Sunday, November 21, 2004
Ethnic Cleansing and the Art of Camouflage
If you want to fully understand the wall that Israel has built, I advise you to start at the beginning, where its first sections were erected nearly two years ago on land belonging to the villages of Pharaon and Irtah, on the edge of the city of Tulkarem. The living room of Fayez Odah in Irtah offers an excellent view of the 25-foot-high monolith, which has eaten 60% of his land. He and his wife Mona and five children are also in danger of being arrested or fired upon every time they try to farm the remaining 40%, because it is in the "security zone" next to the wall. The structure is even more imposing for being on a raised section of ground, with a sort of ditch in front of it.That is of course how it appears from the Palestinian side. However, it wouldn't do to sully the view from the Israeli side, nor to remind the Israeli public of the suffering that is being imposed on the people whose land they covet. Hence the transfer of massive amounts of earth to the Israeli side, where it abuts the wall, creating an attractive but artificial hill, planted with roses in many places. The earth movement also accounts for the lower ground on the Palestinian side. It gives double meaning to the notion of land transfer. In the northerly direction, the wall continues as far as one can see, puncutated by periodic guard towers reminiscent of a medieval fortress. However, to the south it changes to two parallel electrified chain link fences topped with razor wire that is so dangerous that it is illegal to use for security purposes in many countries. A patrol road runs between the two fences, and sand fields outside the fences with warning signs not to tread on the sand complete the barrier. This type of barrier relies upon width rather than height, and is the structure of choice when the purpose is to directly confiscate more land.Of course, direct confiscation for the purpose of construction is only a small part of the land transfer. Between Irtah and Pharaon, where the barrier type changes, it suddenly jogs east. This was not the original plan, but the change allows the barrier to be built closer to the villages, placing more of the village land on the opposite (Israeli) side. Without ever explaining why the change was made, the Israeli authorities assured the local Palestinians that the many gates in the barrier would allow them access to their land. The reality has been quite different, with Israel being the party that decides when Palestinians need to go to their land.Israel apparently also decided that it built the wall too close to Pharaon. Many of the houses in the village were so close to the wall that they were deemed a security threat. In order to assure that there would be sufficient distance between the barrier and the Palestinian homes, therefore, these houses were demolished, dispossessing more than 100 residents.Restricting access of Palestinian farmers to their land over the last two years has paid off big to Israeli land developers. When land is unused for a specified time, it reverts to the state which, in the case of Israel, turns it over to the Jewish National Fund, the organization that controls 93% of the land in Israel and whose charter requires it to discriminate against non-Jews, a provision which the Israeli High Court has ruled legal under Israeli law. (Israel has no constitution or bill of rights.) In the case of the land of Irtah and Pharaon, much of it is now being cleared of ancient olive trees for use as an industrial park.However, that is still not enough. A new military road on the Palestinian side now connects two gates in the barrier, enclosing a small section of land that houses nine families. The families must have permission to cross the road, and they are blocked on the other side by the wall. This illustrates a technique of land confiscation that can be used to acquire coveted land that happens to fall inside the barrier, thus confining ever larger numbers of Palestinians inside ever shrinking areas of land.There is, however, one consequence of wall construction which is not immediately apparent from Irtah and Pharaon. For that you have to go to Mas'ha, farther south, to the home of Hani Omar. Hani's house is outside (on the Israeli side) of the wall, but a chain link fence topped with razor wire encloses him on three sides. He is thus emblematic of the many Palestinians who are caught in what is known as the "seam zone" between actual Israeli territory and the wall. Tens (and eventually possibly hundreds) of thousands of Palestinians, including entire villages, find themselves in this limbo, with limited access to Palestinian areas but no right to enter Israel. The resulting strangulation may eventually be effective in forcing them out of their homes and into the dwindling lands inside the wall.When the Berlin wall was built, its purpose was to separate East Berlin from the rest of the city. It was therefore constructed along the line dividing the two, and specifically on the East Berlin side of that line. When Israel built its wall, however, it did not do so along the line separating it from the Palestinian territories. Instead, the projected path of the wall will enclose less than half of the territories yet be more than twice as long as the dividing line with Israel.Why? The answer can be seen in villages like Irtah, Pharaon and Mas'ha, which illustrate the methods of land seizure made possible by the wall. In addition, the route of the wall makes apparent its intent. As poorly as the wall is designed for security, it is highly efficient in enclosing as many Palestinians as possible in as small an area as possible. Those it does not enclose will eventually be forced inside, while even those inside are not safe from further encroachment. The result is not only a form of gradual ethnic cleansing but also a masterful camouflage of the same. Those who may wish to understand its subtleties would be advised to visit the villages of Irtah, Pharaon and Mas'ha.