Letter from Palestine

By Haifa Hammami

Broadcast on Radio 3 Nightwaves - 17th December 2002

Israel's security wall came to my attention during the most incongruous of situations. It was a warm spring day, and I was walking with a group of people along a beautiful country road in Palestine. The road was set amongst expansive farmland that abutted rolling hills of olive trees. It was the type of picturesque scene that is rare anywhere and even more so in Palestine, where land is politics in every dimension. The scenery typified the memory of Palestine: rich fields full of mustard flowers in full bloom - not a settlement in sight and even fewer soldiers. Lost Palestine could so easily be imagined that day. In reality, however, the tranquility was entirely an illusion, as it was April, and we were making our way towards Jenin to view the destruction of the refugee camp that had occurred during the weeklong siege.

That day, we were walking across the green line. (Where it is actually, is unknowable, because, when walking, the green line is an abstraction.) It has no geographic markings. It exists only in the minds and on the maps of generals and politicians at an unfathomable scale that engineers conjure up. This green line did not stop me, in fact there was nothing to limit my imagination, that is until, I was told that the entire area would change under the weight of tractors as they carved the northern part of the wall. This quaint rural scene would become a merely a backdrop for an 8 metre high wall and all its supporting roads, fences, ditches and watchtowers. Planners tell us the wall will cost about a million pounds a mile. It is actually wrong to refer to it in th esingular as there are three of them. They will be funny sort of walls, as they will snake around so much that they will be 10 times longer than the frontier they protect. They will include at times, electric fences, trenches, radars, watchtowers and some say, even maybe alligators. Strangely, they will not be continuous. In places they will become only small fences, and for that many wonder whether they will achieve what Israel wants: an impenetrable boundary.

History has told us that the division of territory for political reasons can often have disastrous consequences. For the Palestinians these walls will be no different, they will be absolutely and unmitigatedly disastrous. They will turn the West Bank into what Gaza already is: the largest prison in the world. Israel will annex 10% of West Bank land for the walls, much of it the most fertile and with the most water. All Palestinians will lose land, a lot of it -100,000 dunums have been taken so far. Palestinians will also lose their livelihoods, they will lose their access to work, to school, to friends and to family. Some Palestinians will find that they live neither in Israel or Palestine. Others will wake up in Israel but with no citizenship. Some villages will be trapped in a no-mans land, becoming ghost towns - because they will lose access to their economic base, men won't be able to go to work and goods to market. The last remnants of what Palestinians cling to will be lost in these very walls.

I cannot speak about what the Israelis will lose, as I am not certain what type of nation they aspire to be if they view the building of a wall as a way of achieving peace for themselves in their community. An Israeli military historian said that the wall should be so tall that birds can't fly over it, and so impenetrable that people can't make faces at it. This wall shows us that peace is dead and that Israelis want only security - full stop. This is so ironic to Palestinians living beneath Israeli gunships sixty years later in conditions unimaginable in most parts of the world. Worse still, a majority of Israelis support the wall. Perhaps they think of it as a cold planning exercise that can ensure security having been failed by the election night promises of their politicians. No agreements needed, build these walls and like magic watch the Palestinians disappear from in front of your eyes.

Nor can I discuss the efficacy of these walls, in particular, or of walls in general. I think it is dishonest to assume that we can, as walls solve only the problem as it stands, at a very specific moment in time - when that wall is built, possibly the worst time of all. All potential opportunities, all future possibilities of interaction, exchange and cooperation between people will never be known, they are obliterated in the wake of its creation because when that wall goes up, everything else stops.

What stares Palestinians in the face is that walls are built by the strong against the weak, and never ever the inverse. And so it is in this case, Israelis believe that the solution to their problems lies in miles of concrete, crates of electrified fence, thousands of sensors, and packs of dogs. Walls isolate, they shut out, they allow us to ignore that which we despise. Or do they? And anyway, what is the price?

It is the most bitter of stories - I take your land, I build against your wish, without agreements or cooperation, with all conditions in my favour, I take that which is precious to you… Again and again the story of Palestine is replayed over and over in history.

Courtesy to CAABU Website

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