Nick Dearden, Senior Campaigner at War on Want, explains why Israel’s Separation wall is only good for one thing – demolition.
One day workers, soldiers and bulldozers arrive at your town and start building a wall – 8 meters tall and stretching all the way around the town.
Your child needs to get to school, or that you are diabetic and need regular access to a hospital. Both the hospital and school are outside your town. The only way you can get outside it is through a single gate – patrolled by heavily armed soldiers and often locked.
Your food and income comes from farming land. Your land is on the other side of the wall. You try to get through the gate to reach it. Soldiers stop you because you are a man and today only women are allowed through the gate.
Your workplace is outside the town. Because you don’t know when you will be able to leave the town, or how long it will take you, you have lost your job and joined the thousands of other people in the town who are unemployed.
This is the harsh reality for the 46,000 inhabitants of the town of Qalqilia in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Their town lies right in the path of the ‘Separation Wall’ (A collection of concrete, electric fences, ditches, razor wire, electronic monitoring systems, patrol roads, and a no-go buffer zone) that the Israeli government is building through the West Bank – Palestinian land that Israel has illegally occupied since 1967.
Qalqilia is just the tip of the iceberg. This is only a small section of the Separation Wall, which is already 125 miles long, and will eventually reach 430 miles, impacting on the lives of 470,000 Palestinians. Every aid agency working in the area claims that the wall is bound to have a detrimental impact on the poverty faced by Palestinians. Hundreds of houses have been demolished and thousands of fruit trees, which people depend on for their livelihoods, have been uprooted.
The Israeli government claims that the wall (they prefer the less abrasive ‘Fence’) is a security measure, designed to keep suicide bombers out of its cities. That doesn’t explain why it is built almost entirely on occupied Palestinian land, rather than along the internationally recognized border of Israel and Palestine (the Green Line). It doesn’t explain why so many Palestinians – 11,500 to date – have been left on the Israeli side of the fence, stranded in a no-man’s land.
Many believe that the wall is part of a wider political game which Ariel Sharon’s government is playing – annexing the best resources and land for Israel and consigning the Palestinians to what, in effect, is a gigantic prison. Although Israel denies this, it is easy to see that when a peace settlement is eventually arrived at, it would be easier to just give Israel the extra land it places on its side of the wall, and leave Palestine with an even smaller area than it was recognized to have before the wall was built.
What is clear is that the wall will only further inflame anger amongst the Palestinians, by exacerbating poverty and inequality. The United Nations agency says the Palestinians are suffering the “effect of a terrible natural disaster”. But there has been no earthquake or hurricane. The disaster in Palestine is the result of politics – an Israeli occupation of 35 years that has left two thirds of Palestinians living below the poverty line. Unemployment averages 35%, and is as high as 65% in some areas. Even before the wall was built a combination of checkpoints, curfews and closure of certain roads or areas, meant that workers had no idea whether they were able to reach their workplaces.
And the UK government’s response? They agree that the wall is a problem – an obstacle to peace. But when the United Nations General Assembly asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on whether the wall was legal or not, the British government objected, saying the issue was too political, one-sided and would hamper the United Nations work. Yet this sort of action on the part of the Palestinians – seeking peaceful, legal means to redress the injustices they face – is exactly the sort of path the British government has been urging them to take for years. Meanwhile, the British government sells weapons to the Israeli government, allows them to develop a nuclear capacity, and sets up trade agreements with them.
While the ICJ has ruled the wall illegal, and said that it must be dismantled and damages paid to the Palestinians, the Israeli government has refused to comply, turning to the US and Europe to block effective implementation of international law. The time when our own government could sit on the fence is long past. It has been internationally recognized that Israel is perpetrating a humanitarian catastrophe in the occupied territories, and it is time for all of us to stand up for Palestine.