In order to stem a conceivable German invasion, France erected a huge wall – called the Maginot Line – during the 1930s. This Line was to prove completely useless in the defense of the French homeland during the subsequent German/Italian invasion of 1940. Why does the government of Israel under Prime Minister Ariel ‘Arik‘ Sharon beg to differ with the lessons learned from military history? How can the leader of an armored Israeli division that crossed the Sinai into the Nile delta in 1973 encircling the Egyptian Third Army construct immobile permanent structures to secure Israel’s non-existent borders against ‘security’ threats?
The answer is simple. Israel’s enemy is not an army, not gunmen, not militants, not guerillas, and certainly not ‘terrorists’. What poses the greatest threat to the Zionist state is the establishment of normalcy in the lives of not only the great silent masses that make up the Palestinian people, but also normalcy in the lives of the dominant Jewish-Israeli people. Unlike the Palestinians who have but few weapons to remedy their fears that originate in the occupation of all of geographic Palestine, the Jewish-Israelis – who are kept constantly agitated by their government – have the inventory to project the fears instilled in them by the spectacle of violence in areas where the Israeli army operates (e.g., Jenin, Gaza City).
Maintenance of a militarized state precludes the possibility of desisting from the employment of troops to resolve any and all political disputes. Here in the United States, the founders of the country were utterly repulsed by the idea of a standing army because they experienced the manifestations of such an army through the so-called ‘Redcoats’ (British occupying soldiers). The inbred need of armies to justify their presence alone provides the vitriol towards the preservation of the status quo.
It is the very real irrationality of attempting to re-live that which has already happened that produces the Dionysian splurges in orgiastic violence so integral to the essence of, not only the Israeli army, but also the Israeli state. For how else can we characterize the expulsion of civilians in 1948, the pogrom in Deir Yassin, the murder of Egyptian prisoners of war in 1967, the construction of an Apartheid Wall today?
Like all things that lack a firm ontological status, the Apartheid Wall has many names. The names most frequently utilized include ‘separation fence,’ ‘security fence,’ ‘security wall,’ ‘security barrier,’ ‘separation wall,’ and ‘separation barrier’. I have chosen the name ‘Apartheid Wall’ since this phrase most accurately describes the causal rudiments of the thing itself: perpetuating the categorization of people in Palestine by their proximity to the Zionist narrative of a settler-colonial state presently called Israel.
Transformation is the crucial aspect of this quasi-ideology known as Zionism: transformation of an invented exogenous people (stereotyped Jews into stereotyped Israelis), transformation of an imagined land (Ottoman pre-modern Palestine into modern Israel), and the transformation of an indigenous people (agriculturalists into the dispossessed). Similarly, the Apartheid Wall merely implements the already existing judicial, social, and cultural separation with a physical separation.
Usurpation of the Land
Propagation of the malignant cancerous growths (viz., ‘settlements’) found throughout the approximately 22% of geographic Palestine that Israel occupied after the war of aggression it launched in 1967 has destroyed the contiguity of Palestinian communities. Moreover, the de facto Israeli annexation of land through so-called ‘settlements’, ‘outposts’, and military bases has effectuated the creation of typology of the Palestinian people as an urban people without a rural base. This parallels the imagined history of Jews before 1948 without a homeland and largely alienated from agricultural production in the mythic Zionist narrative.
Scarring the land east of the Green Line with the erection of the Apartheid Wall began in earnest in June 2002. The first segment of the Apartheid Wall has been built since that date along the northwestern area of the West Bank extending from northwest Jenin to south of Qalqiliya, running approximately 116 km. Based on maps released in early 2003, the Apartheid Wall is projected to run a length of 360 km in the western part of the West Bank. The cost of the Wall is estimated at $1.6 million (USD) per kilometer.
According to Jamal Juma‘ of the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON), Israeli Prime Minister Sharon announced in March 2003 that a second wall would be built in the Jordan Valley. If the Apartheid Wall eventually appears in the Jordan Valley, then the permanent nature of the Wall can hardly be disputed by de jure reflections on the legality of the project. The encirclement of all land belonging to a future Palestinian state makes the nomenclature of sovereignty a mere fantasy. How can a Palestinian state be a state without an outlet to land not controlled by Israel?
Silly dis-logisisms aside, the ‘Road Map’ being hustled by the Bush administration in the United States to the Palestinians is oblivious to Israel’s creeping annexation of land and its dislocation (gradual expulsion) of Palestinians from regions that are definitively in the West Bank. According to LAW (The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment), military orders are being used to seize the land necessary to build the Wall on. However, the nature of the Israeli control over the land stems from military occupation and thus, based on the 1907 Hague Convention on Warfare on Land, the Israel army can only assert temporary administrative control over any seized land.
Legal stipulations matter little in determining the Israeli mode of operation: an irredentist quest to obtain land that is always theirs by dent of anachronistic reading of history. Time must both move in order to allow Israel to possess the means to conquer land (advanced military equipment, mostly from America) and simultaneously stand still in order to justify an Israeli presence on the land based upon a scurrilous reading of Biblical history.
The Apartheid Wall collectively punishes all Palestinians for the violent resistance to illegal occupation of the few. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 53), destruction of property in occupied territory is forbidden. However, this regulation has not restrained the Israelis from seizing Palestinian land in order to build the fortified Apartheid Wall. Consisting of concrete walls, electronic detection equipment, ‘service roads’, barbed-wire, trenches, and ‘trace roads’ the Apartheid Wall project purports to bar potential militants from crossing into Israel’s 1948 based borders. Expropriation of land is part and parcel of the construction of the Wall. Not only will the Wall consume large swaths of Palestinian land with an average width of 60 meters (and height of 8 meters) (B’Tselem, 2003), it will also isolate segments of Palestinian land on the eastern side of its foundations.
In order to reach their land on the western side of the wall, Palestinians will need to obtain ‘permits’ to cross through select ‘gates’. Obviously, these ‘gates’ will operate like so many checkpoints that serve to humiliate, dehumanize, and disrupt the quotidian life of the average Palestinian not to mention arresting economic and social development. However, the greater purpose of the Apartheid Wall is to police, monitor, and dominate Palestinians in or around the Wall and to incorporate as many of the cancerous ‘settlements’ into 1948 Israel before any final status talks commence.
Based on information from the Israeli Defense Ministry, the first 145 km of the wall are to be ‘operational’ by July 2003. To the west, this means that over 11,000 Palestinians will be trapped between the Wall and the Green Line. To the east, over 128,000 Palestinians will be trapped in enclaves separating them from the other parts of the West Bank. Divide et impera – as in the case of the ‘bypass roads’ and ‘settlements’ – is the operating principle, not security.
Juxtaposing the Israeli Army’s view that the Apartheid Wall is for security with a report by the Israeli State Comptroller in July 2002 found that most “suicide terrorists” crossed into Israel through checkpoints and not through open areas, we can see the hiatus in the logic of establishing this Wall. Just recently on 11 June 2003, a Palestinian militant crossed into Israel in the guise of an ultra-orthodox Jew and successfully detonated a bomb in Jerusalem that killed 17 people and injured more than 100. The Wall would not have prevented this operation.
Israel is creating the conditions for the incorporation of the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza into rest of geographic Palestine by its forceful imposition of the Apartheid Wall. Michael Tarazi – an advisor to PLO Negotiations Affairs Department – recently stated in a Ha’artez article by Akiva Eldar: “I hope Sharon doesn’t evacuate a single outpost. I hope another quarter million Jews settle in the territories.” Tarazi foresees that greater expropriation will lead to heightened Israeli discrimination and human rights abuses.
Following his argument, placing Palestinians in ‘open air prisons’ will cause similar consternation and rebuke throughout the world causing the dehumanization of Palestinians to be ended by the force of world opinion. Although the creation of a secular state along the lines of post-Apartheid South Africa would provide a solution to the inequity that now exists, in the meanwhile, the entire Palestinian body politic would have to suffer the wrath of prolonged Israeli occupation.
Waiting for freedom has not worked in the case of Palestine as was witnessed in the fabricated Oslo ‘Peace Process’ that saw ‘settlements’ in the West Bank more than double since 1991. The Apartheid Wall is another means of creating ‘facts on the ground’ that are not intended to be returned to the Palestinians ever. The French learned their lesson in 1940 that walls can not stop a determined opponent. Israel will learn the same historical lesson: Palestinians will out-maneuver the Wall.
Brock L. Bevan is a Researcher at the Palestine Center.