, placing 122,000 dunums beyond reach
(in effect, annexing 2 percent of the West Bank); it resulted
in the destruction or uprooting of 102,320 trees, dozens of commercial
businesses, and 19 miles of water networks; and it places sixteen
villages and thirty-six groundwater wells in the no man's land
between the wall and Israel proper.
The Palestinians I met were both outraged
and stunned by the scope and ferocity of the Israeli assault.
Landowners relied on the land for their livelihoods and nurtured
it as they did their children, and they were dumbfounded that
anyone, even an enemy, could destroy their orchards and render
the land useless. Farmers whose olive trees had been uprooted
described their losses as though they were describing the sudden
death of a family member still in his prime. To add insult to
injury, the uprooted trees were rumored to have been resold in
Israel for a price.
My escort in Tulkarem, Suhail, worked
with an agricultural relief committee that was mobilizing opposition
against the wall. He related to me the story of a farmer whose
olive groves had been bulldozed so that only stumps remained.
The man told him, "you can lose your son, and you bury him,
and with time, you go on. My land is dead and I can't figure out
how to bury it."
In Jarooshiya village (Tulkarem district),
Basima Said Uthman recounted her family's losses:
The Uthman family consists of about 130
people. We have 450 dunums that support 22 families. All gone,
except for the land the houses sir on. The Israelis came and cur
down about 5,000 olive trees at the peak of the season, before
the olives fully ripened. We went to pick the olives on one side,
and the Israelis were cutting the trees on the other side. The
uprooted trees were Iying on the ground, and we felt like we were
turning over a human being who had died. Wherever you turned,
there were gnarled dead olive trees.
The Israelis cut our trees to make a road
for the wall. About one-third of our trees remain inside the wall.
The olive trees are more than 100 years old. My great grandfather
planted them, and some were planted by my father. The land is
about 20 meters away, but we can't reach it. We look at it, but
this year we haven't tasted the olives or the nuts. We yearn to
eat from it, but instead we've had to buy our olives. This year
we'll have to buy our olive oil. This is a tragedy.
Many Palestinians I spoke with had experienced
similar losses, and they eyed the future with considerable apprehension.
The environmental cost
To go to the villages in the Jenin district
is to witness unrelenting misery. Zububa, a village (population
about 2,000) in the northernmost tip of the district, has experienced
gradual land confiscation since 1948, and villagers fear that
the rest of their land will be confiscated through the wall. In
many places the wall is no more than 40 or 50 meters away from
the nearest house. The environmental hazards brought about by
the construction of the wall were described to me by Mohammad
Jaradat, a resident of Zububa in the Jenin district:
This wall affects my house and the entire
region. The wall changed the contours of the land, it diverted
all the rainwater to our lands, which are lower. The sewage water
was diverted to us, too, from the Salem checkpoint. ln February,
the whole area gets flooded. Our whole house was filled with sewage.
The salt in the sewage threatens the house, not to mention the
environmental contamination. We have an old village well and a
few springs, and all of them have become contaminated. The whole
area is affected. When we don't have access to water from Jenin
or when it is cut off, we are forced to drink this contaminated
They want to expropriate the lands above
us to choke the residents of this village. They are sending us
rainwater and their sewage so that we leave the village. We have
appealed for help, but no one is listening.
Residents of these northern West Bank
villages recounted the daily harassment they live with. They described
how Israeli soldiers in their jeeps speed through their streets
late at night, using bullhorns to curse residents and call the
women whores. Early in the morning, they announce curfews, which
means that no one can leave their homes. Another day of missed
Various interviewees independently characterized
the effect of the wall as a tragedy that affected each village
uniquely. I soon found that each resident in each village also
faced a personal tragedy. In al-Taybeh, I met Ribhia Ighbariya,
who was temporarily living together with her children in a classroom
in the school she worked at as a janitor. She became homeless,
she said, when construction on the wall was started:
They started to plow through the top
of the mountain. Our house was on the mountain, and they kept
digging and dumping the dirt on my roof. We could only enter our
home through the back door. They used dynamite 4 or 5 times right
above the house without warning. My kids told me, our house is
When it rained, there was nothing left
as a buffer with the mountain. But with nowhere to go, she stayed
in her home, moving her children to the room that was leaking
the least. Finally members of the town council, who had learned
of her predicament, insisted that she abandon her house immediately
and gave her a classroom to live in. Speaking haltingly, she recounted
for me how she had been forced by Israeli soldiers to move the
grave of her husband, who had been dead for fourteen years, as
well as a few others, so that a road could be built. She was dumbfounded
that the dead were being pursued, like the living.
"Can no one stop their violence?"
Nazlat Isa (population 2,300) is a village in the Tulkarem district
that now falls in the no man's land between the wall and Israel
proper. At one time it had been a commercial hub for neighboring
villages, but for months Israeli bulldozers had been systematically
razing it; more than one hundred commercial shops and five homes
were bulldozed in a single day, August 21. One of the homes belonged
to Rathiya Abu Zeben, who lived in it together with nine family
For the past 5 or 6 years, everything
my sons made went into building this home. We went without many
things just so we can finish the house and live in it. Now they
denied us that. What are we to do now? Can no one stop their violence?
Where can we go? There is no place else for us to go. Arab leaders
have abandoned us. They aren't objecting and they aren't concerned
about what's happening to us or our children, each of whom sweats
blood and flesh for each cent he makes. While the Israelis chase
them from street to street.
Hanna Rishmawi, who works with the anti-wall
committee in the Bethlehem region, explained the threat posed
by the wall to open spaces. At an average of 1,000 or 1,100 people
per square kilometer, Bethlehem was relatively "underpopulated."
But with the confiscation of land to build the wall, the population
density is likely to reach 4,500 people per square kilometer,
which makes it comparable to the population density of Gaza, which
is the highest in the world. The Bethlehem district will be unable
to grow naturally, so there will be a high concentration in the
downtown areas and an end to green spaces in towns. Palestinians
were conscious of the very real possibility that Israel's scheme
for them would also deprive them of open spaces and turn Palestinian
towns into tiny and overcrowded slums.
Living in a military seam area Al-Daba'a,
a hamlet in the Qalqilya district, is probably typical of the
communities that are now in the military seam zone. In the process
of creating the wall, Israel destroyed 250 dunums of land belonging
to this hamlet, uprooted 2,000 trees, and isolated five water
cisterns beyond the wall. Some 1,200 dunums of farmlands are now
inaccessible or reached with difficulty, a major problem for a
population of whom 80 percent had relied on agriculture. Some
homes have sustained structural damage and are now unsafe, a consequence
of Israel's use of explosives to dear a path for the wall. Zaki
'Awda described what life was like for those who had been excised
from the West Bank. I quote him at length because Zaki's experiences
are likely to be the fate of 343,000 Palestinians by the time
Israel completes its plans.
They completed the wall here and locked
the gates. Now we have to take mountain routes, which really is
a lot of wear and tear on the cars. Just to bring food for our
kids. There is only one road out, and they closed it. Now we pass
through an opening in the fence that they created for themselves.
When they finish the wall, they'll close that passage. We have
to go through the Alfe Menashe settlement, and then pass a checkpoint,
and then go to Qalqilya and Azzoun. And they tell us this is the
shortest way out. Qalqilya is 3 km away, but with the road as
it is, you drive 30 km to get there.
We don't have water and we don't have
electricity. We lack just about all services. There are about
50 or 60 houses here. We have an elementary school and a preparatory
school. We don't have teachers. The teachers are from Azzoun,
Kufur Thuluth, Habla, and Ras Atiya, and they can't reach us at
all. Our high school and university students can't reach their
schools. This is a huge problem for us.
We have no doctors here. Generally we
go to Qalqilya or Habla or Azzoun. When we call for an ambulance,
it can't reach us here. A patient might die on the way before
he gets to an ambulance. We have to drive patients a distance
before we get to the spot the ambulance waits for us. Just this
morning, someone was taking a woman who had had a stroke to Qalqilya,
and they were stopped at the checkpoint and prevented from passing,
even though he had a permit.
We were told that there is no code number
for our village, that we weren't even on the map and we weren't
recognized. I am 37 years old, and I was born in this village,
and I know that my grandfather and his father all lived here.
So how can there be no code number for this village? Why is it
not on the map? We are completely tied. We don't know what future
I have about 25 dunums outside the wall.
And I have another plot of land, about 30 dunums. If they let
us through the fence, I have to cross a distance of 20-25 km to
get to my property outside the wall. To buy groceries, we go to
Azzoun or Habla or Kufur Thuluth. This is a big distance. And
the police always stop us along the way, whether or not we have
permits and drive correctly. There is always either a fine involved
or license suspension, 500 shekel fines [about $111], and courts.
We don't know what we're going to do about this. When we see the
police, we try to avoid them because they question us: where are
you going? And when we tell them, they say, do that some other
time, this is not the time.
Our cars are not allowed on the road
without a permit. And they don't give us permits. This morning
my neighbor went out to his property. He should be able to cross
the wall and be on his land in about 5 minutes. Today he tried
to leave but couldn't. It took him 3 hours to get there and 3
hours to get back. He can't drive there, he has to go on foot.
This is not workable. We can't tend our land when we spend so
much time on the road. Two-thirds or more of the village lands
are now beyond the wall. The wall isn't complete yet, but we still
can't reach our land. When the wall is finished, we won't be able
to go anywhere.
We were told we would get 6-month permits.
In Beit Amin, they were given permits that were canceled after
1 or 2 months and the gate was locked, and people couldn't move.
People like Zaki are now required to secure
permits from the Israeli authorities for the right to live in
their homes, to farm their land, to enter such areas for work
purposes, and so on. Permits are granted (or not) arbitrarily
for a few months at a time. How long can these hamlets survive?
A corollary is this: How is Israel's security
enhanced when Palestinians are forced to petition for the right
to live in their own homes? The inescapable conclusion is that
such policies stem, not from security concerns, but rather from
Israel's ongoing and racist preoccupation with demographics: The
(non-Jewish) Palestinians will be forced to leave, even if they
somehow can resist the economic pressures to leave, because a
rejected permit is as good as an eviction notice enforced by ever-present
In the northern West Bank, the theft of
farmland (or inability to reach it) is reducing communities to
penury. In the south, the pressures are different. The Bethlehem
district is home to more than 170,000 Palestinians, concentrated
mostly in the three towns Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour.
Bethlehem's economic decline began with the signing of the Oslo
Accords and was exacerbated by the closures and curfews, all of
which brought the city's economic mainstays, tourism and importing,
to a halt. This is only likely to get worse. Hanna Rishmawi explained
to me that Israeli land confiscation settlement road patterns
appeared to be designed to place the three towns in a closed area
with only an east and west road supervised by the Israelis. Judging
by practices in other areas, the gate will dose between 10 p.m.
and 6 a.m., which will kill the tourism industry and the export
business. As it is, the wall around Bethlehem serves to isolate
and annex the religious areas, and since my visit, Rachel's Tomb
has become completely inaccessible to Palestinians. A furniture
factory owner I spoke to, Mundher Elias al-Bandak, observed that
he might have to dose the factory that his father built in 1936;
with the wall no more than six meters away from his factory on
two sides, he did not expect that anyone would bother to come
to his showroom and place furniture orders.
What kind of life is possible,
Clearly, Israel's leaders are willing
to bear any cost, violate every norm, and inflict tremendous pain
on a nation in order to fulfill their dreams of greater Israel.
The wall, together with the network of bypass roads and roadblocks
and a policy of keeping 3.5 million Palestinians on the edge of
starvation, is | designed to divide the West Bank into impoverished
cantons | that are further subdivided into ghettos. Not only is
Israel pre- J venting the emergence of a viable Palestinian state,
but it also is pursuing a policy of enforced hunger that will
make voluntary emigration the only viable option to an unsustainable
existence. Sustained attacks against a people's ability to survive
surely counts as a genocidal policy.
Palestinian, Israeli, and International
Solidarity Movement activists have been protesting the wall and
its extension into the Salfit and Ramallah districts since the
fall of 2003. Israeli police and soldiers have responded with
tear gas, concussion bombs, rubber-coated metal bullets, and live
ammunition. Some Palestinians have been killed protesting the
wall, and at
least one Israeli has been shot. In an
emergency session, the UN General Assembly asked the International
Court of Justice in The Hague to consider the legality of the
wall; Israel refused to participate in the deliberations, just
as it has ignored dozens of Security Council resolutions condemning
its policies in the Occupied Territories.
If the wall is allowed to continue, Palestinians
will find -) themselves like Native Americans, confined to reservations,
where they are completely marginalized or worse. Only a sustained
demonstration of international (and particularly U.S.) opposition
to Israeli lawlessness stands a chance of reversing Israeli policies
that have brought so much pain and suffering.