Despite International opposition, Israel is building what it calls its ‘security fence’ in the occupied Palestinian areas. Palestinians and human right advocates call Israel’s separation barrier the ‘Apartheid wall.’ Over 300 cities had events against this project November 9 (chosen for the date another wall was dismantled: the Berlin wall). Sharon once said that this current ‘war’ is ‘the second half of 1948’. Is he right and how does the barrier fit in this?
The barrier is a 360 km system of fortifications consisting of very high concrete walls in some areas and of trenches, rows of barbed wires and high steel fencing in other areas. In the places where it is not made of 30 foot high concrete walls, it involves ditches, fences (both barbed wire and high steel wires), security roads along both sides of the fence for army patrols, and more ditches and barriers. It is a very expensive venture at roughly $1.6 Billion. US taxpayer gave Israel $5 billion this year in direct aid and many more billions in indirect aid. So perhaps we should learn a bit more about this project.
The first striking feature is where this wall is being built and it is an amazing route (maps at http://www.stopthewall.org). If you are building a wall or a fence for your security and want to patrol both sides of it you would build it two miles inside your territory. In this case it would be inside the armistice border of 1949. Instead the wall snakes its way in some places 10-20 miles inside Palestinian areas leaving them disjointed. It de facto annexes 50% of the West Bank to Israel.
The colonies/settlements are where they are for ‘a good reason’ as an Israeli Prime minister once said: because of Israeli rulers need to control the Jordan valley (east, some 20% of the West Bank), the water resources (west), Arab East Jerusalem (central), and some connections between those. Palestinians (including the refugees) would be left with 12% of historic Palestine ad living in 5 disjointed cantons. To understand better the genesis of this project, a bit of history is appropriate.
Contrary to International law, when Israel was established it conquered 78% of Palestine and removed over 70% of the Palestinians who lived there preventing them from returning. Methods of removal are now documented by Israeli historians based on declassified documents. Refugees still live nearby or even inside Israel. Some 200,000 Israeli citizens are considered by Israeli law ‘present absentees.’ These ‘citizens’ are denied the right to live on their own lands which have been turned over for Jewish land use. The Israeli conquest in 1967 of the remaining 22% of historic Palestine, millions of Palestinians (refugees and non-refugees) came under Israeli rule.
Before the war of 1948 the Palestinian area of Al-Majdal was a thriving area with thousands of Palestinians. Most of the inhabitants were driven out during the war of 1948. Israeli forces started in early 1950 (well after the war ended) to apply all sorts of restrictions on the remaining 1500 residents. Israeli forces prevented them from using their lands, restricted them to one part of the remaining city (by then renamed Ashkelon) and started even to build fences around them.
They were forced to chose economic and even literal starvation in this prison or ‘voluntary’ transfer. By November 1950 all left to join hundreds of thousands of refugees. This method was used elsewhere and is just one of many other tools used. In Ramla and Lydda (now Lod), outright expulsions at the point of the gun were carried out.
Israel immediately introduced laws to confiscate the land and prevent refugees from returning (regardless of the way they were forced out). Israeli army was told to shoot to kill at any Palestinian who is found in those areas and hundreds of ‘infiltrators’ (villagers attempting to return) were thus killed.
Ashkelon now has a large prison employing many Israeli Jews guarding hundreds of Palestinians. Some of these prisoners are children and grandchildren of those refugees from Al-Majdal. Tens of thousands of those Al-Majdal refugees live in the Gaza strip. Gaza is effectively a large open-air prison (surrounded by a fence since 1994) and is one of the most densely populated and poorest area in the world. Many have also had their refugee shacks and homes demolished as part of the collective punishment or to get land for the settlements in the Jewish-only settlements in the Gaza strip.
What happened in Al-Majdal in 1950 is the strategy now implemented using our tax money in the remaining Palestinian areas. So Sharon is right about completing the job started in 1948. The question is will the World intervene this time or will our taxes continue to fund these crimes against humanity? Will our government continue to shield Israel with more vetoes at the UN security council? Perhaps a more relevant question is what each of us is going to do about this.