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Security Wall or Barrier to Peace?

Alex Awad

Security Fence or Barrier to Peace?

Therefore, this is what the Holy One of Israel says:

Because you have rejected this message,relied on oppression and depended on deceit,this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant.It will break in pieces like pottery,shattered so mercilessly.
(Isaiah 30:12-14; NIV)

by Reverend Alex Awad

“Good fences make good neighbors.” So says a well-known proverb. But the mammoth wall that Israel is building inside the West Bank does not fit this description. Indeed, it is by far more horrible than the Berlin Wall, three times longer and two times higher. It is the most obvious symbol of racism and segregation of modern times. Why is this wall so incredibly appalling?

The Security Issue
The rationale offered for constructing the wall is that it is intended to keep Palestinian suicide bombers away from Israeli civilians. It is implied that the wall keeps “them there and us here.” Yet the wall does not even do that. Rather, it keeps all the Jewish settlements in the West Bank intact, and allows the settlers free movement into and from Israel. The route that the wall takes as it snakes around Palestinian villages and towns, while cutting them off from their lands and from each other, exposes the true but hidden intention of that rationale and forces us to look at the real reasons for its erection.

It is natural for people who are threatened to want to protect themselves and to secure their lives and that of their loved ones. [If the reason for building this wall is no more than to secure the lives of Israelis, even I, a Palestinian, will endorse the project because I too want my neighbors to live in safety. I understand that if my neighbors are insecure, I, myself and my people would also be insecure.] Israelis point to Palestinian suicide bombers and their ability to infiltrate into Israeli cities, streets, busses, restaurants and markets causing death, fear and destruction as the reason for building the wall. No doubt Palestinian militants during the last three years of Intifada caused great panic in the hearts of most Israelis and that intensified the Israeli public’s demand for secure borders with Palestinians. This outcry paved the way for the construction of the wall. The logic behind building the wall however becomes questionable when the objective observer takes a hard look at the path of its construction. To get to the core of this controversy, one must understand that the international community, the UN and Palestinians are not against Israeli demands for building a wall along Israel’s borders to secure the lives of Israelis. The dispute is over the locality of the wall.

Seeing is Believing
I live about one mile away from the wall that cuts off Bethlehem from Jerusalem. I see the wall daily as I commute between the two cities. I wish I could take the reader with me to see the wall and to discover its oppressive effects on the Palestinian population on both sides of the wall. Instead, I’ll direct the attention of the reader to the map insert of the wall. The green line on the map marks the 1967 internationally recognized border between Israel and the Palestinians. Notice how the black line that marks the path of the wall cuts deep into Palestinian territories separating Palestinians within the wall, not only from Israel, but also from other Palestinian territories. At the same time the wall keeps Palestinians and Israelis together on the outside part of the wall. I wish the reader could also see how the wall actually zigzags between Palestinian homes in many areas splitting neighborhoods and separating folks from their farms, schools, hospitals and their own families.

Who Needs Security?
As I mentioned above, Israelis have real security needs that no rational person could dismiss. These needs for security must be met before a lasting peace can take hold. In this conflict, however, there is another party that is hurting for lack of security. Many here wonder why the United States and some Western nations are totally oblivious to the security needs of Palestinians. Consider this; Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations report that the number of children killed on both sides since the start of the uprising until the end of June 2004 is 698. Among these, 587 are Palestinian and 111 are Israeli children. These reports reveal that for every Israeli child slain, 5 Palestinian children have been killed. As for adults, the reports show 3 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Undoubtedly, suicide bombers terrorize and destroy lives but so do Israeli incursions and bombings of Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps. When it comes to loss of property, there is no comparison between Israeli and Palestinian losses. Israelis have demolished more than 4,000 Palestinian homes in the last few years while the Palestinians did not demolish a single Israeli home. Hundreds of thousands of dunums of Palestinian lands have been confiscated by Israelis but Palestinians have not forcibly or non forcibly taken a square foot of Israeli land. Greater areas of Palestinian farmlands and groves of fruit trees have been bulldozed with the crops and trees uprooted. Yet Palestinians did not harm any Israeli farmland. Gradually, since 1994, Israelis managed to place the entire Palestinian population under siege. Palestinians are besieged in their towns and cities that are totally locked up by a system of Israeli check points, electric fences, watchtowers and military camps. Palestinians are also cut off from the rest of the world for lack of control or access to their international borders. Israelis do not allow Palestinians to travel via Ben Gurion Airport. Moreover, they have destroyed their only airport and seaport in the Gaza Strip, and periodically they complicate their travel by ground through Rafah in the Gaza Strip or via the Allenby Bridge to Jordan. So who, in this ongoing conflict, needs security? Of course both sides but it is the Palestinians who are hurting the most. This is why it is rationally and morally not acceptable that the Israelis construct a wall on Palestinian lands to guarantee their security needs while they at the same time infringe upon and act totally oblivious to their neighbor’s needs for security.

The Political Factors
The Israelis admit that by building the wall they are acting unilaterally to separate themselves from Palestinians. Israelis justify their actions by claiming that they have no partner on the Palestinian side to talk with. Ironically, the Palestinians are willing to talk and have been talking to any Israeli leader who is willing to sit and talk with them. This subversive strategy, of totally marginalizing the Palestinians, which was first adopted by the Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and was later endorsed by American supporter and President George W. Bush, gives the Israelis a free ride around the Road Map. After the Quartet (US, UN, EU and RF)*footnote explanation announced the Road Map as a blueprint to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian Authority accepted the plan. The Likud party, headed by Sharon, could not come out publicly and announce their rejection of the Road Map, which they reviled. Instead, Sharon demanded that the Quartet make 15 amendments to the Road Map. The Quartet would not budge. Sharon and his cabinet knew that talking with the Palestinians meant a head on collision with the Road Map. Consequently, came unilateralism. Sharon decided to execute his political moves without consulting with anyone except the United States administration, whose unconditional support was guaranteed and granted.

Unilateralism as a political strategy sprang out of deep conflict within the Israeli society. While many Israelis yearn for peace and are willing to implement UN resolutions, others, who now control the government, for ideological and political reasons, do not want to give up Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The construction of the wall is an attempt to ensure the security of Israelis, while at the same time keeping hold on as much of the West Bank land as possible. The wall separates Palestinians from 50% of their land. If history repeats itself, this 50% will in due course be appropriated to the Jewish State leaving the Palestinians with less than 12% of historic Palestine.

Where disputes about boundary lines exist, neighbors and contenders, often end up in court to resolve their differences especially when one side refuses to talk with the other. The Palestinians appealed to the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the international community to determine the legality of the wall. On July 9, 2004, the ICJ ruled by 15 votes to one that the wall is illegal. Further the court called on Israel to stop building the wall, to dismantle what was built and to compensate Palestinians who incurred losses as a result of its construction. From the outset, Israeli officials worked hard to question the legitimacy of the ICJ and after the court’s decision, they openly declared their unwillingness to comply with the court’s rulings. Had the wall’s builders followed the 1967 borders, which are acknowledged by the UN and the entire international community, the ICJ and the Palestinians would have no legitimate reason to protest it. It stands to reason, however, that illegal fences do not make good neighbors.

The Human Factors
Behind every square foot of this wall, be it vertical or horizontal, stands endless volumes of tragic injustices that touch the life of every Palestinian man, woman or child. It is unprecedented in the history of humanity that a nation of 6 million people places another nation of 4 million inhabitants in perpetual open-air prisons.

While the wall may serve Israel’s desire to expand its hold in the West Bank, it will create economic woes for the Palestinian population who are already economically impoverished. No economy in a small country like the West Bank can survive when it is cut up into 81 separate enclaves with the movement of goods and people between them denied or severely restricted. Palestinians cannot travel from town to town within the West Bank without a permit from Israeli authorities and only a very small percentage of Palestinians are issued permits to travel to Israel. Even when Palestinians have permits to travel within the West Bank, they are not allowed to travel using their own vehicles but must go on foot or cross the army checkpoints to use public transportation. Once the wall is completed it will further dismember and fragment the West Bank. The movement of Palestinians and their products within their homeland will become a nightmare. Israel will certainly not allow Palestinians to build or develop areas outside the wall. As Palestinian territories shrink due to the wall, so will the Palestinian ability to form a viable state on what little that is left. Israelis deceive themselves when they assume that they can throw Palestinians into fenced in, isolated islands of historic Palestine, while they (the Israelis) enjoy the fruits of the imposed peace and security. It did not work for the Apartheid regime of South Africa and it will not work for Israel. This wall will not make good neighbors. This wall will embitter and impoverish Palestinians and add fuel to militancy and terrorism.

On the humanitarian level, the wall will have catastrophic effects on the delivery of compassionate services, in particular medical ones. I have seen critically ill Palestinian patients being transferred from one ambulance to another at an Israeli checkpoint. The wall, which is turning the Palestinian towns and cities into detention camps, will further hamper the mobility and ability of Palestinian patients to get proper medical treatment in Palestinian or Israeli hospitals.

The educational system will not escape the scourge of this wall. The wall already separates students from their schools, colleges and universities. Once completed, it will prevent thousands of students and teachers from getting to their classrooms or learning centers. It will isolate schools and frustrate the task of educational authorities. The wall is turning every Palestinian population center into a large prison and the prisoners will constantly be obliged to seek the favor and mercy of their Israeli guards.

This wall will compromise the religious freedom of Muslim and Christian worshipers effectively preventing them from fulfilling their religious obligations and denying them the right to worship in their holy places that are located on either side of the wall. The wall that is built to cut off Bethlehem from Jerusalem, for example, will prevent Muslim and Christian worshipers from attending religious services and festivities at their holy places in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. As the pastor of a congregation in Jerusalem, I am well aware of this dilemma; members of my congregation who live in Bethlehem cannot legally attend our services in Jerusalem. It is only during major religious holidays that a determined number of Muslims and Christians are granted travel permits that allow them to travel from their Palestinian enclaves to their places of worship in Jerusalem. Religious festivities and celebrations for Christians living on either side are already hampered. This is adding to the frustration and decline of the Christian community that is fast disappearing.

Once the wall is complete, Israeli citizens will indeed realize that it did not bring them the security for which they yearn. Their oppressed neighbors will continue to resist both the wall and the occupation. For years, a wall has besieged over a million Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip; but it did not stop the death and injury of numerous Palestinians and Israelis and it certainly did not make the lives of Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip much safer. [Israel is now considering leaving the Gaza Strip precisely because the wall has not stopped militant acts.] Ultimately, security will not prevail through the construction of high walls or wide fences but through building bridges of trust and understanding.