October 04, 2003

The Wall John Burns, easily

The Wall

John Burns, easily the best correspondent currently at the NYT, sends in a dispatch from the environs of Israel's so called security wall. Here are some excerpts, but do go read the whole thing.

"To a visitor who last saw the West Bank a few days before the current uprising began in September 2000, the length of barrier already completed and the wider changes in the territory brought about by the intifada are a shock. Three years ago, an air of hope and growing normality prevailed. Mostly, Israelis and Jewish settlers moved safely through Palestinian areas, visiting casinos and shopping at roadside bazaars.

Now, the West Bank has the appearance of a wasteland. Life is mostly at a standstill, with big cities, as well as the towns and villages, cut off from one another by a maze of Israeli-built "bypass roads" open to settlers but closed to most Palestinians Israeli Army checkpoints and new concrete-slab walls and fencing and piles of bulldozed rubble blocking roads everywhere.

To a Westerner with a permit to travel the territory, it seems like an archipelago of brooding ghettos, of weary men, women and children crossing a patchwork quilt of checkpoints and barriers. East of Jerusalem, where only limited sections of the fence have been completed, it cuts across the hills near Bethlehem. North of Tel Aviv, at Palestinian cities like Qalqilya, which has been surrounded by the fence, farmers heading for their lands and children heading for school must reach gates operated by Israeli soldiers at the set opening hours, especially at dusk, or face camping out overnight.

The deep divide between Palestinians and Israelis is captured by the mood here and in Ariel. Ariel projects modernity and middle-class prosperity, with its blossom-lined avenues, attractive stone houses and apartment blocks, arts and sports centers, well-equipped hospitals and schools, and its own Japanese-financed mini-golf center. It is the citadel of settlements, a vision that the 230,000 Jewish settlers across the West Bank and Gaza, many still in trailers, see as their future.

Haris, barely two miles away, is deeply dispirited. Here, only two of the men, among a dozen who stopped to talk about the fence, had work of any kind. The men focused part of their recriminations on President Bush, dismissing as "theater" American pressure on the Israeli government over the fence. Mostly, they spoke of their fears."

Let's be clear. This wall isn't going to bring Israel long-term security. That's a chimera.

The only thing that will provide Israelis with real long term security is a general peace deal--with the U.S. (and others in the Quartet) acting as guarantor of the settlement.

At the risk of sounding like a Shimon Peres (his critics view him as too much a dreamer re: a new Middle East, too effete, too Euro and so on) let's be clear: walls separating populations are supposed to be a thing of the past. Who can forget the euphoria of the Berlin Wall coming down? Who has forgotten one of Radovan Karadzic's more noxious plans for Sarajevo (erecting walls dividing Serbian and Muslim sections)?

Is this where the Zionist project currently stands? If so, it's a tragedy.

And no, I'm not equating Bosnian Serb genocidal thugishness with Arik Sharon's government. Sharon is reacting to very real security concerns. The campaign of suicide bombings is a grotesque outrage. All effective efforts must be made to stamp out such terror activity. But trust me, the wall won't do it. Instead, it will create more willing to die to inflict brutally haphazard harm on Israeli targets. They will find ways to reach Israeli targets no matter how high and wide the wall.

Back to the Burns' piece

"When they take your land, kill your sons, deny you food for your family, demolish your houses, and deny you any freedom of movement, what do they expect you to do?" said 52-year-old Najeh Souf, who returned to Haris from more than 20 years working as a hospital clerk in Kuwait and invested his savings in olive groves near the bypass road. "All this I will write in my diary, all they have done, all we have suffered, so it will be read and remembered by my children, and my children's children. We will never give up. Write that down. We will never give up."

Mustafa Salami, 24 and never employed, belongs to the under-30 generation of Palestinians that Israeli security officials regard as most threatening. Most days now, he said, he stands by the road, selling artificial sunflowers to passing motorists.

Early on Wednesday, before the cabinet decision, he watched as Israeli troops with a bulldozer demolished his uncle's corrugated shed beside the road for continuing his plant business without an Israeli permit that had been regularly denied.

"I am very angry, very angry," he said. "I can't work, I can't marry, I can't build a house. "Life is not worth living. I want to die. Many of us do not care if we live or die." [my emphasis]

As long as such conditions exist--more innocent Israeli civilians will die in the Holy Land. That's the brutal reality--wall or no wall.

UPDATE: Powell weighs in.

ANOTHER UDPATE: Well, here's another horror today-- this time in Haifa.

Posted by Gregory at October 4, 2003 08:31 AM

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