Only people blind to the illegality of Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territory can decry the recent World Court ruling against the “security” wall Israel has been erecting. The far-sighted minority of Israelis opposed to their country’s occupation of Palestinian lands have received the judgment with open arms. “Thank you, your honours,” was the response of journalist and fearless peace activist Gila Svirsky.
My teenage daughter is in Israel this summer on a Zionist youth program. I, along with most others on both sides of this debate — Jewish, Arab or Gentile — would welcome any measures to safeguard the sanctity of Jewish and Palestinian lives. That’s not what the wall is about. This wall, built by the most openly bellicose leader Israel has ever had, is designed to end any hopes of Palestinian independence and to entrench permanently the settlements Israel has placed on occupied lands.
Worse than illegal, as Gila Svirsky points out, “on humanitarian grounds, the wall is unconscionable.” According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, when the wall is complete, some 38% of Palestinians will find their lives disrupted and their livelihoods discontinued. Palestinians are denied access to their fields, their olive groves, their jobs, their hospitals, their close relatives.
Unlike most Israelis — and unlike North American supporters of Israeli policy — Svirsky and other Israeli peace advocates have seen the wall. “If other Israelis saw it, I hope they would be shocked,” she writes. “In several places, the wall does not simply wend through Palestinian towns, it actually surrounds them entirely, penning the residents inside . . . In these localities, civilian populations are now entirely encircled by a 30-foot-high, gray concrete battlement interrupted only by watchtowers from where soldiers train binoculars and automatic rifles on the residents below. Lights mounted on the wall shine down into the streets, making constant surveillance that much easier. As a Jew whose ancestors were confined to ghettoes during anti-Semitic periods of history, I find this horrifying.”
Israel’s Supreme Court has itself recognized the inhumanity of the wall, at least in the section that dissects Palestinian territory near Jerusalem. It has ordered that construction be stopped and that Palestinians be compensated for their losses. Neither the Israeli Court nor the international court at the Hague ruled on parts of the wall being erected in Israel proper, only on those segments — by far the greater majority — that cut through Palestinian lands.
Israel may legitimately build a wall on its own territory, although even that would represent not security but the bankruptcy of its settlement policy. One cannot demand peace and persist in dispossessing the occupied population at the same time. There was no need for “security” walls in the years immediately after Oslo when the Palestinians temporarily believed that the annexation of their lands would end and that a genuine and just peace was at hand. They were guided astray by their own inept and corrupt leadership and beaten down by a far more powerful and merciless Israeli occupier. Nothing justifies the vile bombings and other attacks on civilians, but that evil has worked both ways. In more than equal measure the Palestinians have been made to suffer. If their suffering is in some significant measure due to their own failure to root out the evil of terror, much more responsibility rests on the shoulders of successive Israeli governments who have had the power but not the will to end the settlements and to bring peace to both peoples. At every turn they have tormented the Palestinians, goaded them, humiliated them and then heaped blame upon them for not accepting Israeli “generosity.” 11,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since 1967, hundreds of thousands of acres of Palestinian land have been expropriated for the settlements this wall now defends.
Gila Svirsky speaks the mind of many Israelis when she writes: “Ultimately, the best way for my country to achieve security is to negotiate peace with the Palestinians, and sufficiently improve the lives on both sides so that there is a vested interest in maintaining the peace. The wall, however, does just the opposite. It is not only bad for Palestine, but bad for Israel too.”