National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  November 7, 2003

On Oct. 24, Palestinians climb over a wall of cement barricades erected by Israel.
-- Getty Images/Marco Di Lauro
Up against the wall


Nov. 9 has been declared the International Day against the Wall, a day when activists in many different parts of the world will celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and protest the erection of a new wall between Israel and the occupied West Bank. From Jerusalem, NCR columnist Neve Gordon examines the wall’s impact on Palestinians.

Although Nu’man is located less than less than 20 minutes by car from my Jerusalem apartment, all roads connecting the small village to the city have been blocked off. Using roundabout roads that wind across the hilly terrain of the southern Jerusalem municipal border, it took us more than an hour to reach the village.

The Palestinian residents invited us. They wanted to tell Ta’ayush activists (Arab-Jewish Partnership) about their imminent expulsion, about their fear of being forced to move from their ancestral land. They wanted to tell us about the bad wall, a complex series of barriers, trenches, roads, and fences.

But first some background. After the 1967 war, Israel annexed 70 square kilometers of land to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem, imposing Israeli law on this area. This annexed land included not only the part of Jerusalem that had been under Jordanian rule, but also an additional 64 square kilometers, most of which had belonged to 28 villages in the West Bank.

Unlike most of the inhabitants of the annexed villages, who were subsequently registered by the Israeli civil administration as Israeli residents (as opposed to citizens), the inhabitants of Nu’man were given West Bank identity cards.

This created a juridical situation straight out of Kafka. The Nu’man residents and their houses belong to different legal and administrative systems: The houses and land are part of the Jerusalem municipal system, while the inhabitants are residents of the West Bank and therefore subjected to Israeli military rule.

Using its juridical control of the land, in 1992 Israel classified the area in which the village is located as “green land” -- land that cannot be built on and is basically a nature reserve. The idea was to strangle the local population, prohibiting them from constructing any new houses.

Simultaneously, the Jerusalem municipality refused to provide basic services to the village, such as extending water and sewage lines. Later, after the eruption of the second intifada, all roads between the village and Jerusalem were closed off, forcing the residents to become dependent on the West Bank for their livelihood and their children’s education.

What had appeared to be a “legal anomaly” slowly became the grim reality of everyday life. Although they live on land annexed by Israel, for all practical purposes the Palestinian residents themselves do not belong to Jerusalem; they are West Bankers. The only “defect” in this grand plan is that they still reside in the annexed area. It is this so-called defect that Israel now intends to fix.

Accompanied by border policemen, a few months ago a coordinator for the Israeli housing ministry, defense ministry, and Jerusalem municipality showed the residents a map of where the separation wall will pass. The wall, the residents learned, would surround the village on its southern side and thus separate it from the West Bank. Even if the residents are allowed to stay, they will not be able to reach their places of work, and their children will be unable to go to school. To make things clear, however, the Israeli official notified the Palestinian residents that, because of the village’s proximity to the planned separation wall, they would have to move.

Israel’s goal, it appears, is to expropriate the land “inhabited.” It is highly unlikely, however, that the villagers will actually be forced out of their homes. A more intricate strategy will be employed.

Creating a physical barrier between the village and the West Bank and not allowing the inhabitants any contact with either the Palestinian Authority or the Jerusalem Municipality will undermine the Nu’man villagers’ infrastructure of existence. Ultimately, they will have to leave the village of “their own accord.”

This scheme of expelling a whole population from their land is in blatant violation of basic rights as well as of all the agreements that Israel has signed, not least the principles laid out in the “road map.” In Israel we call this policy “transfer.”

While the end of this story has yet to be told, an additional 15 kilometers of the wall were recently approved for construction in East Jerusalem. This wall will cut off approximately 35,000 Palestinians from the metropolis. Not only will they be isolated from their source of livelihood, but the only two Palestinian hospitals in the area -- al-Moqassad and Augusta Victoria -- will be out of bounds, as will be many of the ancestral cemeteries. Once this apartheid wall is built, many Palestinian parents will be living on one side of the wall and their adult children on the other.

How, one should ask the Israeli government, will a wall that separates Palestinians ensure the security of Jewish Israelis?

Outside of Jerusalem the situation is even worse, since the first 145 kilometers of the separation wall are more or less complete, violating the rights of more than 210,000 Palestinians residing in 67 villages, towns and cities, according to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem.

The crux of the matter is that the wall is not being erected on the 1967 borders, but is being used as a mechanism to expropriate Palestinian land and create facts on the ground that will affect any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. Already in this early stage, 13 communities -- home to 11,700 people -- have become enclaves or Bantustans imprisoned between the wall and Israel. The so-called security wall does not separate these Palestinian residents from Jewish Israelis, but rather from their brethren in the West Bank.

In addition, 36 communities, in which 72,200 Palestinians reside, are separated from their farmlands that lie west of the wall. The olive harvest season is now underway, and many Palestinian farmers cannot reach their land.

As the facts on the ground attest, the wall, which was ostensibly built to satisfy security needs, is being used as an extremely efficient weapon of dispossession and violation. The Palestinians’ basic rights to freedom of movement and livelihood as well as the rights to education, health and even burial are being systematically abused -- not only with guns, tanks and airplanes but with Caterpillar bulldozers and Fiat tractors.

On Nov. 9th, when Europe will be commemorating the 14th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, in Israel the bulldozers will carve out the mountainside as the construction workers continue to erect electric fences. Whereas Europe will be celebrating a historic moment of unification and peace, Israel will be connecting massive concrete panels, assembling the wall that encloses what will soon become the biggest open-air prison that the world has known.

Neve Gordon teaches politics and human rights at Ben-Gurion University.

National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2003

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