Palestine: Life Behind the Wall
A large red sign alerted us to the fact that we were now leaving ‘Area A’ and entering ‘Area C’. It also warned us that this not only posed a danger to our lives but was also forbidden by the law – at least for some of my friends. Passing through the wire-fenced tunnel that forced us to walk in single file, a feeling of utter discomfort and unease crept up on me. My German passport – the most valuable thing I have ever owned - clutched in my hands, I tried to stay calm when heavily-armed soldiers approached us to search our bags for any suspicious or dangerous items. We were a small group in the large mass of people waiting to cross the border for several hours. It was eerily quiet. Nobody dared to speak. I felt like just making a sound could be considered a crime in this place. They called it ‘the waiting area’ of the checkpoint. An overly friendly term, given the hostile atmosphere in the securitized large hall that felt more like a detention centre. A soldier, his hand resting on the large machine gun over his shoulder, ushered us through the metal turnstile. Once we arrived on the other side of the wall, I heard myself sighing in relief. I glanced around and blinked in disbelief at the striking infrastructural difference and the 26 foot fortification separating us from the other side. The illusion of having freedom to roam was overshadowed by the vast concrete wall and watchtowers confining our every movement.
The wall I am speaking about is not the one dividing the city of Berlin in the 1980s.
It is the wall built by Israel on the border to Palestine.
My experience at the checkpoint reflects only a fraction of what Palestinians trying to cross the border are subjected to everyday.
Growing up in Berlin, walls and administrative zones are etched into my mind as remnants of a painful past. In the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West bank, this is the present-day reality.
The ‘Barrier’, the 708 km long separation wall erected in 2000 in the name of ‘security’, is sometimes (and perhaps rightfully) also referred to as the ‘racial segregation’ or ‘apartheid wall’ (Davis, 2003; Stewart, 2012; Yiftachel, 2005). It is the one of the reasons why Al Jazeera’s Jalal Abukhater - a Jerusalemite - refers to the West Bank as the world’s largest ‘open air prison’ (Abukhater, 2019). Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to a complex and oppressive system of control exerted by the Israeli security apparatus, including physical (the ‘Barrier’, checkpoints, roadblocks) and bureaucratic (permits, closure of areas) barriers which restrict their right to freedom of movement within their own territory (UNOCHA, 2019).
As of January 2017, there were 59 permanent checkpoints within the West Bank and 39 on its periphery to control the movement of people in and out of it (B’tselem, 2017). But there are also more than 4000 ‘flying checkpoints’, which the Israeli military sets up temporarily on any given Palestinian road in the West Bank (UNOCHA, 2019).
B'tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, considers the ‘Barrier’ to be one of the greatest obstacles to peace negotiations. It unilaterally establishes new borders set by the Israeli government, annexing Palestinian land and rendering the borders drawn by the 1947 United Nations (UN) Partition Plan, which still serve as reference point for the Two-State Solution, obsolete “under the guise of security” (Lein & Cohen-Lifshitz, 2005). Since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, numerous Security Council resolutions, including 446, 452, 465, 471 and 476, affirm unambiguously that Israel's occupation is illegal. The UN Human Rights Council has also called the Israeli settlements and related activities a violation of international law (OHCHR, 2018).
Despite these declarations, the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are sustained, crippling Palestinian’s access to natural resources, and the Israeli military continues to demolish Palestinian houses for ‘collective punishment’ (Human Rights Watch, 2014). Between 2000 to 2005 Israeli forces punitively destroyed more than 650 Palestinian homes, displacing more than 4,000 people (Human Rights Watch, 2014).
How can we turn a blind eye as Palestinians who reside in the West Bank and hold official Palestinian identification papers are made “prisoners in their own home” (Abukather, 2019)? How can we tolerate abusive practices being carried out in the name of ‘security’? The ‘Barrier’ is a symbol of Israel’s control of the Palestinian lands through repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic violations of the Palestinian people’s rights. It’s time to tear down this wall that stands in the way of peace in the region.
Abukather, J. (2019) Palestine's other open-air prison. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/palestine-open-air-prison-190118065003667.html
B’tselem (2017). Restrictions on Movement. B’tselem. The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Retrieved from https://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement
Davis, U. (2003). Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the struggle within. Zed Books.
Human Rights Watch (2014). Israel: Stop Punitive Home Demolitions. Policy Amounts to
Collective Punishment, Potential War Crime. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/21/israel-stop-punitive-home-demolitions
Kasrils, R. (2019). I fought South African apartheid. I see the same brutal policies in Israel. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/03/israel-treatment-palestinians-apartheid-south-africa
Lein, Y. & Cohen-Lifshitz, A. (2005). Under the Guise of Security: Routing the Separation
Barrier to Enable Israeli Settlement Expansion in the West Bank. B’tselem. The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20070507184330/http://www.btselem.org/Download/200512_Under_the_Guise_of_Security_eng.pdf
OHCHR (2018). Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. A/HRC/37/43. United Nations Human Rights Council. Retrieved from https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/057/33/PDF/G1805733.pdf?OpenElement
Stewart, D. J. (2012). The Middle East today: political, geographical and cultural perspectives. Routledge.
UNOCHA (2019). West Bank. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.ochaopt.org/location/west-bank
Yiftachel, O. (2005). Neither two states nor one: The disengagement and “creeping apartheid” in Israel/Palestine. The Arab World Geographer/Le Géographe du mondearabe, 8(3), 125-129.