The A-Z of Israel
On 22 January, Israelis will go to the polls. The world watches – but how much do we really know about the country that calls itself “the sole bastion of democracy” in the Middle East?
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
W is for Wall
An opening in the concret barrier near Abu Dis on the West Bank. Photograph: Getty Images
Ed Platt writes: The idea of constructing a barrier or wall that would divide Israel from the West Bank had been under consideration for years before it was initiated in March 2002 in response to the suicide attacks that had become a feature of the second intifada. The barrier – variously known as the “security fence” and the “apartheid wall” – was intended to control Palestinian access to Israel and prevent further terrorist attacks, yet few Palestinians today regard it as solely a security measure: much of its looping course runs east of the Green Line marking the boundary between Israel and the West Bank, so they see it as a means of appropriating yet more land.
For most of its length, it consists of a 60- metre-wide strip of dirt paths, barbed-wire fencing and trenches flanking an electric fence, but in places such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and other urban and suburban areas, it is an immense concrete wall, six to eight metres high, which often runs through established neighbourhoods and cuts them in half.
By July 2012, nearly two-thirds of its proposed route had been built and it had annexed 3 per cent of the territory of the West Bank. The total will rise to 9.5 per cent if it is completed as planned. In theory, farmers divided from their fields may apply for a permit to allow them to continue working their land, but the number issued between 2006 and 2009 fell by 83 per cent, while the area sequestered increased by 30 per cent. Even those granted permits often find themselves forced to travel distances that render farming unsustainable.
Yet many settlers, too, despise the barrier because they live east of its projected course and fear being excluded from the country it appears to define. It stands as a totem of Israel’s unresolved attitude to the West Bank: as one Israeli once said to me, the country cannot swallow the territory it captured from Jordan in 1967 because absorbing the Palestinian population of the West Bank would lead to the end of the Zionist dream of a state with a Jewish majority, and yet it cannot spit it out, either. It wants the land, but not the people – “The dowry pleases you but the bride does not,” as Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said to Foreign Minister Golda Meir after the Six Day War. Naftali Bennett, the leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party (see U for Ultranationalists), which is likely to become part of the coalition government after this month’s election, has proposed one way of resolving the confusion: he suggests that Israel should annex Area C, the part of the West Bank that is under Israeli military control.
Given that Area C covers 60 per cent of the West Bank and contains all the Israeli settlements, some of which lie far to the east of the barrier, the Wall would no longer be a border of any kind but an internal barrier within the “Greater Israel” that is even now coming into being, an expensive and unloved relic of the days when the idea of partitioning the country was still considered seriously.
Ed Platt is the author of “The City of Abraham” (Picador, £18.99)