Separation wall protests mount

As cranes lowered segments of a 30-foot-high concrete barrier in the streets of Jerusalem on Jan. 12, walling the city off from the adjoining Arab village of Abu Dis, the outcry against Israel’s so-called “separation wall” continued to mount.

The wall, which so far runs about 90 miles along the Israeli border with the West Bank, has been the scene of numerous demonstrations by both Palestinian and Israeli Jewish peace activists over the past several months. Comparing the wall to the racist system of South African apartheid, protesters have sought to halt its construction.

The Israeli government has become increasingly belligerent toward the demonstrators. On Dec. 27, Israeli troops shot and seriously wounded Gil Na’amati as he and others were demonstrating near a segment of the wall near the village of Maskha. A U.S. citizen was slightly injured in the same incident. The shooting of Na’amati, a Jewish activist, caused an uproar in Israel.

The Israeli government says the wall is needed to keep out suicide bombers. The Palestinians, however, say the wall’s real purpose is to facilitate a well-planned land grab.

Hanna Amireh, a leader of the Palestinian People’s Party, says that the wall amounts to “besieging around 3 million Palestinians” in a tiny area – about 6 percent – of the West Bank and Gaza Strip where the Arab population is most concentrated.

Speaking at a conference sponsored by the European Left Forum in Cyprus in early December, Amireh said the wall is slated to run for 370 miles, much longer than the 225-mile border between the Palestinian territories and Israel. The discrepancy, he said, is attributable to the wall’s “running zigzag deep into the Palestinian territories.”

Amireh cited a report by the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (“not a Palestinian report,” he pointedly remarked), which says the wall will ultimately swallow up about 48 percent of the West Bank, affecting 500,000 Palestinians who live in 136 residential areas. The current plan calls for a 45-foot-wide strip bounded by a cement wall and metal fences with 757 checkpoints, including 73 military outposts, 58 trenches, 67 road gates, and 464 mounds of rocks to block vehicles.

The wall’s economic impact on Palestinians will be devastating, Amireh said. It will prevent many Palestinians from traveling to their jobs; block access to their fields, water sources, and vital social services; and divide families. Citing another report, this one by Amnesty International, Amireh said the wall will devastate the lives of at least 60 percent of Palestinians who are currently living on less than $2 per day.

The Palestinian People’s Party has been emphatic in its condemnation of suicide bombings and terrorism against innocent civilians. Amireh said, however, that the separation wall is not intended to stop terrorism. Its main aim is to further Israel’s expansionism.

“The government of Ariel Sharon has decided unilaterally, through the use of the wall, to draw up greatly-reduced borders of what could be called a divided and fragmented Palestinian state without sovereignty,” he said. “New facts on the ground will reinforce the expansion of the Israeli settlements and will pave the way for the silent transfer of large numbers of Palestinian citizens” to what Amireh calls a “huge prison” on territory with virtually no resources.

Despite the grimness of such a prospect, Amireh said it is nonetheless possible to defeat the wall. Stopping the building of this wall is possible for several reasons, he said, citing the October vote of 144 countries in the United Nations condemning the wall, the mounting local and international campaign against it, and the difficulties the Bush administration has in openly defending it before the court of world opinion.

At this point in time, he said, “We believe that confronting the separation wall is the central cause in expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

The Palestinian leader also appealed for international help in getting Israeli troops to return to their positions before the most recent Intifada, so that democratic general elections can be held in Palestine in June; to support the Palestinian call for a mutual ceasefire; and to increase solidarity with peace forces in Israel.

The author can be reached at malmberg@pww.org.