The core principle of Zionism, from the start of its dream in the late 19th century, has been a sanctuary to protect the Jewish people from persecution. At first the exact location of the sanctuary was a matter for debate. Argentina and Uganda each had its supporters. The idea of initiating the Zionist project in the historic land of Palestine did not come until later. It was endorsed warmly by many in the early Zionist movement, and eventually became the land of choice.
Before the first Zionists arrived there were already Jews living in Palestine. Many of them were the descendants of people who had been there since antiquity. Yes, Jews had lived peacefully with the other indigenous people for millennia. They farmed the land, worked as merchants, and lived in harmony with their neighbors. When the early Zionists arrived in the 1880’s they too lived harmoniously for a time with the Arab majority.
Today, Palestine, consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, represents a mere 22% of the land that was historic Palestine. Jewish Israeli colonists, so-called settlers, with almost complete support from the Israeli government, are stealing much of what remains. Along with land expropriated for use as ‘closed military areas’, the ‘settlements’ and their infrastructure now comprise 60% of the West Bank!
Now imagine this: land on which the Palestinian people have been living for centuries, and that the entire world community, except for Israel and the United States, recognize as Palestinian land, is being literally stolen from under their feet by these ‘settlers’ and their henchmen. What remains of the West Bank is a collection of Bantustans- isolated communities separated from the rest by segregated roads, ‘closed military areas’, and, in many cases, a concrete wall 25 feet high. Can you imagine what it’s like to live there?
I just spent a month in the West Bank. Let me tell you what it’s like. First of all, get a sense for the size of the place. The entire West Bank is only about 30 miles wide and 70 miles long. The Wall, which is about 65% complete, will be over 400 miles long when finished! In some rural areas it is a high wire fence topped by razor wire, with motion detectors and other fancy electronics. On each side of the fence are roads for Israeli military patrols. Near urban areas it is a thick, ugly concrete mass, twice as high as the Berlin Wall, with razor wire on top. There are many watchtowers with bulletproof windows providing viewing and sniping sites for soldiers. In most populated areas it’s hard to drive for more than five or ten minutes without encountering the Wall.
|At many sites the Wall is painted to mask its ugliness.|
|Imagine living near this monstrosity.|
|An army soldier pretending to be important.|
The Wall dominates the visual and psychological landscape. I was conscious of it even when it wasn’t in view. There’s a sense of literally being imprisoned. If you drive outside an urban area you will pass military checkpoints, roadblocks, and other obstacles impeding your path- 700 in total. Many of the checkpoints, like most of the Wall itself, separate Palestinians from other Palestinians, not from Israelis. Some of these checkpoints are massive and require people on public transport to go through prison-like electronic turnstiles into secured areas where their parcels are screened by X-ray, their biometrics are computer-matched to their records, and the military personnel inside bombproof enclosures tell you what to do by loudspeaker. To call it demeaning and dehumanizing would be a gross understatement.
Now the Israeli government has said that the Wall is being built for security purposes. If that were truly the case, and if it were built along the Green Line- the border with the West Bank- you might question its aesthetics, and perhaps the paranoia that caused it, but you couldn’t argue with the right of a government to build it. It would be like you building a fence on your own property to maintain your privacy. But of course that is not the case. Fully 85% of the Wall is built within the West Bank- Palestinian land. In most cases the Wall follows a serpentine path to incorporate ‘settlements’ and not incorporate Palestinian cities, towns, and villages. This leaves situations like Qalqilya, a small city, almost totally surrounded by the Wall. To enter or exit the city one has to go through the a military-controlled gate that can be closed at the whim of the regional commander.
|Map of the northern West Bank showing Qalqilya (on the far left)|
almost totally surrounded by the Wall (in red)
Because of the location of Israeli settlements, there are some instances where Palestinian villages are on the ‘Israeli side’ of the Wall. Over 6000 Palestinians currently live between the Green Line and the Wall in a sort of No Man’s Land. They are not allowed to enter Israel; they are legally part of the West Bank, yet they have to pass through a checkpoint to get there. I saw farmers who have to go through a checkpoint that’s opened for one hour three times a day to get to their fields. When the Wall is completed there will be 25,000 Palestinians on the ‘Israeli side’ of the Wall. Is it plausible to make the case that the Wall is really for security?
The ‘settlers’ in the West Bank consist of two essential types. First are those who are simply looking for better lives for themselves. Often they are immigrants from Eastern Europe who are seduced by the economic incentives offered by the Israeli government to relocate to the West Bank. I spoke with one woman who grew up in a ‘settlement’ and didn’t realize until adulthood that she was actually not living in Israel. By providing apartheid roads for settlers only, as well as other amenities, Israel is normalizing the colonization of Palestinian land. It’s easy to see how a new immigrant might be fooled into believing s/he is in Israel.
The other ‘settler’ type is the ideologue. Ideologues are religious extremists. They view themselves and their fellow Jews as the Chosen People who have a biblical mandate to the entire land of eretz Israel (essentially, historic Palestine). They treat the military as their own personal bodyguards, isolate themselves in enclaves behind high fences topped with razor wire, and never in their day-to-day lives encounter the very Palestinians whose land they continue to steal. They have demonstrated no desire to live as their ancestors did, in harmony with the indigenous people.
These ideologues have gained political power far in excess of their numbers. Middle-of-the-road legislators often vote for their extremist agenda out of fear of a backlash. Their political parties have leverage because a ruling coalition usually cannot be created without their participation. Consequently it can be said that they rule the government. Spearheaded by Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister who has publicly called for the ethnic cleansing of Israel, they represent to the Palestinians the epitome of the cruelty and evil of the occupation.
So, yes, it can be said that the Jews created a sanctuary, an asylum, for themselves in their ancient homeland. Unfortunately, the inmates are running this asylum, and in the process are bringing oy to the world!
|Yellow plates are for Israelis.|
|And green for Palestinians in the West Bank. In the entire history of|
the world including apartheid South Africa, never before
have roads been segregated!
Salaam and Shalom,