‘Against the Wall’ is a strong presentation about the truth and realities on both sides of the ‘fence’.

Against the Wall, Ed. by Michael Sorkin. New Press, N. Y., 2005. 273 pages.

Some call it a fence, as if it is something that neighbors can lean on or lean over and have a friendly chat on a weekend afternoon or in the cooler hours of dusk and dawn. The reality of the Palestinian situation is that they are literally and figuratively ‘up against the wall’ more so today than when the book was published. The series of essays in “Against the Wall” portrays the Israeli ‘defensive barrier’ as another in a series – but also of singular importance – in the continual “disenfranchisement and pauperization…forced migration and depopulation” and dismemberment of all Palestinian territory, of all Palestinian hopes and desires for a sovereign state.

This is particularly true now with the new Israeli parliament and its balances and associations of power, from which there appears to be ample accord that the boundaries of Palestine will be unilaterally established, the new euphemism being the “partition” of Palestine. The American government has signaled full support for this, not surprising as they were caught off guard by their attempts to establish democracy in the Middle East. Unfortunately for them, democracy won out, with a well participated in, fair and equal political battle on Palestinian soil by all observers’ comments that gave Hamas a strong mandate to proceed with Palestine’s political future.

The political players of Israel and the United States, followed quickly by Canada, easily riding on their media spun message of terror, refused to acknowledge the Hamas-led government as legitimate. That in turn brought the emphasis back to the wall and the unilateral partition of the Palestinian state. By pushing to the foreground “what is allegedly a short term concern – violence in the run-up to a permanent territorial solution”, the Israeli view of the Palestinian position – the Hamas position – becomes “animosity as pure malevolence unmotivated by anything but hatred.”

That view is meant to reflect that the Palestinians are ‘evil’ terrorists simply because they are by nature evil and their hatred comes from that evil nature, not from the generations of dispossession of land, houses, farms, and wells, not from the generations of physical abuse, of murder, torture, imprisonment, not from the generations of emotional and psychological abuse from ever-changing rules and regulations at the whim of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Ostensibly a means for defending Israel, the wall is much more than that. It is a physical barrier that will retain for Israel some of the best productive farmlands of Palestine. It divides the Palestinian people from their families and neighbors, from their farms and wells, from their schools and institutions. It has “second generation effects of…the collapse of the public sector…and the impact of decreased expenditure on environmental and preventative health and education.” As psychological barrier it puts the people through the daily humiliations of roadblocks, checkpoints and curfews that stifle the life and spirit of the people.

“Against the Wall” looks at all these aspects and more. Its essays range from the somewhat obtuse academic sociological works to the gritty realism of activists and everyday Palestinians living with the wall and its interruptions of daily life and the larger cycles of life. The wall becomes a form of internal exile that “impinges on their fundamental right of association” and denies democracy in that “free association is foundational for democracy.” It is ultimately “a symptom of a larger failure of conciliation and justice” and the book “is not simply a plea to remove this wall but also to abandon the system of inequality and domination that produced it.”

The essays discuss the “entire economy of violence” that is imposed on Palestine, with its citizens being “neither a subject nor a citizen” as there is no true Palestinian sovereignty from which to seek aid or assistance. The very presence of the Palestinians becomes something antagonistic to the Israelis. They would prefer an ethnic cleansing but the thin remnant of morality left to them denies them the ability to do this all at once, thus the daily house by house, well by well, one denial of transit at a time, hoping that the residents will choose to give up and move elsewhere, either to a further limited enclave or to another country – “More than 10 percent of residents thus far found the situation so bleak that they’ve migrated from the area in search of employment.”

As with all walls, this one is porous, malleable, under the flexible and random control of the IDF. Other walls are discussed in relation to this – the Berlin Wall, the “Iron Curtain”, the boundaries of the Bantustans in apartheid South Africa, the walls of castles and fortresses that allowed passage but were also death traps at the same time.

The wall, as much as it is a physical barrier is also a means of communication with a very strong message. The United States has its wall, the “Gatekeeper” built in parts along the Mexican border to keep immigrants out, rather unsuccessfully, but it sends the same message to the American people of being protected and succoured from the threats posed by the millions of Mexicans. Further, it “has been cynically calibrated to criminalize migrants but never wholly to discourage their entry into an American economy capitalized on their labor.”

This too is where the Palestinian enclaves, territories, are headed – with agricultural land cut off, with the economy almost fully dependent on aid and the population literally on the verge of starvation, the Israelis will have a large if reluctant and sullen labor force. This fits wonderfully into the corporate view of globalization: “in the much celebrated free circulation opened up by global capitalism, it is “things” (commodities) that freely circulate, while the circulation of “persons” is more and more controlled.”

These essays are both discouraging and encouraging – in that obviously many people see the reality of the Israeli oppression of the occupied territories but conversely seem to be powerless to do much about it but strive to retain the will to survive. Most people are successful with this, although they have endured terrible atrocities and hardships across the years. That should not be, should never have to be, and walls should not be built. Sometimes difficult to read from some of its academic viewpoints, “Against the Wall” is still a strong presentation about the truth and realities on both sides of the ‘fence’.

-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator who has regularly contributed a series of book reviews to the Palestine Chronicle.