If Palestine Is Denied By A Wall: A Story Of Land Expropriation
By Luisa Morgantini,
former Vice President of the European Parliament
On November 9th 2009, the world celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Deplored by millions, the wall became a symbol of violence and separation that over time found its cement bricks decorated in images of freedom and resistance.
Whilst we rejoiced one wall’s ruin a shameful silence prevailed regarding a wall that stands today, dividing Palestine. 9 metres high this apartheid Wall violates international law and yet Israel continues its construction undeterred by appeals, resolutions and the advisory opinions of the UN Assembly.
On the same day that we celebrated the anniversary of Berlin, Palestinian, Israeli and International activists risked their lives to breach the Wall in Qalandyia and Ni’lin - an act of heroic resistance that received almost no media coverage.
The construction of what successive Israeli governments have dubbed a “defensive barrier” has a long story. For decades Israeli colonialism has sought to solve the question of how to reduce the native presence so that their populace can never threaten the jewishness of the State of Israel. In 1948 this resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who remain refugees to this day and the destruction of 400 Palestinian villages. In 1967 a preventive territorial conquest war found the same operation did not succeed. An additional 300,000 Palestinians became refuges but many people refused to flee choosing to remain with their land.
The ‘defensive barrier’ first began life in 1994 when Yitzahak Rabin approved the construction of a wall in Gaza that soon surrounded the entire Strip. The following year he assigned the Ministry of Public Security, Moshe Shahal, with assessing the possibilities for a similar construction to separate Israel from the West Bank. The project was abandoned until 2000 when following Sharon’s provocation on Temple Mountain the second Intifada broke out. Labour Minister Ehud Barak then approved the creation of a wall in Latroun to control Palestinian vehicles’ crossing and from 2001 onwards the “defensive barrier” has continued unabated, annexing vast amounts of Palestinian land. Consequentially Israel now controls the movement of Palestinians throughout the territories, preventing those living in the West Bank and Gaza from entering Jerusalem; initiating policies of restrictions among Areas A, B and C in accordance with the Oslo Agreements and building roads on occupied territories with the purpose of connecting Israeli settlements, which have progressively expanded. All these policies have expropriated land from Palestinians with no compensation.
Initially Israel justified the separation barrier as a security measure to protect its civilian population from would be suicide bombers. It is a sacred right for any country to defend its people and the project was supported by an international media campaign led by three popular Israeli writers from the “peace camp”, David Grossman, Amos Oz and Abraham Yehoshua. Many politicians from the “enlightened camp” were also in favour believing the wall could help facilitate the creation of a Palestinian State by clearly defining its borders. The question is which borders?
Certainly not those of the 1967 occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, recognized under international law. The Wall’s path has continually cut inside West Bank territory destroying and annexing mass of cultivated land, olive trees and orchards.
Only 20% of the wall adheres to 67 borders. The remainder moves up to 28 km inside the occupied territory unifying West Bank Jewish settlements with Israel and breaking up Palestine into isolated pockets, bantustans that prevent the territorial continuity necessary for the existence of a viable State.
The Wall is structurally diverse. Around villages and cities its between 6 and 9m high whilst in rural areas its transitions into an 80m wide barrier, with 2.5m deep trenches, electric fences, military patrols roads, barbed wired, video surveillance systems and sand paths for tracing footprints.
According to OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the oPt) the barrier has 78 gates designed to give farmers access to their land. Of these gates only 38 are opened daily and then for just a few hours. To gain access Palestinians have to apply for permits but land owners who’ve been in prison, or have a family member there, are deemed dangerous and will never obtain permits despite being the legal owners of the land.
In the areas surrounding Abu Dis, Al Rahm and Qalandyia, the wall literally cuts communities in half. For example the Boullata family now find themselves completely divided by the Wall with the mother and father living on one side, their relatives on the opposite and Anthony whose house lies on one side, his shop on the other: he must give up one of the two. These stories are echoed through hundreds of Palestinian families across the region.
OCHA reports claim that 128,000 Palestinians are surrounded by the Wall on three sides and by Israeli military infrastructure on the fourth. 69 settlements with a population of 180,000 have annexed 76% of West Bank territory with an additional 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem. 60,500 Palestinians residents of 42 villages will be isolated between the Wall and the border.
According to the Economic Commission of the Israeli Parliament the cost of the wall is estimated at 3.5 billion dollars with each km costing 4 million Euros. In rural areas each km requires 45,000 cubic meters of excavation, 5,000 square meters of asphalt, 1,000 cement beams, 300 poles, 2,500 square meters of metallic fence and 12 km of barbed wire.
On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said “The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law”.
Israel “is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall (…) to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated (…) to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall.”
Israel has consistently disregarded international outcries from both the ICJ and UN as to the illegality of its policies, and the world has not moved to call Israel to account. This indifference has allowed the Wall to reach 60% completion; it will be 730km long when finished and who knows what of the West Bank will remain?
The construction of the Wall has allowed Israel to expand its own territory whilst simultaneously undermining the future viability of a Palestinian State. They’ve provided economic and social incentives to encourage families to move into West Bank settlements with the state bill ever increasing beyond construction costs to include tax breaks and reductions, mortgages, social assistance facilities and the huge military infrastructure required for settlement protection. In Hebron where 400 settlers moved to live, 1,500 Israeli soldiers have been deployed to ensure their security.
Since Annapolis a settlement freeze has been considered a fundamental precondition for any negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but despite all the declarations, settlements continue to expand. According to Peace Now illegal settlements in West Bank now number 120. It reports that 15,000 Israeli’s have moved into West Bank colonies since 2008 bringing the total settler population there to 250,000. Over 200,000 live in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers to be part of its indivisible capital despite international law protestations to the contrary. The Israeli government is now leading a policy of ethnical cleansing through house demolitions and the evictions of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Al Bustan neighborhoods replacing them with radical Jewish settlers. Since 1967, 17 settlements have been built and 35% of East Jerusalem expropriated for settlements. Between 1967 and 2006, 8,500 Palestinian houses have been demolished: in 2009 OCHA has recorded the demolition of 19 Palestinian owned - structures in East Jerusalem, including 11 residential units.
In the last few years a new practice of non violence resistance against the wall’s construction has developed in the occupied territories. In 2005 in Bi’lin (www.bilin-village.org <http://www.bilin-village.org/> ), where the Wall has confiscated 60% of agricultural lands, a popular committee was formed that has organised a weekly demonstration ever since bringing together Israelis and Internationals to protest settlement expansion and help local people claim access to their own, now annexed, lands.
This resistance helped secure a ruling from the Israeli High Court of Justice against the proposed route of the Wall in Bi’lin, calling upon Israel to build on an alternative path. The sentence has not been respected and settlements such as Modi’in Illit and Matityahu grow unrestricted.
The example of non violence opposition set in Bi’lin has inspired replicate activity in villages such as in Ni’lin, Al Masara, At-tuwani and in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian Authority and PM Salam Fayyad is working to encourage this movement by visiting villages and including a monthly expenditure in the governmental budget to cover the legal expenses of the popular committees. At the international level, a network supporting the Palestinian non violent struggle has been also created.
The Israeli Government seeks to weaken this movement of dissent by carrying out night incursions in the villages and arresting young and adult activists. Every Friday at the weekly demonstrations the Israeli Army fires tear gas canisters and bullets on demonstrators. Despite these aggressive policies of intimidation the non violent resistance continues, adopting ever more creative methods such as the symbolic breach of the Wall this November 9th.
Enough is enough. Five years following the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion and 20 years since the Berlin Wall’s fall, it is time for the International Community to adopt concrete measures such as a weapons’ embargo and divestments from all companies who profit from Israeli military occupation to call Israel to account. It is time for the European Union to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement and not to proceed with the upgrade of EU Israel relations.
Israeli authorities cannot be considered above international law in the name of security.
Respect for International law, the end of occupation, the lift of the siege on Gaza which represents a collective punishment to 1.5 millions civilians, the dismantlement of the Wall, the total freeze of settlements and freedom for political prisoners: all these options are the only way of guaranteeing Israel’s security and ensuring freedom, justice and independence to the Palestinian people.
Ph.+39. 348. 3921455 firstname.lastname@example.org
The article was translated into English by Barbara Antonelli and Susanna Bennett. This in an integral version of an article published on November 28th on the Italian daily newspaper Liberazione. The original version of the article was in Italian.