‘IN REALITY, the Holy Land doesn’t need walls, but bridges,’ said Pope John Paul II. Kofi Annan has strongly criticized Israel’s separation barrier. The UN General Assembly voted to condemn it 144-4. The Security Council would have but for a US veto.

President Bush has referred to it as ‘a wall snaking its way through the West Bank.’ He later warned Israel not to prejudice final negotiations of the road map ‘with the placement of walls and fences.’ The United States has since decided to deduct $289 million from the $9 billion in loan guarantees appropriated for Israel this year because of the wall and continued settlement construction.

Israelis refer to it as a security fence or barrier necessary to protect Israelis from suicide bombers. Palestinians refer to it as an apartheid wall stealing land and water resources and turning towns and villages into prisons. Some supporters now refer to it as a ‘wall of peace’ while detractors call it a ‘weapon of mass destruction.’

As the war of adjectives rages on, the wall continues to be built. In fact, in spite of opposition from Washington, construction of the wall will be accelerated. Why has so much of the world, including some of Israel’s most ardent supporters, split with Israel over this issue?

What is the wall?

The wall is a construction of fencing, barbed wire, and concrete barriers up to 26 feet high with a two-lane military patrol road, guard towers, 13-foot-deep trenches on either side, and electronic warning fences. It encircles towns and villages, turning them into prisons. Thousands of acres of olive trees and agricultural land have been destroyed just to build it.

If built according to current maps, the wall will confiscate 55 percent of the Palestinian West Bank, including eight critical water wells. It will destroy or confiscate homes, farms, and livelihoods. It will levae hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side of the wall and completely cut off many Palestinian people from each other and from their own land. Some places, like the city of Qalqilya and the village of Jayouus, are already completely surrounded by the wall. Residents have to pass through a gate controlled by the whims of an Israeli soldier. Or in the case of a recent Jewish holiday, the gate is simply locked. No one gets in or out.

On Oct. 2, Palestinians on the western side of the wall — that is, the confiscated portion — awoke to find notices that they will henceforth need to obtain a permit in order to be on their own land. All area west of the wall is now a ‘closed zone.’

Israel continues to claim that the wall is necessary for security. If this were so, the wall would be built along the internationally recognized 1967 border known as the Green Line. According to the UN, only 11 percent of the wall follows the Green Line. The UN places the wall up to 4 miles inside the West Bank now and has projected it to be up to 13 miles inside the West Bank. The route has been drawn to annex as many Jewish settlements to Israel as possible.

Uri Avneri, a former Israeli Knesset member, writes: ‘The wall is not built in order to secure the safety of Israeli citizens but in order to gain hegemony and control over the water resources, for the sake of the de facto annexation of the settlements to Israel, to bisect the Palestinian territories into small isolated enclaves void of territorial contiguity and viability, and in order to create a border zone `clean’ of Palestinians.’

Avraham Bendor, head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s counterintelligence and internal security service) from 1980 to 1986, argued in Haaretz recently that the wall, or ‘fence,’ as he called it, could actually lead to an increase in terrorism: ‘The Arabs feel discriminated against and humiliated by the fence. They are being locked up behind barriers, their lives are being embittered, their land effectively plundered.’

Whether you call it a security fence or an apartheid wall, its effect is the same: destruction, division, a loss of international sympathy toward Israel, and an increase in despair, hopelessness, and terrorism — and the cycle continues.

The pope is right: The Holy Land doesn’t need walls, but bridges.

Tom Wallace is executive director of MidEast Focus: A Communications Awareness Project.

By Tom Wallace, ISM ex-Media Officer 12/3/2003

Published in the Boston Globe