Ebrahim Moosa – Cii News (15-06-12)
Over the years, visitors to Israel have been treated to a buffet of descriptions for the land which they were visiting. “The Promised Land”, “The Land of Milk and Honey,” and the “National Home of the Jewish People,” had all been familiar phrases in the tourist lexicon. However, guides and travel agencies engaging in the active promotion of Israel may soon be forced to add another more unsavoury depiction to their platter of defining characteristics. Israel may soon become known quite simply, as The Land of Walls.
A recent edition of Al Jazeera’s Inside Story highlighted the growing phenomenon of an increasingly self-encircled Zionist state. Titled ‘Israel and the walls that surround it,’ the show revealed how the construction or planned-construction of frontier barriers “could eventually see Israel completely enclosed by steel, concrete and barbed wire.”
Construction initiatives currently underway include the recently announced building of a new wall on the country’s northern ceasefire line with Lebanon. According to Israeli media, the barrier could measure up to 2km long and stand anywhere between 6-10 meters high. Separately, on the Israeli-Egyptian border, a vast project to put up a high-tech fence between the two nations is being executed at a surprising speed. When completed, reports AFP, the fence will stretch the entire length of Israel’s desert frontier with Egypt, starting from the Red Sea resort town of Eilat in the south and ending at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza. “The new frontier is 5 meters high and topped with metal spikes, with a foundation which reaches another meter down into the rocky soil. In front of it are three rolls of barbed wire piled on top of each other, and the entire structure is bristling with surveillance technology: sensors, radars, antennae and cameras.”
As ambitious as these two projects may sound, the wall frenzy evidently does not end there. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset earlier this year that on the envisaged completion date of the Egyptian barrier in December, another fence will also be built along the country’s border with Jordan.
The frantic speed at which the current projects are being rolled out is perplexing. The Egyptian wall is rising at a rate of 800 meters per day, erasing all traces of older border lines in the process. Its material costs are staggering too. Building the frontier has accounted for 15 percent of the Zionist state’s entire annual steel consumption, with the overall cost of the project set to top US$360 million. A related government border control plan, again costing millions of Dollars, necessitated a two percent cut in all government budgets to ensure execution, according the Jerusalem Post.
Ostensibly, Israel justifies the moves as means to ensure security and curb the flow of migrant workers and refugees from Africa into Israel. In recent weeks, it has sparked global uproar and has even been accused of racism and apartheid over its decision to deport thousands of asylum seekers back to Africa.
But the Egyptian, Lebanese and Jordanian barriers are not the only assets in Israel’s portfolio of walls. A long-standing 51km concrete boundary effectively seals off the Occupied Gaza Strip, whilst the notorious 748km long ‘Apartheid’ Wall encircles and annexes some 46% of the Occupied West Bank. The latter was, in 2004, found to violate international law by the International Court of Justice(ICJ) in the Hague.
Despite this, Israeli officials often gloat over the security effectiveness and architectural merits of its walls. They credit the West Bank barrier for drastically reducing the number of Palestinian ‘suicide’ bombings and suggest the upcoming barricades to be virtually impassable for infiltrators and enemies alike. Writing in Ha’aretz, defence analyst Amos Harel describes the Egyptian metal wall as being almost immune to attack. “It is hard to climb…and it looks as though it will be difficult to tunnel under it. The diagonal rods in the top part of the fence pose serious deterrents to the possibility of climbing over it.”
The same article also quotes a senior member of the Israeli Defence Ministry as saying, “It is indeed a monster. Seen from the Egyptian side, the fence overall is quite frightening.”
Such confidence from the Israeli side has apparently not deterred the Palestinians in the least. Unable to physically breach the Gaza Wall, Palestinian resistance fighters quickly adopted new approaches, firing hundreds of homemade rockets and mortars over the barrier into Israel instead. On 25 June 2006, they used an 800-metre tunnel dug under the barrier over a period of months to infiltrate into Israel. They attacked a patrolling Israeli armored unit, killed two Israeli soldiers, and captured another, Gilad Shalit.
Desperate humanitarian conditions in Gaza in 2008 also prompted fighters to set off 15 explosive charges on the border fence with Egypt, demolishing a 200-metre length of the metal barrier. After the resulting breach, many thousands of Palestinians, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 700,000, crossed into Egypt to buy goods. Reports from the time indicate that Palestinians were seen purchasing much needed food, fuel, shoes, furniture, car parts, and generators.
In the West Bank, weekly protests against the ‘Apartheid’ Wall have been occurring peacefully in Bil’in and neighbouring villages since 2005. Some have been killed and many are regularly injured and incarcerated by Israeli forces for their activism. Still they continue, and in 2011 residents succeeded in dismantling parts of the fence and getting Israel to reroute other parts of the barrier.
A Palestinian youth climbs the Israeli separation barrier during a protest against the barrier in the West Bank village of Nilin near Ramallah, Friday, June 1, 2012.
Spurred on by media attention and solidarity from renowned figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter, spokespeople regularly emphasize that the fight will continue until their rights are restored and the wall is brought down. Despite the annexations resulting in unbearable living conditions and the loss of markets, movement and livelihoods, it is evident that the Palestinians are not allowing themselves and their destinies to succumb to the realities of these concrete “monsters.”
What is happening among Israelis is far less certain.
As the American poet Robert Frost famously wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, And wants it down.” Much has been said about how the series of walls imprison the Palestinian population and isolate it from basic services. Yet, a simple glance at the map reveals that, in tandem, the existing and proposed walls in fact imprison Israel itself.
In the wake of the 2008/9 invasion of Gaza, commentator Mark Levine observed how clueless Israel and its supporters abroad appeared to be of the devastating trap it was leading itself into. “As Israel brutalises Palestinians,” he wrote, “it brutalises its own people. You cannot occupy another people and engage in violence against them at this scale without doing even greater damage to your [own] soul.”
Hence, the question that the maze of concrete, steel and barbed wire currently encircling Palestinians and Israelis alike should raise, is not necessarily, “Who will save the Palestinians?” Rather, it may be more appropriate to ask, “Who will save Israel from Itself?”