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The Wall, 10 years on / Part 2: Wall and Peace

The official reason for construction of the wall was Israeli security. After reviewing the history of the route in the first chapter of this series, and before inquiring whether it achieved its stated goal, we come now to the question of the wall’s effects on Palestinian society in the last decade. Chapter Two: the wall, the peace process, and Jerusalem.

The Wall: 10 years on (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Project Photography: Oren Ziv / Activestills

I was little more than 18 years of age when rumors of the planned wall in the West Bank started spreading in activist circles around me. As its annexing route became clear, so did the need to join the very first Palestinian initiatives against it.

This is how I found myself one day, in late 2002, marching the streets of A-Ram, a Palestinian town bordering Jerusalem. The protest was aimed at plans to build a wall through the heart of town, and as local activists showed us the planned route I naively thought to myself that there must be some mistake. Looking at both sides of the streets I saw a town like any other, with houses, shops, offices and schools spread along the main road. How could a wall possibly go between them and cut the town in half? Yet I continued to march, until soldiers attacked the demonstration with extensive use of tear gas, which sent us running for cover in houses on either side of the street, and later – home.

Ten years later, an eight-meter high concrete wall splits A-Ram in two. Walking on the road by the wall, the very same road, you can now only see half the houses, the shops, the offices and schools you did before. The town, like the lives of thousands of its families, was split in two.

The Bantustan System

As we’ve seen in the previous chapter, the route of the wall was and still is a source for controversy within Israeli politics, and the debates over just how much land to grab are one of the main causes for the halting of construction. Yet the fiercest resistance to the route has always been the Palestinian one, backed by international support, and based on both the damage the route causes to Palestinian economy and society, and the deterioration of chances to form a sovereign state within pre-1967 borders.

The planned and built route in the Adumim Plain (Map: B'Tselem)

As mentioned in the previous post, the wall was planned to de-facto annex some 17 percent of the West Bank. Even the latest, more minimalist route, annexing but 8.5 percent, still takes over a considerable part of Palestinian territory, parts of it crucial for the viability of an independent state. The most radical example of this is in Mishor Adumim (Adumin Plain), where the unfinished route is liable to split the West Bank itself into two separate parts, preventing territorial continuity. As seen in the dotted purple part of the map here on the right, the route here has not received final approval, but general plans for it already exist, and the past few Israeli governments put a lot of effort into “cleansing” the area of local Bedouin communities, and promoting Jewish settlement. The nearby gap in the wall appears as if it’s just waiting for the rest of it to be built around the plains.

Soon after initial plans for the construction of the wall were made, the Israeli High Court rejected the principal petitions filed against its route, and accepted the state’s claim that it was merely a security measure, with no political implications. The court later recognized that it had been lied to by the state in some of these petitions, but did not retract its previous rulings.

The International Court of Justice, however, saw things differently. Following a request from the General Assembly of the UN, the ICJ published an advisory opinion in July 2004, stating that while Israel has a right to protect its borders, the route of the wall being built in Palestinian territories is in violation of several articles of the Forth Geneva Convention. In a vote of 14-1, justices asserted that:

Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto.

Justices also called upon all UN member states to consider taking further action against Israel due to the route, but this was never done to this day. Israel itself refused to present its case to the ICJ, and to this day refuses to accept the advisory opinion.

Last Nail in the Coffin

Another major long-term influence of the wall on regional politics is the detachment of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, while “capturing” more than 200,000 Palestinian residents on the capital’s side of the wall. “The wall might be the last nail in the coffin of aspirations to make East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital,” says Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for B’Tselem. “Of course a political agreement might somehow be reached, if anyone was even looking for it, but how would they go about it if they tried?”

An opening in the wall in Adumim Plain (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

An opening in the wall in Adumim Plain (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Aside from its political implications, one of the wall’s most devastating effects is on the very fabric of Palestinian society and economy, especially in the walled cities around Jerusalem, but also in the villages the fence runs through, and those stuck on its “Israeli side.” While the latter two will be presented in depth in the next chapter, we will now try to take a closer look at Jerusalem and its surroundings.

One of the difficulties caused by the wall is the harshening living conditions of those Palestinians who live in Greater Jerusalem, carry Israeli resident IDs yet are trapped “outside” of the wall. In Sheikh Sa’ad, for example, residents protest against a checkpoint into the city that is always closed. In Kufr Aq’eb, municipal garbage services are running thin and other basic services are also being cut or are already non-existent. B’Tselem reports that over the years, the dwindling services and growing hardships at checkpoints have pushed people out of their houses, looking for places to live within the wall, thus leading to both an increase in their cost of living, and to the tearing apart of families and friends.

The wall has also been financially devastating for Palestinian neighborhoods around Jerusalem, which up until ten years ago, flourished from their vicinity to the capital. “Dir Naballah, Abu-Dis, A-Ram, northern Bethlehem and Beit Jala – all these places have simply died out as area of commerce and transportation,” says Michaeli. “As if that wasn’t enough, being surrounded by a wall on three sides as some of these places are, of even from all sides like Al-Walaje, means a catastrophe for urban growth. There’s simply nowhere to expand the city into. This is something not necessarily felt in the beginning of the wall, but ten years later and in the long run – it presents a serious problem.”

The sealing off of Jerusalem also leads to severe limitations on access to the Muslim and Christian holy sites, to education and culture, and also to healthcare – as in order to reach the capital’s better hospitals one must get a special permit, and wait at a checkpoint to be transferred from a Palestinian ambulance to an Israeli one. The list goes on and on.

A Feeling of Nakba in the Air

Bethlehem, and the road-enclave to Rachel's Tomb (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Bethlehem, and the road-enclave to Rachel’s Tomb (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Traveling into Jerusalem from the south on route 60, most drivers probably don’t even notice the small dirt road exiting the highway to the right just before entering the city. Following this path leads you to three deserted buildings, standing in between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and trapped on the wrong side of the wall. By their location one can only guess that these buildings used to house Palestinians from Bethlehem, barred from entering Israel, and who found themselves detached from their city, which is probably what led them to leave.

Not too far from these, one can also find an asphalt road, which once connected the birthplace of Christ to the main road, but since then construction of the wall drowns under vegetation. A small mound of earth allows a perfect view of the wall around Bethlehem, including the enclave that expands Jerusalem with one small road into Rachel’s Tomb – with high walls all around it, nearly touching the houses that were once free.

On one side of the wall there is an imprisoned population. On the other: deserted roads and houses. This view appears time and time again along the route of the wall, reminding the viewer of similar deserted areas one can still find around Israel, lying in deep ruin since 1948. Every such place tells the story of a life now banished, encircled with walls and fences, barred from return. The story of the transfer and the vacant lands is inherent to the understanding of the wall – and will be the focus of the next chapter.

Read the first chapter in the series here.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. caden

      Not arguing the effect on Palestinian society. Your there, I’m not. But obviously the hamas/islamic jihad high command didn’t think of what Israel might do when they started wiping out buses, pizza joints, sedars, and discos.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jack

      Caden,
      Did you miss this:
      -

      Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto.”
      -
      Thats the problem.

      Reply to Comment
    3. caden

      Not the life works Jack. You don’t get to send multiple suicide bombers into Israel and then complain about a wall that keeps them out.

      Reply to Comment
    4. caden

      Obligation to who Jack?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jack

      Caden,
      Obligation to follow international law. Do you reject international law?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Adi

      Jack, Yes, international law can’t be used as justification for not defending your own population from attacks. That is what Israel would have done had it not taken all those steps that the international community so vehemently derided. The primary obligation of a government is to its own population, not to any international law.
      .

      Apparently all those steps worked to stop the second intifada.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Adi

      Also, the Palestinian population is continuously suffering from the results of the actions of the terrorists that it harbors. The responsibility for the construction of the wall and all its effects lie directly on the Palestinian terrorists and the Palestinian Authority that embraced them instead of fighting against them.

      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      Another Israeli apologist who will never face the question: just why was there an intifada? Instead, blame the Palestinians for the moves that Israel made.

      Reply to Comment
    9. david

      What “Occupied Palestinian Territory”? It’s Jewish land to begin with and the Arabs in Judea, Samaria and the rest of Israel are squatters. They have any of 22 countries to
      return to.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        @David – and you have far more countries to which you can return – maybe the one in which you or your parents were born.

        The Palestinians have been living on what you call your land for far more generations than the vast majority of Jews who came from Europe and America. But you had to kick them out. Otherwise how could you have had a Jewish state if a significant proportion of the population was not Jewish.? Think about that.

        I long ago gave up my so-called “right of return” as long as my Palestinian friend, born in Jerusalem, cannot return to the land where she was born and where her family home still exists.

        Reply to Comment
    10. Adi

      The actions of the Fatah leadership (the same group that leads the PA) during the intifada are very telling. There was an intifada because Palestinians thought they could get more Israeli concessions by blowing civilians up in restaurants than they could at a negotiating table.
      .

      They have been proven wrong and are now crying foul that Israel took harsh measures to defend itself. This is a pattern for Arabs. Start a war, lose, then yell about how barbaric Israel was in winning the war. Rinse. Repeat. It works well with gullible Western audiences.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Haggai Matar

      Adi – simple question: why not build the wall on the green line? It’s half a long than the current route, would not cause much resistance, AND would have been approved by the ICJ, which unlike what you claimed HAS recognized Israel’s obligation to protect its citizens.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Jack

      Adi,

      Now you are just being ignorant.

      “Yes, international law can’t be used as justification for not defending your own population from attacks. ”

      Israel could have legally built the wall on THEIR side and the ICC would never have taken the case.

      Reply to Comment
    13. BOOZ

      Jack :

      But YOU ( and Pabelmont, and all the crew) would have all the same.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Dam

      Guys,
      In case you haven’t noticed, this is a complex and nuanced conflict. The wall exists to prevent terrorism. It didn’t exist until after the second intifada when there were 2-3 bombings per week in Israel. It has reduced terrorism by about 98.5 per cent. But you’re right: the route it has taken must be changed (it is against international law and cuts across Palestinian land). The route of the wall was clearly used by Ariel Sharon as a bargaining chip with the pals.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Jack

      Dam,
      This is like the 5th time this has been said: The wall wouldnt be a legal issue if it was built on israeli land. You get it?
      Also stopping terrorism, may be true but I think rather the wall is there to stop the influx of palestinians is the core reason for the wall.

      Reply to Comment
    16. aristeides

      Adi – keep going back. Why did the Palestinians want concessions from Israel? What did they want Israel to concede? The answer is – things that Israel had taken from them by force. Things that Israel was planning to take from them by force – and which it subsequently has.

      Reply to Comment
    17. phlegmatico

      >> Obligation to follow international law. Do you reject international law?

      I reject International Law. Magavnik billyclubs are waiting to kiss your skull, Jack, if you try to enforce it. Your blood will fertilize our agricultural fields.

      You’re right; there’s no difference between my morality and Nasrallah’s. The difference is in who has a winning plan.

      Reply to Comment
    18. caden

      I would love one of you guys to give the “international laws” that you feel are being broken and who has jusrisdiction.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Jack

      Caden,

      According to ICJ Israel violate international law, more specifically;
      UN Charter
      4th Geneva Convention
      UN Declaration on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts
      Security Council Resolution 1544
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_West_Bank_barrier#Legal_status
      -
      Even the supreme court in Israel agree.
      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_West_Bank_barrier#Israeli_Supreme_Court_rulings

      Reply to Comment
    20. caden

      The UN was a decent idea in 1946. Now its a theater of the absurd and a Jew hunting expedition. Give me something else.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Jack

      Caden,
      Give you something else than international law? Pretty much statuated my argument. Thanks.
      -
      Please give me more reasons why international law should be abolished, but be more creative, you can do it.

      Reply to Comment
    22. caden

      International law, if there is such a thing outside of tariffs and copyrights is a very amorphous and ephemeral concept. You latch onto it like a mantra. It doesn’t exist. There are nations and nations have interests.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Adi

      Haggai, Jack, because deviating from the green line allows Israel to more easily defend the large settlement blocs that are over the line which are targets for terrorists and which contain citizens Israel is obligated to defend. Had the ICJ recognized that Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens it would have accepted the deviations from the green line due to security considerations and only had a problem with the route where it could not be justified by security.
      .

      Aresteides, your position is that Jews don’t belong in Israel and should be kicked out and Israel has no right to defend itself, so arguing with you is pointless.
      .

      One thing that remains obvious and not even disputed here by supporters of the Palestinians is that the wall/fence was built as a direct result of the second intifada. Also not in dispute is that the intifada was launched by the Palestinians in an attempt to weaken Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    24. peace talk…
      the third crow
      of a rooster

      Is peace a dream? Will it come true? Or, is the world heading towards “Evil”?
      Please, drop by my blog to check out my thoughts about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Haggai Matar

      Adi – the ICJ repeated the stance accepted by all nations of the world that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a breach of international law. You cannot justify an illegal wall in occupied territory by using illegal settlements as the excuse.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Jack

      Adi,

      “because deviating from the green line allows Israel to more easily defend the large settlement blocs that are over the line which are targets for terrorists and which contain citizens Israel is obligated to defend.”

      Do you realize how insane that argument is?
      Let me give you an equal bizarre argument.

      “Rapists should be allowed to have guns so they could protect themselves when they rape”.

      As Haggai correctly pointed out, you cant justify a ILLEGAL (wall) act with a ILLEGAL act (settlements)

      Reply to Comment
    27. Adi

      Haggai, Jack, The settlements are there and they are not going anywhere until and probably after an agreement is reached, even according to signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and according to the maps presented by the Palestinians themselves. Israel is obligated to provide security to its citizens living in the settlements in the West Bank. It is a fundamental problem that the ICJ chooses to rule based on what it wants the situation to be rather than what the situation actually is.
      .

      The argument that Israel has no valid security interests in the West Bank is like arguing that Israel is legally obligated to allow Israeli citizens in the West Bank to be killed by Palestinian terrorists.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Jack

      Adi,
      “the Palestinians and according to the maps presented by the Palestinians themselves”
      The solution has been clear for decades, world supported and in international law, 1967 borders. Israel refuse though. The palestine papers offered Israel to keep a majority of settlements, Israel rejected the offer.
      -
      “Israel is obligated to provide security to its citizens living in the settlements in the West Bank. It is a fundamental problem that the ICJ chooses to rule based on what it wants the situation to be rather than what the situation actually is.

      Now you are just desperately repeating stuff, check me and Haggai’s input on this above.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Leen

      It is one of the biggest misconceptions that the Apartheid wall stopped the suicide bombings and stopped the intifada. The problem is people gloss over the facts.
      Suicide bombings were rife during 2000-2002, those were the bloodiest years in term of suicide bombing. The route was announced in 2003, and only began building late 2003-2004. In fact the route was only approved by mid 2004, and again revised in 2005. What people who are in favor of the wall forget to mention that up until 2012, the wall is only 60% built, meaning that 40% of route is exposed, allowing potential suicide bombers to enter Israeli cities, yet suicide bombings were reduced in 2004-2005.

      Furthermore, in 2004-2005, the armed wing of Fatah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas also announced a ceasefire, including a stop to suicide bombings. That contributed to the stopping of suicide bombings more than the building of the wall, because it is important to note that the wall was more or less starting to being built. Not to mention in 2005, Arafat died and that generally contributed to the end of the intifada, because after that the Palestinians were focused on internal matters and factional divisions began to emerged. It has little to do with the ‘securiy’ wall.

      Reply to Comment
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