Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories passed through a profound transformation during the last several months. Through a series of policy changes and military orders, the West Bank “security fence” has gradually revealed itself to be the backbone of a comprehensive new system of land theft, imprisonment, collective punishment…and worse. The question is not whether it is a “political fence” or a “security fence”, but whether it is an engine of ethnic cleansing.
In the past ninety days Israel has established a clear pattern of using its “security fence” to deny Palestinian farmers access to their own lands. Much of the olive harvest in the northern West Bank hangs dead on the trees because farmers have been ‘caged’ for weeks at a time. Entire villages have been issued permits to farm that give them as little as two days outside the barrier – for the entire year. Even if you have a permit, you must hope the soldiers open the gate for a few minutes on your appointed day, and open it again when you return from your labors.
In the past sixty days, Israel revealed its willingness to use deadly force to protect its “fence”. It relaxed its rules of engagement, and shot an unarmed Palestinian dead for disobeying orders; he touched the wall.
In the past thirty days, Israel issued new military orders that obliterate the rights of Palestinians left outside the barriers to live in their own homes. The orders expropriate their land, and all Palestinian land west of the “security fence”, to create a “closed zone” open only to Jews and citizens of Israel. All others, including the people who live there, must apply for a permit from the Israeli army. By the end of next year, at least 210,000 Palestinians are expected to be subject to similar orders.
No longer content to chop away at Palestine until it eventually disappears, Israel is now using the “security fence” as a vehicle for the more rapid and overt methods of large-scale ethnic cleansing. This grave step ushers in the terminal stage of the cleansing process, in which years of organized persecution, brutality, bigotry and theft, all the patriotic acts required in the effort to dehumanize another people, finally succeed in radically dehumanizing the perpetrators. At this point, it is simple to use the bureaucracy of the state to erase a people’s very existence. With the stroke a pen, an entire region can be “Judaized”, with assurance that the necessary consequences will follow in time.
They wouldn’t actually do this, right? They wouldn’t push another quarter of a million Palestinians right off their land, not now. The people will get their permits. Right?
Let’s put it in perspective.
By the end of this summer, Israel’s occupation had reduced the Palestinian people to the poverty and malnutrition levels of sub-Saharan Africa, according to studies by the UN, the World Bank, and CARE International. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food said in mid-October, “The occupied Palestinian territories are on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe as a result of extremely harsh military measures…There can be no justification for harsh internal closures that prevent people from having access to food and water; otherwise the imposition of such military measures amount[s] to what has been called a ‘policy of starvation’..”
Israel’s incredibly dense network of army checkpoints, “flying” checkpoints, roadblocks and barriers has made travel for Palestinians in the West Bank almost impossible. A five-mile trip can take all day, waiting at checkpoints for hours on end out in the open, no shelter provided. It often doesn’t matter if you’re having a baby or bleeding to death from an Israeli-inflicted wound – you wait. So far, thirty-one “checkpoint babies” have perished. (On the other hand, any Jew can use the bypass roads and get from one side of the West Bank to the other in minutes.)
Since Israel signed the Oslo Accords, the settler population has doubled to 390,000, strewn over a thick web of at least 145 settlements and their interconnecting Jewish-only roads, blanketing the Palestinian West Bank. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada three years ago, the Israeli army has been systematically wrecking Palestinian infrastructure throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Water mains, wells, and pumping stations, sewage systems, telephone and internet hubs, markets, airports, police stations, roads, civic buildings, mosques and churches, all have felt the special attentions of Israel’s bulldozers, bomb teams, helicopter gunships, and F-16s. It’s a slow-motion version of what Gulf War I did to Iraq.
The army goes virtually everywhere, usually raiding two or three cities or villages every day and night, leaving a string of casualties and appalling human rights abuses rarely reported by the American media. The death toll of innocent civilians, children, mothers, grandfathers, mounts daily, in ones and twos and fours that slip through the cracks of the wire services, or are entombed as eleventh-paragraph filler in policy-and-politics stories.
Over 41,000 Palestinian civilians have been wounded by Israeli fire in the last three years. Americans don’t understand how constant it is, how the occupation teems round-the-clock, 24/7, month in, month out, leaving an ever-larger trail of both indiscriminate and calculated destruction. Even when they say they’ve withdrawn, or relaxed the curfews and closures, they haven’t. In Palestine, falling for those old lies can get you killed.
Do you think this is an army that likes to issue permits to civilians? No, this is an army that likes to demand permits, especially permits the “subject” cannot produce. And that is precisely the game they play.
A Palestinian must always have her ID card ready, to indicate her “Bantustan” assignment. If she has a West Bank ID, she cannot go to Jerusalem or Israel except for rare medical care. If she lives in Jerusalem, she may be issued a West Bank ID instead. That will be used later to prove that she is illegally residing in the Holy City, which is cause to demolish her home and seize her land for Israeli “military purposes”. It is policy to give her five minutes to retrieve her belongings.
Wherever she lives, she almost certainly will not receive a permit to build or change her home. If she does so anyway, that is cause for the Israeli army to demolish it. Even houses hundreds of years old require permits in some areas, which the army almost never issues. These homes are also subject to demolition at Israel’s convenience. And if a Palestinian’s home lies in the path of a new Israeli road, settlement expansion, or the massive “security fence” project, that is cause to demolish the home and seize the land outright, sometimes with no pretext at all. This has been going on steadily for many years, as part of a larger accelerating project of land theft and dispossession that Israelis call “Judaization”.
Now the “security fence” is carving out broad new areas of dispossession, invisibly creating tens of thousands of new permits that will never be issued. It is transforming the landscape of Israel’s aggression from a study in many miniatures into a work of more sweeping scope, perhaps ultimately worthy of Delacroix, or, since this is not art, but real, death-worshipping life, Speer. Israel is on course to render almost 15,000 Palestinians homeless this year. Why not 200,000 next?
US politicians from Howard Dean to Dick Cheney support the “fence” as part of Israel’s “right to defend herself”. But most would “prefer” it built along the Green Line, the recognized Palestinian boundary since 1967. Meanwhile, “it is imperative” that America continue to pay Israel billions of dollars a year to wage war on civilians inside that same Green Line. Denial is the seat of hypocrisy.
Perhaps you’you’ve read that the “fence” deviates from the Green Line by “a few miles in places”, and imagined that Israel was just taking a little land again. Israel is taking a lot of land again. A projected 45% of the West Bank will be in Israeli hands when the project is complete. Bush and Powell find that “troublesome”.
On October 28, an official from the Israeli Defence Ministry announced that the barrier will now extend 450 miles, nearly five times longer than the Berlin Wall. And that’s not including the ‘eastern fence’ beginning to amputate the Jordan Valley into Israel’s waiting slop bucket. When it’s all done, perhaps by the end of next year, there will be three walled Palestinian islands controlled by the Israeli army; one north, one south, and a tiny enclave around Jericho, marooned inside the Zionists’ dream; a Greater Israel reaching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River at least.
The Israeli official offered an estimate of $1.6 billion for the cost of the “fence”, but, according to Israel’s Business Arena (Globes), he also explained that this figure does not include the cost of the ‘eastern fence’, or the barrier’s terminals, or anything else involved in making the damn thing operational. At the end of the briefing, the official said that “the fence, including the east and west fences, the terminals, and maintenance” would cost 15 billion shekels ($3.3 billion), “which Israel would have trouble meeting.” But of course the US media immediately agreed that the price tag is $1.6 billion. Perhaps it “looks better”.
It’s possible the US will make good on its threats to deduct costs of the “fence” from the $9 billion in loan guarantees it pledged to Israel this summer. Apparently the deductions will be only for certain short sections that cause greatest US “concern”. One of the few points of sharp disagreement is the wall around Ben-Gurion Airport. The US says the wall is not necessary to protect planes from shoulder-fired missiles. Israel says it is.
Following the pattern of similar “adjustments” for settlement construction, the modest deductions will probably be arranged entirely for Israel’s convenience. Finance Minister Netanyahu has said that he is unlikely to use much more than a third of the three billion dollars in loan guarantees available this year. So the US could deduct even the “whole” cost of the project (“$1.6 billion”) from this year’s loan guarantees, and Israel wouldn’t miss a red cent.
I recommend the reader study some maps of the “security fence” to get a stronger feel for the shape of the very near future. For a good picture of what it will look like when completed, see Gush Shalom’s general map (1) or Foundation for a Middle East Peace’s highly detailed projection (2). B’tselem just published some updated maps that are very good (3). And now we finally have one from the Israeli Defence Ministry itself (4).
Unlike the smooth and coherent lines of devastation portrayed by Gush Shalom’s general maps, the details of the IDM map reveal the shaky, recursive scratchings of an obsessed old man, soon to be superimposed upon the Holy Land as a 300-meter wide security zone, complete with trenches, electronic sensors, motion detectors, infra-red cameras, razor wire, and the actual barrier, be it fence, electric fence, or a 10- to 26-foot tall concrete wall, replete with guard towers.
The IDM map is a little out of date, and it coyly shows only half the plan, but it is revealing nonetheless. It projects the western side of the West Bank cracking apart with interior barriers, leaving thirteen areas totally walled in by the back-tracking scrawl, further separating Jews from Palestinians, and Palestinians from other Palestinians.
Of course, every kilometer of “fence” will have to be maintained by the Israeli army. So the fence will permanently insert the army within the West Bank. If a more forward base is required, Israel need only build another wall to encircle it. Soon we will be hearing about the “natural growth of the security fence”.
It is not a “fence”, nor a “wall”, nor a “barrier” at all, but a machine of war, a forward basing system for the Israeli army and the geographical superstructure for an accelerated campaign of starvation, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing.
As one stares at the maps, absorbing the hideous geography, two fat fists begin to emerge, one north, one south, clutching the innards of the West Bank in a death-grip. Now the fists begin to sprout fingers, worming through the flesh, ripping apart the tissue of the people.
If you imagine that some new “peace initiative” or act of Congress or the UN or the silly ditherings of Bush are going to halt this US-sponsored nightmare before the end of next year, you simply haven’t been paying attention. In today’s world, only one force possesses both the potential morality and the power required to stop this monumental crime. And it is something you should already have: outraged public opinion. You must rain it down upon the heads of this blind government like a torrent, or else surrender to the shame, and the consequences.
JAMES BROOKS is a writer, activist, webmaster, and former business owner. Articles have been published by several web sites covering the Middle East, investigative journalism and alternative politics. Currently Brooks serves as webmaster for Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel and publishes News Links, a free, once-daily (Mon-Sat) e-mail digest of in-depth Middle East news and commentary. To subscribe, contact email@example.com.