May 21, 2003
The Apartheid Wall
by Ran HaCohen
Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen’s work has been published widely in Israel. “Letter from Israel” appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.
Only alert readers may have noticed that the Israeli-biased American “Road Map to Peace”, already being imposed on the Palestinians, has not even been accepted by Israel’s rejectionist government. Asked about it, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that accepting or not accepting it “didn’t really matter” – when Israel is concerned, to be sure; I have a hunch that had the Palestinians declined to accept it, the American reaction would have been quite different.
But for once, I agree with Mr. Powell: it really does not matter. A central function of the “Road Map” is to distract from the actual map of the Palestinian territories. This map is being radically altered, and unlike the Road Map, which will be forgotten like all its cynical forerunners (“Zinni Plan”, “Tenet Plan”, “Mitchell Report”, “Regional Peace Conference” etc.), the geographical map of Palestine is here to stay, with a huge Wall now being built in its middle – the “Security Fence” in official Israeli language, in fact an Apartheid Wall.
PM Sharon has long opposed the idea of a barrier between Israel and the West Bank. As late as April 2002, Sharon was still rejecting it – in spite of public pressure, in spite of demands raised by both Israel’s President and the Head of the Secret Service, and, above all, in spite of hundreds of Israeli civilian victims to Palestinian terrorism, whose death could have been prevented by such a fence. Not before June 2002, in what was portrayed as a victory for Labour’s leader Ben-Eliezer (then Defence Minister in a unity coalition) imposed on Sharon against his will, was the huge construction project finally launched.
Since, unlike their ruling junta, most Israelis do want to end the occupation, support for the Fence is overwhelming. Most Israelis believe it will bring security, and eventually turn into a border between Israel and a Palestinian State. Israel’s millionaires, as Yedioth Achronoth exposed (22.11.2002), have a special reason to celebrate: hundreds of Palestinian olive trees on the route of the fence are rooted out by the constructors, smuggled and sold for the gardens of rich Israelis (up to $5.000 for an ancient tree). Palestinian owners who dare ask for compensation for their often only source of income are driven away by threats and beating.
Change of Heart?
The junta’s change of heart towards the Wall happened only after “Operation Defence Shield” of April 2002. As long as Israeli terror victims could be used to justify the repeated incursions into autonomous Palestinians areas, no fence was built. After “Defensive Shield”, when Israel had finally managed to reoccupy the entire West Bank and to destroy the Palestinian Authority (existing in name only ever since), the Wall could be erected.
But the deeper reason for the apparent change of heart is that the junta found a way to use the Wall for its ends: as part of its project of destroying the Palestinians. This cannot be grasped without taking a look at the actual route of the Wall.
Why, you may wonder: isn’t the Wall following the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank? – Not quite. If this had been Israel’s intention, we could have had Peace long ago. The whole point is that Israel refuses to give up the West Bank, and building a Wall on the Green Line is the last thing the junta had in mind. The Wall is constructed deep in Palestinian territory, in order to rob as much Palestinian land and water as possible. A good example is the small village of Mas’ha, where a joint group of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals has set a small camp trying to attract attention and to fight the ongoing atrocity.
Mas’ha as Example
The village of Mas’ha is adjacent to the Israeli settlement of Elkana, about 7km away from the green line. On April 2003, Israeli bulldozers started to separate Mas’ha by an 8m high concrete wall from its only remaining source of livelihood: agricultural land, mostly olive trees. 98% of the lands of Mas’ha will be placed on the Israeli side of the fence. The fence also disconnects the road from Jenin to Ramallah, a segment of which will now be in the Israeli side of the fence.
It wasn’t only land greed that sent the bulldozers to the lands of Mas’ha. These lands are on the western part of the large water reservoir originating in the West Bank, whose waters flow under the ground also to the centre of Israel. Out of 600 million cubic metre of water that this reservoir provides in a year, Israel withdraws about 500 million. Control over the water sources has always been a central Israeli motivation for maintaining the occupation. The first settlements, like Elkana, were located in critical locations for drilling. Since 1967, Israel has prohibited Palestinians from digging new wells, but in the lands of Mas’ha there are still many operating older wells. In isolating the village from its wells, Israel attempts both to control the water reserves, and to eliminate livelihood sources, thus forcing its residents out.
I went to Mas’ha a couple of weeks ago. The huge barrier was not yet complete: it consisted of a 3m deep trench, which we could still cross with some difficulty at a shallow point, and of a razed plateau, 80 – 130m wide, on which the gigantic wall, with barbed wire, cameras, patrol road etc. would be built (see picture from another location). It’s not a make-shift fence: it’s a huge barrier meant to be there for decades, creating a durable new physical reality. It twists like a snake around the cultivated hills, encircling the village on three sides just a few steps away from its last houses. The owners of the lands were told there would be gates in the wall, which would enable them to access their lands; “they just didn’t tell us who will hold the key”, say in bitter irony the siege-learned farmers, who have already lost most of their lands to the settlements of Elkana and Etz Ephraim, all built on Mas’ha’s lands in previous decades.
And Mas’ha is just one non-unique example. Out of 12.500 dunums of the village of Jius, 600 dunums are confiscated for 6km of wall, and 8.600 dunums will be on its Israeli side. The 550 families, half of which used to work in Israel when this was still possible and were then pushed back to agriculture, now lose their last source of income (Giedon Levi, Ha’aretz 2.5.2003).
Secrets and Lies
It may be clear by now why the junta refuses to give information about the route of the Wall, as B’tselem Newsletter describes in detail. The Green Line is 350km long; present reports speak of a 600 km long Wall on the west side of the West Bank alone. – Alone? – Yes: because – as Ha’aretz (23.3.2003) mentioned en passante just once, without any details, comment or follow-up – yet another, eastern wall is planned. This crucial information virtually escapes public attention. Since most Israelis think the Fence is built along the Green Line, they do not even suspect another wall encircling the Palestinians from the back as well.
Just two months before the fence plan was confirmed in his cabinet, Sharon was quoted in Yedioth Achronoth (26.4.2002). The journalist was outraged by what he considered Sharon’s pretexts against erecting a wall. Sharon is accused of exaggerations, turning the simple project of a 350km fence along the Green Line into an unfeasible 1.000km long enterprise
“Sharon’s favourite way to inflate data is simply to double the numbers. ‘You cannot have a fence just on one side of the seam zone’, he told police officers, ‘You have to have fences on both sides, and there is the Jordan Valley where another fence on both sides is needed’. […] To sabotage the separation […], Sharon is talking about two different routes: two fences on different locations on the seam line, and yet another two fences between Israel and Jordan. This way, you really get to 1.000km”.
But Sharon was not exaggerating: we now know that the western barrier is already 600km long, and adding a similar fence on the east makes Sharon’s numbers look rather underestimated. What the journalist did not realise, was that Sharon was just pretending to oppose the fence, while planning its actual route so as to maximize Israel’s share of the territory; that the Eastern fence would not be built between Israel and Jordan, but in the middle of the West Bank; and that Sharon, to get public support, wisely presented the Apartheid Wall as his pragmatic surrender to Labour and to public pressure, while in fact it was his scheme, elaborated by him long before he found the opportunity to carry it out, camouflaged as yielding to dovish pressure to strengthen his “moderate” image.
The Actual Map
The following map, prepared by Palestinian sources – based on the parts of the wall already erected, those under construction, and confiscation orders issued to land owners – shows approximately what Israel is up to. Leaving the lion’s share of the West Bank outside the Wall in Israeli hands, even what looks like two contiguous Bantustans are in fact crisscrossed by chains of Israeli settlements and roads-for-Jews-only
The UN Resolution of 1947 allocated 45% of British Mandate Palestine to a Palestinian State. In 1948, Israel occupied 78% of the land, leaving just 22% – the West Bank and Gaza – to the Palestinians. This is all they have been demanding since 1993. Now, Israel is robbing more than the better half of these 22% left. Six million Israelis are to have about 90% of the land (and water), whereas three-and-a-half million Palestinians, many of them refugees, are pushed to starve into what is left, locked behind gigantic walls in open-air prisons, with no land, no water and no hope. The moral way to peace, love and security, no doubt.
The Apartheid Wall will be 8m high and probably 1.000km long. For comparison, China’s Great Wall – the only human-made object seen from outer space – is 6.700km long, whereas the Berlin Wall was a dwarf, just 155km long and 3,6m high. Keeping silent on this gigantic project and its genocidal implications, meant to prevent any fair future settlement (not to mention the Road Map), is a moral crime, of which almost the entire Western media is guilty