BY FADI AMER
IN A 1998 SPEECH TO THE right-wing Tsomet Party in Israel, Israeli then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon urged the party followers to move and “run and grab as many hilltops as they can, to enlarge settlements” because according to Sharon, “everything we take now will stay ours…everything we don’t grab will go to them [the Palestinians].” I did not particularly find this statement surprising since anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that Sharon has always been more interested in settlements and expansion than he is with achieving a just peace with the Palestinians. But what I do find to be utterly shocking is the degree of American and Israeli passivity towards veiled ‘security’ projects, which are in reality only intended to impede the emergence of a viable Palestinian State.
The latest of these projects is the construction of a new “security” wall that will allegedly serve to enhance Israel’s security against Palestinian suicide attacks. I have no doubt that this wall, just like its security predecessor – the settlements – will only serve to further complicate the prospects for a comprehensive peace in the future. Its construction does not only amount to a de facto annexation of Palestinian land, but cannot be justified even on Israel’s own terms.
First, it is one thing for a country to build a wall to protect itself, but it is another to build that wall on somebody else’s land. The former is a right, but the latter is an outright theft. The separation wall does not follow the 1967 boundaries (the internationally recognized borders of Israel), instead, according to a United Nations Report issued this September, it follows a route that “incorporates substantial parts of Palestine” into Israel. Exact figures on this are hard to pin, but so far it has been estimated that 2,800 acres of Palestinian land has been confiscated for this project. Moreover, by the time of completion, it is estimated that the wall would incorporate 10% of the West Bank into Israel. This is de facto annexation, and it is simply unacceptable.
And despite earlier assurances by the Israeli government, the wall represents a clear infringement to preexisting Palestinian demographic distribution / location. The same UN report (and others by Amnesty and B’Tselem) found that in some places the barrier “completely encircles Palestinian villages while at many points it separates Palestinian villages from the rest of the West Bank and converts them into isolated enclaves.” A World Bank report predicted that upon completion, the wall would cut 95,000 Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank.
Unfortunately, to make a bad situation worse, the Palestinian land being usurped also happens to be of extreme importance to the Palestinian communities living there. First, the wall incorporates into Israel approximately 31 of “the most important water wells in the region” (see report by John Dugard Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights). Second, and partly due to these wells, this land also happens to be extremely important for Palestinian agriculture. As noted by the above UN report and several other Palestinian environmental NGOs, the wall will effectively cut thousands of Palestinian families from their agricultural lands.
But what is perhaps most distressing about this horrible project is the fact that the Israeli justification for it is incapable of withstanding serious scrutiny. The Israeli government has repeatedly stated that the wall is a necessary evil that is intended to stop Palestinian attackers from entering into Israel. This excuse does not hold water. First, it does not explain why the wall could not be built on the Israeli side. Second, and more importantly, it wrongly supposes that Palestinian attackers enter Israel through the areas which this wall is supposed to block. This assumption was explicitly disproved by a report issued by the Israeli State Comptroller in July 2002, which found that “IDF documents indicate that most of the suicide terrorists and car bombs crossed the seam area into Israel through checkpoints, where they underwent faulty and even shoddy checks.” This project, just like the settlements before it, is about creating facts on the ground and not increasing security.
So where does all of this leave us? The conclusion here is basically this: assassinations, house demolitions and walls are just as likely to bring Israel security as suicide bombings are likely to bring the Palestinians an independent state. If there is one conflict that can’t be solved militarily or by force, it is this; a century of fighting and killing should have taught us that already.
If you have taken this article to be an attack on Israel, then you have missed its point. The motivation here is not to bash, it is simply to shed light on a project that I genuinely believe will make an already difficult situation worse. And therefore, it ought to be opposed, just like suicide bombings, not along preexisting nationalistic or religious identifications, but by all of those who genuinely want to see this conflict end.
Fadi Amer is an HLS 2L.