Home News Twenty years of useless wall in the West Bank – Stéphanie Khouri

Twenty years of useless wall in the West Bank – Stéphanie Khouri

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Twenty years of useless wall in the West Bank – Stéphanie Khouri

12 maggio 2022 15:16

In the century of unconventional drones and wars, while Hamas has improved its long-range offensive capability and the “lone wolves” operate locally, is the “wall” erected to isolate Israelis from Palestinians in the West Bank any good?

The issue is all the more timely as two of the four attacks committed between 22 March and 7 April (in Beersheba, Hadera, Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv) were carried out by Palestinians from Jenin. This city in the north of the West Bank, a few kilometers from the green line, has long symbolized the permeability of a “security barrier” that has complicated, without ever preventing them, the movements of thousands of Palestinians who continue to go to Umm al Fahm, Haifa or Nazareth to work or visit relatives.

Since the knesset, the Israeli parliament, voted in June 2002 to build a modern great wall to separate the West Bank from the inside, the official goal has been to ensure the physical safety of Israelis living west of the fence. Twenty years later, the barrier has never appeared so porous, without this prompting public opinion to question the effectiveness of what had been sold as a guarantee against “enemy infiltration”. Although the frequency decreased, the attacks never disappeared. Israelis, who thought they had pushed the “threat” out of sight, are periodically caught up in the heart of what they dreamed of being a sanctuary: the 2004 Ashdod attack, the 2008 Jerusalem shooting, the wave of attacks in 2015 and 2016, or that of 2022.

Taking into account the obsession with the idea of ​​”national security”, its economic cost (2.7 million dollars per kilometer, for more than seven hundred kilometers), and the political consequences of the construction, judged illegal by the International Court of Justice since 2004, the “wall” could have provoked an internal controversy, as happened at the beginning of the 2000s. But then the topic gradually disappeared from the public debate. Few today linger on this hybrid installation, made of barbed wire, concrete walls, checkpoints, ditches and control towers, which is embedded in the landscape. Even the powerful lobby of Israeli settlers, hostile to the project insofar as it renounces at least symbolically part of the claimed land, has come to terms with it.

This Israeli bastion is not an isolated case, but a symptom of the era and the society in which it was conceived. “Globalization and the emergence of international threats have had the paradoxical effect of leading to an overwhelming return of the notions of sovereignty and the overcoming of supranational institutions,” said Said Sadiki, professor of international relations at Sidi Mohamed ben Abdellah University. Fes, Morocco.

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In the West Bank, the physical structures to keep the movements and movements of the population under control appear in the 1990s

In the second half of the twentieth century on the border between Mexico and the United States, in India, in Western Sahara or in Cyprus, dozens of barriers were erected to regulate migratory flows, create a buffer zone or ward off an external threat. “With one difference: these barriers were built on national territory or at worst on a disputed area, while the Israeli wall was built in occupied territory,” says the scholar. This feature motivated the decision of the International Court of Justice which, in July 2004, in an advisory opinion established that “the construction of the wall and the regime associated with it are contrary to international law”.

Despite these condemnations, the wall is still considered a necessary evil in Israel. Furthermore, its function is easily accepted because the collective history is full of references to the idea of ​​a protective barrier. It is the “besieged citadel syndrome”, also known as the Massada complex: a citadel built in the first century BC by King Herod on a rocky escarpment overlooking the Dead Sea which served as a base for the Jews to fight the Roman siege.

Since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, the expression evokes the perception of a permanent existential threat that justifies the deployment of force at any cost. Through the notion of eruv (city fence that should delimit the living space of a religious community in Judaism) or through the internal organization of kibbutzim (rural communities living in small circles), the delimitation of the living space in the face of an outside experienced as hostile, dangerous or simply alien is a recurring motif of Jewish and then Israeli culture.

Ideological inconsistency
Even when the dominant paradigm is that of an economic “integration” of the occupied territories in the Israeli space, the idea of ​​”separation” is never absent. In the West Bank, the physical structures to keep the movements and movements of the population under control appear in the 1990s. In the wake of the first intifada (December 1987) “the Palestinians become an intensified security problem in the eyes of the Israelis: then reflections are started to develop more stringent mechanisms to control the mobility of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza towards the Israeli areas” , notes Damien Simonneau, professor at the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations in Paris and author of wall obsession (Peter Lang 2020). The set of safety devices is strengthened: checkpoints, obstacles, checkpoints.

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The paradigm established in Oslo in 1993 and 1995, that of “two peoples for two states”, accompanies these changes. “The idea of ​​separating, from a security point of view, and the possibility of creating a Palestinian political entity go hand in hand,” continues Simonneau. As part of the Israeli economy relied on cheap Palestinian labor, the authorities increasingly turned to migrant workers from afar, sometimes from Asia, to reduce the effect of dependency. Despite everything, there was no political will to push the separation project to the end. The emergence of awareness of a “demographic threat” has changed the situation.

Two precedents considered successful, the wall in Gaza and the one on the northern border with Lebanon, confirm the effectiveness of the project

From the end of the seventies the need for a “disengagement” made its way into the intellectual circles and then into the general public. The conquests of 1967 (Gaza Strip, West Bank, Golan Heights, Sinai) had raised new questions: what to do with the occupied territories and populations? Arnon Soffer, geographer and military man, is one of the theorists who influenced the debate. Soffer says that the policy of canceling the green line in the long run undermines the existence of the Jewish state and advocates disengagement from the Palestinian-majority territories.

Considered the “father of disengagement”, Soffer carries out awareness work to warn about the dangers of continuous occupation of the conquered territories. He takes hold of a vast lobby in favor of the wall. Two precedents considered successful, the wall in Gaza and the one on the northern border with Lebanon, confirm the effectiveness of the project. Some political figures are in favor: among these is Ariel Sharon, whom Soffer says he has met on several occasions, and who will be the promoter of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the forced eviction of more than seven thousand Jewish settlers, despite having embodied the colonization policy.

But some reticence remains, especially on the part of the army, the settlers and the right. In August 2003 Moshe Yaalon, chief of staff, declared that “the barrier will not solve all problems. If they gave me the money, I would invest it elsewhere ”. We have to wait for the second intifada, starting in September of
2000, and then the wave of attacks that shakes the country, so that a decision is made to make this disengagement policy systematic.

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The month of March 2002 was particularly bloody, with the attack on the Park hotel in Netanya that caused thirty victims and marked a rupture. Sharon himself, at the time prime minister and former representative of the settlers, took the side of public opinion in favor of this “common sense” measure. On April 14, after one of the most violent months in the country’s history, the prime minister announces the construction of a separation barrier.


But the argument of security, as well as the demographic thesis, are not enough to explain the construction of the wall. For three reasons: the work was never completed, consequently some significant sectors of the “border” between the West Bank and the Israeli territory continue to be empty or marked with a metal fence. The security motivation cannot explain the route of the barrier either, which invades 10 percent of Palestinian lands, helping to lengthen the journey of Palestinians by two to five times. Above all, the persistence of colonization policies east of the wall by successive Israeli governments, left and right, underscores the ideological inconsistency of this strategy.

Starting in the 1990s and 2000s, a sort of schizophrenia emerged. On the one hand, the government pursues a policy of disengagement by working at the international level for a two-state peace; on the other hand, maximalist claims on the “integrity of the land of Israel” (Eretz Israel ha-shlema) and to sponsor at the highest levels the settlement of thousands of settlers on territories that should constitute the future Palestinian state.

This tension has never been resolved, and the parallel evolution of the two trends has favored the affirmation of a status quo. “Gradually, it became clear that the wall was used by Israel to advance its pawns,” observes Simonneau. Twenty years later, the wall failed to separate. But it consolidated what had been acquired by force of arms.

(Translation by Francesco De Lellis)

This article appeared in the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour.
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