On Wednesday, as public attention focused on the first step taken in the Knesset towards the dissolution of parliament and another round of early elections (in October), Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced the construction of another Israeli Wall in order to further isolate the northern West Bank territory.
Twenty years ago, the first section of the Wall was built in that same portion of Palestinian land, on the orders of the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. And on Wednesday, like Sharon back then, Gantz spoke of a “protective wall” and “technological means” of surveillance supposedly meant to guarantee the safety of Israeli citizens.
The new Wall (which will cost over $100 million) will replace and enhance the previous barrier. The first section will be 45 kilometers long and nine meters high, from Salem to Bat Hefer. “We want to strengthen the protection of our rear,” Gantz said, defining Israel’s “rear” as the West Bank, a Palestinian territory under military occupation for more than 55 years. He highlighted the armed attacks in Israel this spring (17 dead) carried out mostly by Palestinians living in Jenin and villages surrounding the city in the northern West Bank.
Palestinians have always called the barrier the “Apartheid Wall” and have denounced the many negative effects its construction has had on the lives of more than three million West Bank residents and, in particular, the several hundred thousand subject to severe restrictions.
According to Israel’s claims, the Wall served, and still serves, to prevent attacks. However, in 2004, the Hague Court condemned its construction for its blatant violation of the law. According to the international judges, it was, and still is, obvious that the goal of the occupation authorities was the annexation of Palestinian territory, which overrode security objectives. Unfortunately, the 2004 ruling had no practical effect, same as the positions taken by various UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights in the Occupied Territories. And 20 years later, Israel is adding another 45 km of wall, deploying the most advanced population control and surveillance technologies in a territory under occupation.
The construction of the Wall in the West Bank began on June 16, 2002. It came after two years of great tension and violence following the start of the second Palestinian Intifada and the massive use of Israeli military force in Palestinian population centers. In retaliation against attacks by Hamas and other armed organizations, particularly in March 2002, Sharon responded by launching Operation Wall of Defense, a military offensive that in a matter of days saw Israeli forces reoccupy all Palestinian towns made autonomous by the Oslo Accords (1993-94). For months, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was a de facto prisoner in Muqata, his headquarters in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks.
In the summer of that year, work began on the construction of the Wall – which remains the most extensive “public work” carried out by Israel to date – amid protests mainly from Palestinian farmers, those most affected by Israel’s confiscation of land, water wells and other natural resources. Completed years later, the barrier is now 750 kilometers long and consists partly of an eight-meter-high concrete wall as well as barbed wire and a fence. It is also equipped with guard towers, electronic sensors, cameras, sniper posts and roads for patrolling.
According to Palestinian and international NGOs, the Israeli Wall has caused harm to about 50% of the West Bank population through the loss of land, natural resources and the isolation of entire areas. It is estimated that between the barrier and the armistice “green line” marking the “border” between Israel and the West Bank there are tens of thousands of Palestinians who are subject to severe restrictions, including in terms of access to the rest of the West Bank.
“This new Wall has nothing to do with security either,” Jonathan Pollak told il manifesto on Wednesday, the founder of Anarchists Against the Wall, one of the few Israeli organizations that has fought against the barrier, side by side with Palestinians, in the years after 2002. “Its only purpose,” he added, “is to strengthen Israel’s control and domination over the Palestinians and take away their rights and freedoms. The international community must act against these apartheid policies and not help implement them.”