Up against the wall

An American in Palestine considers the great divide

A Palestinian boy rides his bike past the wall dividing the West Bank’s Abu Dis from East Jerusalem.

A Palestinian boy rides his bike past the wall dividing the West Bank’s Abu Dis from East Jerusalem.

Courtesy Of ZUMA Press

Layla A. Kaiksow is an Arab-American who graduated from the University of California, Davis, and is currently doing volunteer work in Palestine

The Western world took an intense political and social interest in the building of the Berlin Wall. And, after far too long, the Western world began to look critically and honestly at the political and social situation in apartheid South Africa. So, why does the Western world sit by idly now while Israel builds another Berlin Wall, another apartheid, another disaster? Can we not learn from history and its mistakes?

Maybe people are not aware that in June 2002, Israel began constructing a wall well within the West Bank, devastating fertile Palestinian land, isolating even more Palestinian water resources and destroying Palestinian villages (in some cases isolating them on three sides). Israel is effectively and illegally (according to international law set by the United Nations) snaking its apartheid wall up to 3.8 miles inside the West Bank’s “green line,” the internationally recognized border for the West Bank. Often, we hear catch slogans associated with the state of Israel, little phrases such as “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East” or “Israel wants peace.” However, what’s more important are the actual actions and practices of the state.

Currently, I have the honor to be working in Palestine for various nongovernmental organizations, one of those being the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) in a department that specializes in the development of rural women (for more info on PARC, visit www.pal-arc.org). Through this job, I have had a chance to visit the wall; see the devastation with my own eyes; and take personal accounts of farmlands, houses and villages divided. When looking at the towering apartheid wall, 26 feet high of thick concrete in some areas and a daunting electrified fence in others, one is struck by how quickly this wall will destroy any viable future for a Palestinian state.

Why people cannot see the hypocrisy between the apartheid wall and Israel’s constant claims of being “the only democracy in the Middle East” is beyond me. To begin with, Palestinians who have been given Israeli citizenship (“Israeli Arabs,” as they are sometimes called) have never been granted equal rights under the law with Israel’s Jewish population. A recent study done by the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan Israeli research group founded in 1991, found that Israel ranks very low (22nd) when compared with some 35 other democracies. Israel ranked in the lower half of the list concerning human rights and freedom of religion and ranked among the highest in socioeconomic inequality. Part of the study included a public-opinion survey reflecting how Israelis view their democracy. As of 2003, 53 percent of Jews in Israel would state openly that they are against full equality for Arabs; 77 percent think there always should be Jewish dominance in crucial political decisions; only 31 percent support having Arab political parties in government; and a daunting 57 percent think that Arabs should emigrate, according to the institute’s “The Democracy Index: Major Findings 2003.” And yet, we in the West still believe it when the media calls Israel a democracy. All we have to do is look at the facts on the ground to see the truth.

We are only in “phase one” of the wall, and yet the devastation can be seen in Palestine’s three largest agricultural districts: Qalqiliya, Tulkarm and Jenin. In 2000, the World Bank found that these three regions accounted for 45 percent of the West Bank’s agricultural production. This first phase alone only represents one-third of the wall in its shortest proposed form. Israel refuses to announce its final plans for the wall publicly. At the lowest estimates, 65 communities will be affected; this includes more than 206,000 people (just for phase one). In this first phase, Palestinian agricultural land has been confiscated, Palestinian water and irrigation resources have been damaged, and Palestinian homes have been demolished. And this is in addition to continued isolation of Palestinian communities preventing farmers from reaching their crops, preventing crops from reaching their markets and preventing people from visiting their families.

The wall, in effect, finalizes Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. In 1980, Israel extended its jurisdiction to occupied East Jerusalem. This attempted annexation was internationally condemned and deemed illegal by the United Nations Security Council. The apartheid wall prevents those Palestinians living in the West Bank from reaching Jerusalem, which is a strong economic resource for many Palestinians in terms of jobs and markets for crops, not to mention a place with important holy sites for both Muslims and Christians. The apartheid wall will wind around to include Rachel’s Tomb, an important holy site for Muslims and Christians and also an important tourist site for the Bethlehem area, whose economy depends strongly on tourism. When the wall is complete, the economic benefit and visiting rights of this holy site will be in the control of Israel.

If this apartheid wall were truly a means of “security,” as Israel claims, then why is the wall not being built on the 1967 internationally recognized borders? The 1967 borders have provided a starting point for many attempted negotiations, so why wouldn’t Israel just use these borders for its unilateral solution of an apartheid wall? Clearly this wall is being used to take even more Palestinian land that Israel already has, boxing the Palestinians in tighter and tighter, hoping—as the study showed Israelis do hope—that the Palestinians will leave.

Facts on the ground can tell only one story: Israel is not interested in supporting a viable Palestinian state and is working toward illegally annexing lands that illegal settlements have been built on. The wall zigzags into the West Bank, enclosing some areas on three sides, so as to complete this vision. Approximately 5.6 percent of the West Bank will be annexed illegally to Israel with the successful completion of the first phase of the wall. Neither the settlements, nor the wall, nor the annexation of these lands is sanctioned by international law. The wall successfully isolates Palestinian areas within the West Bank from each other, stunting the growth and survival of the Palestinian economy and ensuring its dependence on the Israeli economy. This is yet another tactic of the Israeli government to create facts on the ground that will complicate any future for an independent Palestinian state.

The wall has already cut roads, separating people from their farmlands, water resources, public resources, social ties, education and income. So far, 19 miles of water resources have been destroyed (directly affecting 50 wells); approximately 102,320 trees have been uprooted; some 40 homes will be demolished (to date, 28 homes have been demolished, and the rest have been served demolition orders); 85 commercial buildings have been destroyed; and some 3,670 acres of land have been confiscated and destroyed to make space for the apartheid wall (and this does not include the land that is being illegally annexed to Israel west of the wall). And this is just the first phase.

The fate of villages between the wall and the green line has now been decided by military order No. 378, which unequivocally states that those living in this so-called seam area will have to leave or gain permits from the Israeli government to remain there or have access to their lands. This seam area contains 16 villages with an estimated 11,550 residents. According to the Israeli government, these communities present a problem for the “natural” growth of the illegal settlements. Currently in these areas, 20 factories, 16 homes, 174 shops and one school have been issued demolition orders. Israel hopes to expand the trans-Israeli highway in this area so as to connect the illegal settlements more easily with the rest of Israel proper.

In the face of all of this, one cannot believe that Israel really desires peace with an equal state of Palestine. Its policies of closures—limiting mobility, continued building and expansion of settlements—and now this apartheid wall to seal the fate of Palestine speak louder than any Zionist propaganda of “peace and democracy.” Actions speak louder than words, and Israel’s actions scream injustice and racism. Israel continues to repress a whole population with armored tanks, Apache helicopters and Caterpillar bulldozers—all of which are bought with U.S. loans that channel American taxpayers’ money into the pockets of the military industry giants while our outright support for Israeli apartheid makes Americans ever more hated and at risk around the world.

Why does the world sit by as Israel creates another South Africa, another apartheid system based on racial policy? The United Nations sits quietly passing resolutions against the apartheid wall with little to no action behind its words. The United States continues to fund the state of Israel, taking no real action to prevent the building of this wall. U.S. companies, such as Caterpillar Inc., continue to provide Israel with bulldozers to raze Palestinian houses and land. U.S. citizens sit by watching as their tax dollars are sent to a government that seeks to intern Palestinians in their own land and to strangle their economy. Israel’s actions speak louder than any baseless claims of democracy and peace; if one examines the facts and practices of the state of Israel, it becomes obvious that peace is not the goal.