The Wall of Apartheid
The erection of a 436 mile wall, that stands 8 metres high is yet another means by which the Israeli government seeks to isolate and humiliate the Palestinian people. As this state sanctioned apartheid persists, the silence of the "international community" becomes deafening.
Leaning out of the window of an overcrowded shared taxi, I witnessed a scene which reminded me I was entering the edge of the global borderland - an area which has somehow fallen off the map of humanity, where international human rights law is not implemented and where oppression manifests itself through physical and psychological means.
The Wall around Ramallah stands tall and oppressive. Armed soldiers, barbed wire and watch towers are omnipresent. I looked out of the window of the taxi and saw a group of IDF soldiers beating an old man, perhaps in his 60s, with the backs of their rifles. Pushed down into the ditch alongside the Wall, he would be silenced. For behind the great 25 foot high concrete wall lies a silenced population housed within a scandalous open-air prison.
The construction of the West Bank Wall commenced in June 2002 and is still in the process of completion. The Wall is not simply concrete slabs but also consists of trenches, barbed wire “buffer zones” and electrified fencing. Watch towers, sniper towers, electronic sensors, military checkpoints, and video cameras all make up the geography of the Occupation and Israel’s increasingly draconian policies towards the Palestinian people.
According to the Israeli authorities, the Wall is "a defensive measure, designed to block the passage of terrorists, weapons and explosives into the State of Israel." Using the discourse of security, Israel has consistently attempted to justify its violations and repressive actions towards Palestinians, culminating in the illegal West Bank Wall. Through declaring a state of emergency, the Wall has created a “temporary” political space, comparable to what Agamben calls a “state of exception.” In this state of exception, bio-power is exercised to achieve the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations. Here, Palestinians are reduced to “bare humanity,” stripped of civil liberties, and are only included in the juridical order through their exclusion.
The Wall was always meant to be a temporary structure responding to “urgent security needs.” However, the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and any illegal actions taken have always been justified as being temporary measures. According to Weizman: "This use of ‘temporariness’ as a legal measure exposes the underlying paradox behind Israel’s system of domination and control: in order to pacify the territories, ‘temporary’ security measures must be employed, but since the Palestinians rebel against the very security measures (the settlements) that were originally put in place to pacify them, further ‘temporary’ security measures (the Wall) are erected to manage the radicalizing resistance and violence, and so forth.” Thus, the self-perpetuating discourse of security is allowing the Israeli state to continue its colonial desire to acquire more territory through force.
Aside from the fact that this is perhaps the most extreme and, arguably, unjustified measure of security, the route of the Wall does not follow the internationally recognized Green Line. 80% of it has been built on Palestinian land inside the West Bank and in some areas it is located as much as six kilometers from the Green Line.
Maps of the region show how the Wall is annexing the Israeli settlements and much of the land around them into Israel. As the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, John Dugard explains: “The Wall has all the features of a permanent structure. The fact that it will incorporate half of the settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem suggests that it is designed to further entrench the position of the settlers. The evidence strongly suggests that Israel is determined to create facts on the ground amounting to de facto annexation.”
The route of the wall has been designed in relation to the position of Israeli settlements. These settlements have been built on seized Palestinian land and are considered illegal under international law, notably violating Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Thus, there is strong reason to believe that the Wall is an exercise to unilaterally redraw the political boundaries between Israel and the West Bank, to enhance colony expansion, isolate the Palestinians into enclaves, and thwart the viability of any future Palestinian state. Israel has long played the game of isolation, dehumanization and strangulation with the aim of impeding the possibility of creating an organized and united resistance force, and this has reached its zenith with the creation of the Wall.
The Wall is thus not a border in the political sense dividing two territories, but instead is an artificial colonial frontier through Palestinian territories dividing families, communities, and people from their workplaces or land. Its enveloping design, 670 km in length, which is over double the length of the Green Line border, has created some 22 separate enclaves – areas where people will be totally caged in by the wall. Here, inhabitants are cut off and require a special permit to access their homes and land. These enclosed areas where people do not have the freedom to move, ironically, is a tactic reminiscent of what Nazi Germany employed to create ghettos.
Indeed, the Wall is inherently discriminatory. It does not affect a specific individual who may pose a security threat but instead affects the entire people. Together with “Israeli-only” bypass roads and fast track checkpoints for international aid workers, a system of apartheid has reared its ugly head in the land of Palestine.
The creation of the West Bank Wall violates international law as it clearly runs inside the West Bank rather than along the internationally recognized Green Line border. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that "the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law." Despite the court’s recommendation that the barrier should be dismantled, the decision was non-binding. Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967 equal 23% of the land of historic Palestine. Completion of the Wall will leave Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip living on just 12% of these territories.
The West Bank Wall also contravenes Israel’s obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect the human rights of Palestinian people and their rights to freedom of movement, property, health, education, and work. Individuals can no longer freely access their workplace, agricultural land, schools, hospitals, services, or water resources. Families, neighbours and communities have been separated, whilst homes, olive trees and fertile land have been demolished, all to make way for the Wall. Journeys of a few kilometers now take hours as Palestinians are forced to take lengthy detours to avoid Israeli settlements and settlers’ roads and are subjected to an ever-growing number of checkpoints.
The route of the Wall is severely jeopardizing agricultural farming, a primary source of income for communities located near the Wall. The creation of the Wall has involved confiscation or destruction of land as well as the relocation of some fertile farmland and water wells to the Israeli side of the Wall. According to Palestine Monitor, approximately 15% of all West Bank land has been confiscated to build the Wall. Furthermore, in November 2006, a UN OCHA survey of 57 communities situated close to the Wall in the north of the West Bank found that 60% of farming families with land to the west of the Wall could no longer access it.
This lack of freedom of movement to access land or to export produce is taking its toll on the economy. Despite providing gates to reach land located on the other side of the Wall, the gates are not open all days, permits are often refused on “security” grounds and tractors are rarely permitted to pass. As if seizing land and caging Palestinians in is not enough, Israeli tactics also involve starving the economy, provoking widespread poverty and unemployment.
The Wall is symbolic and representative of Israel’s non-commitment to a meaningful two state solution, and further reduces the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and independence. Using segregation, isolationism and exclusion, it formulates part of Israel’s long-term strategy to destroy the possibility of a centralised and national political entity and prevent any form of territorial continuity.
A decade after the end of apartheid in South Africa and despite an international ruling calling for the dismantlement of this illegal construction, the racist wall continues to be built. As John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights told the UN General Assembly: "In other countries the process would be described as ethnic cleansing, but political correctness [forbids] such language where Israel was concerned.”
While Palestine starves, Israel’s economy booms, and arms exports continue to do what they do best: profit from the climate of national and international “security.”
Just as economic sanctions encouraged the crumbling of the apartheid regime in South Africa, a full economic embargo against Israel may be the only solution toward ending the country’s tyrannical reign and abysmal human rights record.