The Apartheid Wall, Palestine
The Apartheid Wall in Palestine
Posted: 29 March 2011
The Apartheid Wall
Wherever you go in the West Bank, people will tell you stories of how the Israeli separation barrier has affected their lives. The Palestinians call it the “apartheid wall” and, looming from a height that is double the Berlin Wall in some places, it is a clear symbol of segregation and oppression. I spent a week in the West Bank and as each day passed, I could feel the cold shadow of the wall growing stronger as I came to understand its real effects in restricting human rights and fostering apartheid.
Still not complete in some places, the wall will eventually be a staggering 760km long. It has cut deep into Palestine, annexing land well past the 1967 green line border agreement. Palestinian families are expelled and settlers move in and build Jewish communities, protected by the army.
The wall itself is not just a wall. The first layer of defence is a thick fence of razor wire. Then comes a six foot electric barrier with motion sensors. Beyond this lies the wall, thick slabs of concrete punctuated by watchtowers and littered with CCTV. In Qalqilya a farmer showed us how it dominated the bottom of his land, with the first barbed fence just metres away from his onions and potatoes. He was one of the lucky ones.
The once thriving city of Qalqilya has become a ghost town as its population is forced out when their land and livelihoods are taken. Today 13 settlements have been built on Qalqilya land, and Israel has annexed the areas which hold precious water resources.
As we took some sweet tea flavoured with fresh herbs from the ground a little further back in a grove of jaffa trees, I chatted to Moaath Zaid, a 25 year old English student at An-Najah University. Moaath’s land is filled with avocadoes and tomatoes, lemon, orange and peach trees. It is just 15 minutes away but it is on the other side of the barrier and he needs a permit to get across to it. Taking the pass from his wallet, Moaath showed me where it states the exact hours during which he can visit his land, the specific gate which he must pass through, that he is denied use of his car in reaching his land, and that it will expire after a year. Carefully folding away the permit, he told me that it took him six years to receive. I asked him why it took so long.
“They refuse many farmers permits,” Moaath explains, looking across at the wall which separates him from his own fields. “One time there was a problem with a soldier and I think that’s why I got refused. At the checkpoint the soldier put a bullet in the boot of my car and asked ‘where’s the gun?’ At first I thought they were kidding. They got angry because I said I was Palestinian. They arrested me and took me to the police station and after that I was refused a permit for six years.”
During those six years, only his grandfather received a permit. “He was 73, an old man who could not do much work on the land” Moaath says. His father was in prison for the resistance and even though he is now out, he will never be eligible for a permit and will never see his land again. It was only after his grandfather died 4 months ago that Moaath finally gained permission to work his own fields.
The wall is a direct affront to human rights in a variety of ways. The right to freedom of movement is the most obvious, cutting the Palestinians off from their own land and preventing them from entering Jerusalem, the second most important city to Muslims after Mecca. They can see the Dome of the Rock glittering in the sunshine from many parts of Palestine, but to travel there is an impossible dream for most. The wall also separates traffic, with a Palestinian road on one side and an Israeli road on the other, open to the settlers and internationals but definitely prohibited for the Palestinians. Apartheid is a strong word to use, but the wall certainly constitutes a division of population along racial lines (Apartheid Convention, Article 2d). It denies human rights to the Palestinians in a whole host of ways.
In the south of the West Bank lies Bethlehem. The wall has been built around it, dramatically affecting this iconic city. The birthplace of Jesus is surrounded by refugee camps which have been there since the 1948 partition. Aida refugee camp houses 5000 people, now in solid structures but with just one water tap for the whole camp and poor living conditions. Standing on one of the rooftops I could see that the camp is surrounded on three sides by the wall, which snakes around the camp preventing them from building a real community with decent housing. From the rooftop I could see over the eight metres high wall, across to the settlement expanding out over the land beyond.
Just a couple of minutes beyond the wall lies a single Palestinian home. My guide explained that nine people live in that house but things are very hard for them as they are severed completely from their community. The Israelis have cut their water and electricity. Worst of all, the children who live there are forced to leave their house at five each morning to walk to Jerusalem where they must take a bus all the way around the wall to their school, which lies within the camp just five minutes away. It is a three hour journey which they must repeat on the way back.
The apartheid wall constitutes a direct attack on human rights in Palestine, discriminating against communities because of their ethnicity. It has been declared illegal by the UN and the International Court of Justice, yet Israel continues to build the wall where is not yet complete. The Israeli Separation Barrier is a symbol of oppression as surely as the Berlin wall, it facilitates apartheid policies by denying human rights to the Palestinian people.
Even if the international community has turned a blind eye to the wall it calls illegal, the Palestinians rally against it every week. Each Friday in a village called Maa’sra, the villagers hold a peaceful demonstration to try to get onto their land. I saw the soldiers with big American guns and armoured jeeps blocking their path, but the Palestinians are not to be cowed.
An ancient woman dressed in black held aloft a huge flag and taunted the soldiers. Her husband had been killed by the Israelis, her son languishes in prison for 27 years, her home has been bulldozed and her land is blocked to her. “Go home old woman,” the soldiers told her, waving their weapons menacingly. “This is my home” she told them defiantly. “You go home!”
The villagers of Maa’sra have managed to halt the completion of the wall in the area, although they are still unable to reach their land and are often harassed by the soldiers. It’s a small victory and they need the help of the international community in tearing down the wall of apartheid.
As we took tea in her home after the protest, another Maa’sra woman, Fatima Hasan, 60, was clear about what action we could take in the UK. “All the world is free apart from us,” she tells me. “When I go out we are treated like animals and the UK is part of the problem by ignoring this. You must influence your own government to see us as real people. This is a message from the Palestinian mothers.”
Hannah Slater visited Palestine in mid March 2011.