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No, Mr. Trump, walls don't work

With politicians from right to left putting their faith in higher walls, some Palestinians are putting their faith in higher powers.

Text and photos by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

A Palestinian scales the Israeli separation wall and plants his flag during a protest at Bethlehem checkpoint, March 30, 2012. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian scales the Israeli separation wall and plants his flag during a protest at Bethlehem checkpoint, March 30, 2012. (Activestills.org)

Just before his victory in the New Hampshire primary this past week, U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump said: “We have to build a wall. Walls work. Just ask Israel. Walls work. They work.”

The same week, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced the building of new barriers by saying: “In our neighborhood, we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts.”

If you’re tempted to dismiss these statements as the ravings of right-wing lunatics, here’s what Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said recently: “I want to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as fast as possible. Let’s build a large fence between us.”

That’s what passes for left-wing opposition in Israel.

Trump has also clumsily accused Hillary Clinton of hypocrisy for supporting Israel’s wall while taking a different approach in the U.S.

While a senator, Clinton co-sponsored a 2004 resolution supporting Israel’s barrier and the following year while touring the wall from inside the Israeli settlement Gilo said: “This is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists.”

I would like to introduce all of these politicians to my friend Ahmed (not his real name).

I met Ahmed at weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the wall that would cut his village off from its agricultural lands. I saw him arrested for nonviolently blocking the path of an Israeli “skunk truck”. Other members of his family have been jailed and tortured for their nonviolent activism.

A Palestinian protester and an Israeli soldier face off during a protest against the Israeli separation wall, October 18, 2013. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian protester and an Israeli soldier face off during a protest against the Israeli separation wall, October 18, 2013. (Activestills.org)

But some Fridays Ahmed would not be at the demonstration. That was because he, like thousands of other Palestinians in the West Bank, would sneak into Israel as an illegal worker and stay there for weeks at a time. Ahmed was engaged, and he was working to save money so that he could get married.

Trump said, “Walls work.”

Netanyahu said they keep out “wild beasts.”

Herzog said, slightly more politely, because he’s a leftist: “I want to separate from as many Palestinians as possible.”

Clinton said, “This is against the terrorists.”

Ahmed proves them all wrong. As long as people are desperate, they will find a way over, around, or through any wall.

On several occasions, activists have broken symbolic holes in the wall. In most cases, these breaches have gone completely unnoticed by Israeli forces until hours later. Any determined attacker could easily do the same.

Palestinian activists break a hole in the Israeli separation wall, November 22, 2013. (Activestills.org)

Palestinian activists break a hole in the Israeli separation wall, November 22, 2013. (Activestills.org)

But most workers who enter Israel without permission simply pass through part of the 250 km of the wall’s 790-km route that has not yet been built. While Herzog and others talk about closing those gaps—at great expense and severe disruption of Palestinians living near its route—the wall’s security function remains a farce.

The rise in violence in Palestine and Israel over the past few months further demonstrates the Wall’s inability to provide security.

As of this week, Palestinians have killed 27 Israelis since October. During the same time, Israeli forces have killed at least 176 Palestinians.

Some of the assaults inside Israel were carried out by West Bank Palestinians who crossed the barrier. But in many cases, Palestinian citizens of Israel or Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, attacked Jewish Israelis who live on the same side of the wall as they do.

But it is a mistake to focus only on episodes of Palestinian violence. The wall is itself just one of many examples of Israel’s structural violence that affects every single Palestinian every single day. It’s just one example of the difference in power between between Israelis and Palestinians that explains why whenever there is a spike in violence, many more Palestinians die. In recent months, at least a third of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were shot during clashes and protests—not while attacking civilians.

As long as Israel’s oppression of Palestinians continues, there will be violence—systemic violence from Israelis and desperate acts of resistance by Palestinians.

Walls will not stop it. Walls cannot provide security. They can only provide, as Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man so aptly calls it: “security theater.”

An Israeli military jeep patrols a gap in the Israeli separation barrier on land belonging to the West Bank village of Al Walaja, May 15, 2014. As with 85% of its route, the separation wall is being built inside Al Walaja land inside the West Bank, rather than on the internationally recognized border, or Green Line, with Israel. (Activestills.org)

An Israeli military jeep patrols a gap in the Israeli separation barrier on land belonging to the West Bank village of Al Walaja, May 15, 2014. As with 85% of its route, the separation wall is being built inside Al Walaja land inside the West Bank, rather than on the internationally recognized border, or Green Line, with Israel. (Activestills.org)

But behind the scenes of “security theater” the fundamental function of the Israeli wall is obvious to those whose land it devours. While Israel has always insisted that the barrier is not a border, now even opposition politicians like Herzog are calling for residency status to be determined by the barrier’s path—rather than the previously unilaterally imposed municipal boundaries. This would revoke the Jerusalem residency rights of 100,000 Palestinians—meaning they would no longer have the right to enter Jerusalem or Israel but would be confined to the West Bank.

This is just one example of how the barrier, contrary to widespread perception, never separated Israel from Palestine. The wall does function in many places to separate Palestinians from Israelis. But this is because it was built to surround many of the settlements that Israel built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law.

Construction continues on the West Bank Israeli settlement Har Gilo and the separation wall, Nov. 13, 2010. (Activestills.org)

Construction continues on the West Bank Israeli settlement Har Gilo and the separation wall, Nov. 13, 2010. (Activestills.org)

Some 85 percent of the barrier’s route lies not on the internationally recognized boundary between the West Bank and Israel, but inside the West Bank on Palestinian land—effectively annexing 10 percent of it. That is why the International Court of Justice declared the wall illegal in 2004.

One of the remaining gaps in the wall lies near the West Bank town of Beit Jala. There, the wall would connect the Israeli settlements Gilo and Har Gilo and allow them to continue expanding into Palestinian territory.

A historically Christian village, Beit Jala’s Catholic priests have led prayer vigils against the construction of the wall since 2011 as the community has continued to fight legal battles to change its route.

With the Israeli settlement Gilo visible on a nearby hillside, Palestinians hold a prayer service as a nonviolent witness against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, February 8, 2013. (Activestills.org)

With the Israeli settlement Gilo visible on a nearby hillside, Palestinians hold a prayer service as a nonviolent witness against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, February 8, 2013. (Activestills.org)

Several other Palestinian communities have succeeded in winning court cases to change the route of the wall. In each case, this returned some (but never all) of their land to their side of the barrier.

In Beit Jala, the original route of the wall would have completely cut off the Cremisan Salesian monastery and convent from the rest of the community. After years of legal struggle and prayerful protest, the community won its own minor victory: Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the monastery and convent must remain accessible. However, the final route has not yet been presented by the military, which began uprooting olive trees and bulldozing agricultural lands last summer to clear a path for the wall.

Last month, the Israeli High Court rejected a petition by the convent and Beit Jala landowners demanding that the military reveal the wall’s route before proceeding with construction. According to the Society of St. Yves, a Catholic legal aid organization which represents the nuns, the court re-affirmed that the wall is being built for “security needs.”

A Palestinian Christian landowner argues with Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint separating him from his olive groves near the West Bank town of Beit Jala, October 16, 2012.

A Palestinian Christian landowner argues with Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint separating him from his olive groves near the West Bank town of Beit Jala, October 16, 2012.

With little hope in the courts or right- and left-wing political leaders, Beit Jala’s believers continue to make their ultimate appeal to higher powers.

At one of the prayer vigils, Johnny Shawan, a local Lutheran priest who owns land in the barrier’s path, recalled attending Bible college in Germany in 1989. He offered this prayer:

The walls of Berlin fell down without bloodshed. God, I want to see this history repeated even in our town. … That the walls of hatred and separation would fall down. That one day we’ll see no walls between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians. We feel as the body of Christ that we are one because he made us one. He is the Prince of Peace who took [away] the separation wall. He will take this wall away.

A Palestinian holds a board with song lyrics as international Christian activists join Palestinians for a Catholic mass in a West Bank olive grove as a form of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli separation barrier that threatens to further divide land belonging to the town of Beit Jala, March 14, 2014. The lyrics read, "Oh, God of peace, rain down peace on us. Oh God of peace, fill our hearts with peace." (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian holds a board with song lyrics as international Christian activists join Palestinians for a Catholic mass in a West Bank olive grove as a form of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli separation barrier that threatens to further divide land belonging to the town of Beit Jala, March 14, 2014. The lyrics read, “Oh, God of peace, rain down peace on us. Oh God of peace, fill our hearts with peace.” (Activestills.org)

This article was adapted from remarks given at the launch of a photo exhibition titled “Prayer Against the Wall”, on display in Kampen Church, Oslo, Norway from Feb. 10 – March 27, 2016.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Gustav

      “Ahmed proves them all wrong. As long as people are desperate, they will find a way over, around, or through any wall.”

      Is the author of this article trying to imply that Ahmed is a wild beast or a terrorist? Clearly he is not. But that does not mean that there aren’t many others in his ethnic group who ARE.

      So? Walls are not 100% effective. Nothing is. But walls slow terrorists down. Walls also send the message to those who encourage terrorism that there ARE consequences. So walls do help slow down terrorists.

      The statistics speak for themselves.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Gustav: “Many in his ethnic group are wild beasts.” Wow. Gustav is Bibi’s boy all the way. “Israeli all the way.” Terrorists terrorists terrorists. Wild beasts. Never mind that it is just as legitimate using this vernacular to call the perpetrators that Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem identify “terrorists and wild beasts.” That’s certainly how they look to the average Palestinian. Gustav’s definition of a terrorist is apparently anyone under harsh occupation who won’t surrender and “sign a peace deal” “on our terms too.” That is, who inexplicably won’t accept Netanyahu’s gracious gift:

        http://972mag.com/netanyahus-gift-of-palestinian-statehood/89350/

        Netanyahu’s ‘gift’ of Palestinian statehood

        Statements by Israel’s prime minister give insight into the — problematic — way he views peace talks with the Palestinians. And Naftali Bennett’s emptiest threat yet.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Get over it Benny-leh.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Look at the pot calling the kettle black.

            Benny-leh is here day in day out vilifying Israel and Israelis. But at a mere hint of reverse vilification, he is up in arms.

            Get over yourself, clown.

            Reply to Comment
        • Whonoze

          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1108548/Shocking-video-shows-extent-execution-Iraq-ISIS.html

          Those are the “carnivorous animals” PM Netanyahu meant.
          Those “carnivorous animals” round up innocent young men and execute them en mass in mass graves. They wipe out entire villages of ethnic minorities and see to wipe entire minority ethnic and religious groups from the face of the earth. It is called GENOCIDE. They behead the men and hand their heads on steel fences. These “carnivorous animal” then rape the women and force them into sexual slavery. Those savage beasts are members of YOUR ethnic group and religion, Ben. That is what PM Netanyahu is talking about and every descent person, every supporter of human rights, truth and justice knows it. It is no surprise that you Ben, instead of confronting the evil your brothers perpetrate on minority groups, are whitewashing the crimes of your brothers with some rambling mumbo jumbo about B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Bennett, blah, blah, blah, and falsifying Gustav’s statement. What kind of a hateful, imbecilic jihadi are you, Ben?

          Reply to Comment
        • Whonoze

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gl-HzgpMBo

          Does Ben DENY that the terrorist in that video who first used his car to ram a group of civilians waiting for the bus and then got out of his car and started butchering and dismembering his victims with meat-cleaver is a “wild beast”? That terrorists is from Hamas. Hamas terrorists are what PM Netanyahu is talking about. PM Netanyahu was also talking about the terrorists from Islamic Jidhad, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, PFLP, etc. who sneak into Israel to murder innocent civilians. But Ben’s position is actually not suprising, because, according to Ben, his brothers in Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa, PFLP, Al Qaida, ISIS are NOT terrorists – regardless of how many civilians they take hostages and slaughter or blow up in buses, discotheques, cafeteria and pizzerias while they eat and drink.

          Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        Your refusal to understand the most basic needs and desires vis-a-vis humanity is absolutely breathtaking.

        Reply to Comment
      • Zuni lan

        I am very left wing. I also believe in honesty. The terrorist were walking from Wb into Israel proper killing over1000 civilians INCLD many kids. Only when the wall went up terror went down 100%. And we could let our teen age kids out. I don’t believe in violence esp terror – the worst

        Reply to Comment
    2. carmen

      The only thing that hideous wall does is hide the occupation from israeli jews. It’s a joke. It just makes all the little zionists feel better when they get tucked in their beds. Then they don’t have to see the ‘work’ the most cowardly army in the world does on a daily basis 24/7 on their behalf. It’s only purpose is to hide the continuing atrocities perpetrated by the SoI for the ‘chosen people’. Not that there aren’t enough atrocities perpetrated in plain sight. If it weren’t for B’tselem and others we wouldn’t know as much about what goes on behind those walls. Get over it? What a tool.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        The statistics don’t lie.

        Before the wall, there were on average two suicide bomb attacks per week within the green lines. After the wall, virtually none.

        Oh but I forgot. Hardened hypocritical propagandists don’t take note of statistics. They just whine about the occupation. Recognize yourself, Carmen Dear?

        Reply to Comment
      • ANTI-CARMEN

        How does Carmen explain that terrorism has gone down 90% since the Oslo War days of early 2000s?

        The leftists need to wake up and smell the Arab antisemitism – a nasty disease that started well before the occupation of June 1967.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        And not just hide occupation. The wall is a land grab. Israel never does anything honest in the territories. It sneaks around in the middle of the night like the thief it knows it is. Behavior doesn’t lie.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Ok Bennyleh. Let’s take the word “occupation” and let’s be scientific about it. Are you up to it?

          Let

          ‘O’ = Occupation.

          Let

          ‘C’ = Cause of “Occupation”

          So tell me Benny if something is the cause of something else then you ignore the cause and only talk about the something else? In other words do you talk only about ‘O’ but not ‘C’? Is that how things work in your limited little world? No wonder you are just reduced to repetition and meaningless ranting. But practical adults who solve real life problems, look at cause and effect. Solve the cause and automatically solve the effect which they don’t like.

          So, if we apply the thinking of practical thinking to the problem of the occupation, ask themselves: what caused the occupation? And why is it persisting? And if they are honest then they realize that the occupation was caused by Arab aggression in 1967. And it persists till this day because the Palestinian Arabs have not stopped their violence and they refuse to sign a peace deal.

          So Benny. There is an opportunity for you if you want to do some good in this world. Instead of just whining that the occupation persists, start jumping up and down and urge your Arabs to…

          1. Stop their violence.

          2. Sign a peace deal with Israel so that we won’t have the excuse to continue the occupation.

          Makes sense Bennyleh? If not, tell us why not. But no ranting please…

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is all terribly simplistic. It’s black and white, misleading, historically inaccurate. Crude propaganda, not thoughtful argument. As I think I told you, one misleads even by using the word “occupation.” It contains a false premise. We thus arrive at the heart of the matter that will not be denied. Oren Yiftachel explains: “The main harm to human rights and the obstacles to establishing a Palestinian state are not a result of the military occupation, but actually stem from the civil transformation… separation long ago disappeared. Israel created a continuous Jewish civilian space…. But Arabs have inferior collective citizenship…closely linked to their identity as Palestinians…. In international law, a situation whereby a country appropriates and settles territories outside its sovereign borders is called colonialism. Southern Lebanon was an example of military occupation; the West Bank is an example of colonialism, one that seeks to entrench itself over time while preserving the privileges of the ruling population, and incidentally creating an apartheid regime….Apartheid in the West Bank seeps into the entire area between the Jordan and the sea.”
            http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.702597

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”This is all terribly simplistic.”

            No Benny. Only your stories are simplistic.

            BEN:”It’s black and white,”

            No Benny, only your stories are black and white.

            BEN:”misleading,”

            No, Benny only your allegations are misleading.

            BEN:”historically inaccurate.”

            This is your funniest assertion of all. You are an arch revisionist myth teller.

            BEN:”Crude propaganda,”

            Says Benny the propagandist.

            BEN:”not thoughtful argument.”

            Very thouthfull Bennyleh. The trouble is that you haven’t got a single honest thought in that empty head of yours.

            BEN:”As I think I told you,”

            “Think” Bennyleh? You are incapable of doing so and all you did was lie and obfuscate.

            Now get this into you…

            Once upon a time, in 1947, the UN voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish state and one Arab state. The UN Resolution which decided on this was UN GA Resolution 181. Anyone can google it.

            The Jews accepted the UN recommendation. The Arabs vehemently rejected it because they considered all of Palestine to be Arab lands. The Jews on the other hand danced in the streets to celebrate the prospect of an independent Jewish state, in our ancestral homeland, for the first time in 2000 years.

            Immediately after the UN resolution, the Arabs rioted and started murdering any Jewish Palestinians they could lay their hands on. Of course the Jews of Palestine fought back and counterattacked the Arabs. Subsequently seven Arab countries joined the fight and about 1% of the Jewish population lost their lives in that war.

            After the Jews defeated the conventional Arab armies, the Palestinian Arabs resorted to guerilla war and terrorism which continues to this day and they still refuse to sign a peace deal because they believe that eventually they will defeat the Jews and their old dream of Arab supremacy would be realized.

            But Benny tries to deny that very well known, documented and reported history. I would expect nothing less from a hardened pro Arab propagandist like Benny. He always does it. When facts stand in the way of his simplistic mantra that everything is Israel’s fault, he just denies, lies and obfuscates.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Brian G

      The U.S. had to stop work on a wall between Mexico and U.S. a few years ago, when the undocumented workers that were hired quit because the wages were too low.

      Reply to Comment
    4. carmen

      To make a long story short, the wall is the most symptom of occupation/apartheid/genocide of a people that began in the 20th century and shows no sign of stopping in the 21st century. All the blather about security is a smokescreen. I don’t think the GoI gives a damn about israelis being murdered; it has been the convenient excuse to continue taking more land, ‘mowing the lawn’ and what we see now, where a scared shitless soldier empties his magazine into a Palestinian teenage girl because she has a knife. That’s a bit of a PR problem, even for israelis. No occupation/apartheid/genocide – no wall – and a state for all. The zionists have had carte blanche for over 70 years. They created this untenable situation, which was prophesied by their own people at its inception or soon after. The emptying of village after village, the rapes and the murders, so soon after the holocaust is no longer a secret. The bullshit propaganda that Palestinians willingly left their homes and their lives for an existence in exile, as permanent refugees – no one believes that myth except hasbara central and I don’t think they believe it either, but they just keep the lies coming. This wall has kept Palestinians from their lands and separated families and has been a cover for the atrocities committed by the IOF and israeli settlers. END THE OCCUPATION. VIVA PALESTINA!

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        I have posted the following BBC video a number of times on this site before. In this video a number of Palestinian Arabs clearly admit that the greatest single cause for the flight of Palestinian Arabs from Palestine was caused by Lies, misinformation and propaganda spread by the Palestinian Arab leadership. Watch this startling video and listen to the confessions of Arabs who were there…

        http://youtu.be/72Ata-hY9WQ

        This video stumps hardened anti Israel propagandists like Carmen. They pretend it doesn’t exist because it makes liars out of them. But even they can’t alter reality (much as they would like to). I will continue posting it everytime they pollute this site with their simplistic lies.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          Keep posting it G, it’s obviously one of your favorites.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Keep ignoring it C it is obviously flying against your make believe cartoonish reality which you prefer to believe in.

            PS
            I am not posting it to change YOUR closed little mind C. I am posting it for the sake of open minded folks whom you try to fool with your one sided lies.

            Reply to Comment
    5. px fragonard

      They work in prisons, gated communities, the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s wall, Berlin Wall, Israel’s security fence/wall. The Vatican has a wall. All city states had walls. Walls are the origin of civilization. Safe roads & markets led to the first cities.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “Security theater is one explanation. The term refers to actions taken by governments in order to make citizens feel safer because they can “see” something is being done, even when that action makes an almost entirely negligible contribution to the overall efforts to actually keep them safe. But security theater is probably nothing more than an added benefit.

        The fence’s real raison d’être is to create facts on the ground — good ol’ fashioned expansionism. When completed the barrier will have annexed nearly 10 percent of the West Bank; some 85 percent of its route is inside the West Bank, rebelliously diverging from the internationally recognized Green Line.

        Consecutive Israeli governments have sworn from here to The Hague that the fence was not a unilateral attempt to drawing new borders without consulting the Palestinians. And yet dozens of Israeli politicians have openly stated the exact opposite.”

        http://972mag.com/wave-of-stabbings-show-israels-wall-isnt-about-security/112620/

        Reply to Comment
    6. Kevin McMillen

      If walls don’t work then why are you so adamant against one? If it doesn’t work then building one on our border is neither racist nor immoral. $15 per U.S. citizen to build a $5,000,000,000 wall is a pittance.

      Liberals opposing a wall so vehemently proves that walls work!

      Kevin McMillen

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “…Liberals opposing a wall so vehemently proves that walls work!”

        Behold the American right wing in all its fatuous, know-nothing, easily-manipulated (by narcissistic-sociopathic demagogues) glory.

        Reply to Comment
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