Along the route of the separation barrier in the West Bank, a new culture is springing up: on one side, soldiers and bulldozers; on the other, Israelis and Palestinians embracing the land and the trees, trying to save them both. Last week, Sharon decided he was secure enough in the role of man of peace to start pushing the wall towards the settlements of Ariel and Kedumim, deep in the West Bank, about 20 kilometres from Israel. And since then the Israelis and Palestinians have also been there.
The breathtaking scenery of the Ariel district has been sliced up by the new roads that the rulers have built for their own exclusive use. Beneath them lie the old roads of the vanquished. There, on the lower level, is where the other Israel-Palestine treads. Israeli youths arrive in settlement buses and then make their way on foot and in Palestinian taxis among the checkpoints. They trek between the villages in groups or alone. Some sleep in the villages. Others will travel the same route the next day to reach the demonstration. Everywhere they go they are greeted with blessings and beaming faces. "Tfaddalu," the children in the doorways say, as if they had never heard of stone-throwing. Like the inhabitants of other Palestinian villages along the route of the fence, those in the Ariel area have opened their hearts and their homes to the Israelis who come to support their non-violent resistance to the barrier that is robbing them of their land.
The Israelis who go into the villages are not afraid of Hamas. If they fear anyone, it is the Israeli army, which can decide at any time, on a commander’s whim, to douse the demonstrators with inordinate quantities of tear-gas or to declare the area a closed military zone (i.e., closed to Israelis) and arrest any Israeli who tries to remain in the area.
What brings young Israelis to stand with the Palestinians in front of the army is the conviction that there is a basic line of justice that must not be crossed. It was not security considerations that determined the present route of the fence. If the goal were to prevent terrorist infiltration, the fence could have been built differently. The route planned by Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, head of the Barak government’s "Peace Administration", also deviated from the 1967 border and enclosed the large settlement blocs, placing them on the Israeli side. But the 300 square kilometres of West Bank territory which that route would have devoured is less than a third of what the present route will grab. Arieli’s plan would have cut off 56,000 Palestinians from contiguous connection with the West Bank; the current route will strand 400,000 (Eldar, Ha’aretz, 16.2.04).
Sharon and the army have designed the barrier with a view to taking over as much West Bank land along the border with Israel as possible, and to gradually empty it of its inhabitants. Qalqiliyah, which has been isolated from its lands and the rest of the West Bank, is already a dead city. Many of its inhabitants have fled to seek subsistence at the edges of other West Bank towns; those who remain have succumbed to the despair and decline that characterizes prisoners. This is what lies in store for Biddu, Beit Sureik and the other villages between the settlement Giv’at Zeev and the Israeli town Mevasseret Zion. Now it is the turn of Zawiya and Deir Balout, which lie between the settlement Ariel and the Israeli Rosh Ha’ayin. In the army’s language, Ariel and Kedumim are the “claws” of the fence, claws that are now sunk into the West Bank, grabbing a giant chunk of Palestinian land that will be transferred to Israel. As part of the process, it will be necessary to “cleanse” the land of its inhabitants by slow strangulation, as in Qalqiliyah.
The Israelis who face the army went to the West Bank because they know there is a law that is higher than the army’s laws of closed military zones: there is international law, which forbids ethnic cleansing, and there is the law of conscience. But what brings them back, day after day, is the new covenant that has been struck between the peoples of this land, a pact of fraternity and friendship between Israelis and Palestinians who love life, the land, the evening breeze. They know that it is possible to live differently on this land.
Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall and Edeet Ravel.