Writing about her visits to the West Bank, the author shares with us her impressions of the separation wall.
By Margaret McKenzie, 5th July, 2014
It will have been a decade on July 9 since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) passed its advisory opinion saying Israel must cease construction of the Wall and dismantle sections, compensate for damage caused; and, return Palestinian property or provide compensation if restitution is not possible. The Wall has always been contentious with radically polarizing opinions, exemplified by the many different terms for the Wall depending on who you speak to – “Separation Fence”or “gader hafradeh” in Hebrew, “Apartheid Wall” or “al jidar al azil” in Arabic, are just a few terms used to describe the Wall separating the West Bank from Israel. The Wall depicted in the photos below around the West Bank is illegal under international law.
As an American, I pass easily from one side of the Wall to another; and I do not see the so-called “security fence” fulfilling its objective of improving long-term security. The Wall stands twice as high and four times as long as the Berlin Wall, and most of it does not run along the 1967 Green Line borders, but often goes beyond the line into Palestinian Territory. The Wall increases tensions and causes a racial divide between people. The first time I crossed it on Christmas Eve, I was on a bus, and the young soldiers at the checkpoint of the Wall to Bethlehem asked only the Palestinians to step out of the bus, to pass through on foot like animals. When I stood up to be searched and cross on foot as well, I was told gruffly that it was not necessary. On my next trip, I walked through “The Terminal” outside of Ramallah, which is designated for Palestinians.
Imagine being humiliated on a daily basis, standing for forty-five minutes sometimes and being treated as a second-class citizen. Imagine doing this for ten years, while knowing that the world court has said it is illegal and unjust, but having to submit to it because the 19 year old solider at the Wall holds a gun, and you have nothing. According to a former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier from Breaking the Silence giving a tour of Hebron, the IDF are “encouraged to make Palestinian’s lives hell.”
The coverage of the three Israeli boys who were killed last month is only a small indicator of the staggering contrast of how western media interprets a death on each side – while the missing Israelis made headlines, western media seemed to ignore the fact that, on average, one Palestinian child dies every 3 days.
My most recent trip to the West Bank this year was the most eye-opening yet. I stayed in a refugee camp enclosed by the Wall.
The first day I arrived in Aida Refugee Camp, a Palestinian camp in the Bethlehem Governorate north of Bethlehem City, I walked with camp residents along the Wall. On the east and north sides of the camp, the Wall is an unremitting reminder of the resident’s prison. As I took photos of the Wall, one resident remarked that foreigners come in and draw the graffiti art. Residents of the camp would rather not do so as it makes the Wall beautiful. They want to be reminded daily of the scar that tears through their land.
The asymmetrical power is evident just by comparing access to water – illegal Israeli settlements receive 24/7 access to running water, while Palestinian communities obtain sporadic supplies of water, particularly in the summer. Aida Camp residents informed me of springs on the other side of the Wall, which are now less accessible because of the checkpoints.
One of the students I worked with at Aida Camp, a 15 year old boy, was arrested shortly after I left the camp. The photo of his arrest was taken by a local photographer I met at Lajee Center. As depicted by this graphic, Israeli and Palestinian children are tried under different legal systems, perpetuating the cycle of hate. The Wall is just another reason for him and other residents in the West Bank to fight – they want to achieve freedom, and no Wall will stop that desire. A line on the Wall that stood out to me was a paraphrased Edmund Burke quote, “Good men have only to remain silent for evil to prevail.”