When Israel’s finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu was interviewed for the radio on the morning after the horrific terror attack on Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem he was asked whether this was the right time for cutbacks in the military budget. In answer to this question Netanyahu promised, once again, that the money set aside for the so-called “separation fence” would not be affected by the cutback – on the contrary it would be flowing faster so as to speed up construction. This, he said, would be done to ensure the safety of the citizens of Israel. It did not even occur to the interviewer to ask whether the fence would actually lead to peace and security. As is the case with other related issues, when violence escalates and the debate becomes emotionally charged, it becomes impossible to express any other opinion. Israel’s political parties, across the board, from Meretz to the Likud, are vying in their expressions of support for the “fence”. One of the most dramatic geo-political changes in the history of the region is taking place in the absence of any public debate. We must stop and look through the fog of lies concerning this wall.
The first lie comes in the shape of the name, “separation fence”. This notion promises the worried and exhausted Israeli public that the Palestinians, together with all the misery in our dealings with them, will be “behind the fence”. Us here, them there – and peace to all. But the fence does not really mean separation between Palestinians and Israelis. On the contrary. The wall that is under construction will lead to the annexation by Israel of a considerable percent of the West Bank. On the western, Israeli, side of the fence hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will remain. On the eastern, Palestinian, side, there will be thousands of Jewish settlers. So separation this isn’t.
The second lie is that what we have here is a fence that constitutes a border on whose eastern side the “Palestinian state” about which Sharon likes to talk will be established. For the idea is not of one fence but rather of, at least, two sets of walls. And while one of them, the one on the west side, will steal as many kilometers as possible of Palestinian land alongside the Green Line, the other – on the eastern side – will annex the remoter settlements, like Ariel and Kiryat Arbah. Between these two walls there will be various types of obstacles, fences and trenches. This set up will irreversibly turn the West Bank’s centers of population into isolated human cages. What this amounts to is not a state but a smattering of ghettos.
Take Jerusalem, for example. The wall that is being erected there does not coincide with the dividing line that runs between the city’s Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods. It cuts all of the former into two. In doing so it will annex well over 100,000 Palestinians. Moreover, hundreds of thousands Palestinians will be left outside the fence, the majority of whom are residents of Jerusalem, in the possession of a valid Israeli ID card, whose life is wholly involved with and dependent upon the city. These people will not only be prevented from entering the city and, thus, reaching the source of their livelihood, their centers of education and hospitals – they will also be unable to turn eastward instead.
For to the east they will be surrounded by walls and roads built to envelope Ma’aleh Adumim, Pisgat Zeev, Nokdim and Tekoa.
It is hard to describe the vast variety of humanitarian problems that these walls will create on the eastern side of metropolitan Jerusalem which will be cut up into a many-branched system of enclosures. But the Israeli public is not willing to consider this humanitarian issue because they have been promised that the fence will finally bring the longed-for security. And that’s the third lie about the wall. Again, a glimpse at the Jerusalem area is instructive. During the present Intifada, East Jerusalem has been the most quiet Palestinian area. The wall, which will cut through families and streets alike, will harvest a great number of people who have nothing left to lose. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, once annexed to Israel, will be disconnected from their brothers, while, at the same time, the settlers’ drive for domination will only intensify (they are already at Har Homa, Jabel Mukkaber, Ras el Ammud, Sheikh Jarrakh, the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, etc.). The demolition project of Palestinian houses will receive a serious boost and the government will do anything in its power to push out Palestinian citizen. What we have here is a huge barrel full of explosives. Instead of removing Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem, the wall will in fact import them into the city.
Obviously, the problems are not restricted to Jerusalem. And there are also areas – though few in number – in which the fence will be constructed on the Green Line, without annexing Palestinian land and its inhabitants. This for instance will be the case in Kalkilyah and Tulkarm. But those who delude themselves with the thought that the fence will bring security there are mistaken. Believers in the fence point, time and again, at the example of the Gaza Strip. This is, indeed, a fascinating case. Gaza, which is encircled by a fence, is virtually under lock and bolt thanks to a handful of settlements that together have control over a substantial proportion of the land. It is so peaceful over there that the IDF constantly lobbies for a large scale invasion, while its airforce is engaged in the continuous of shelling of the place. The fence-made security enjoyed by the people of Sderot and Ashkelon, who come under fire from make-shift missiles, is also widely renowned. As long as the occupation continues the people of Gaza will go on resisting it and it is only a matter of time until they find more sophisticated weapons and better ways to dig their way through, underneath and above the fences.
Exploiting the genuine security related worries of the Israeli people and the majority’s wish for a political parting from the Palestinians, the Sharon government is constructing a system of fences that will not achieve separation, that will not draw a border, and that will not, eventually, bring security. What we are facing in the “fence” is yet another typical, thoroughly calculated “Sharonic” act of deception. The real purpose of the walls is very different. They are intended as another layer – maybe the ultimate one – in the complex matrix of control which constitutes the Israeli occupation: the settlements, the roads, the roadblocks, the curfews, the closures, and the use of brute military force. The walls that Sharon is building now are intended to render Israel’s hold over the land it captured in 1967 irreversible. They are the last nail in the coffin of the two-states solution. We shall wake up, in another year and a half from now, to a drastically different reality: a cruel state consisting of pens enclosures will stretch between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean. A state besides which South-Africa’s apartheid pales into insignificance. Violence will not merely fail to be reduced – it will increase, hatred and racism will intensify. The outcome of this is too terrifying to contemplate.
Yigal Bronner teaches South Asian studies at the Tel-Aviv University and is an activist in Ta’ayush — Arab-Jewish Partnership.