Magazine article The Spectator

Trapped Behind the Wall

Magazine article The Spectator

Trapped Behind the Wall

Article excerpt

Last week yet more children were slaughtered in the Holy Land. Four little Israeli girls and their pregnant mother were gunned down by Palestinian terrorists on a settlement road in Gaza. Eleven Palestinian children were killed by the IDF, also in Gaza.

'Nothing changes,' said my Israeli host in Jerusalem as we left his home on our way to a restaurant. 'We need something - God, do we need something - to pull us out of this madness.' Some Palestinian children ran off into the bushes, scared. 'That's "starvation crime"; kids trying to steal car radios for a few shekels. We have economic despair on both sides, as well as terror. We're still living in dread of their retaliation to us assassinating Sheikh Yassin and Rantisi. And the government thinks the wall will help.'

The wall is, of course, Israel's security barrier in the West Bank. The following day I was on a tour bus with two Israelis and a party of North American priests. We got out and looked up at the wall's vastness, eight metres high, and then along the length of it, running limitless into the distance, dividing the Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem into two parts, one side of the street permanently divorced from the other. Life stilled around it.

'I thought the barrier was supposed to divide Israelis from Palestinians,' said the priest next to me, mystified. Our Israeli guide explained the political nature of the barrier, pointing across the valley to the sites of two brand-new settlements. 'This section of the barrier puts paid to the claim that it is a defensive measure. It is not about security,' he said. 'It's about Israel holding on to occupied Palestinian land, including all of Jerusalem.'

'But how do families on that side get to the hospital, how do they get supplies, food, fuel? How do they get to see their relatives? How does anyone . . . what do the kids . . . where do. . . ? This is,' the priest said, 'an obscenity.'

An Israeli on the tour shot back, 'You don't understand terror, not unless you live here. The Palestinians want to kill us. They are terrorists, it's as simple as that.'

'What, all three million of them?' asked another priest. The Israeli was offended. 'Like I said, you don't understand. Nothing will stop the terror because it's in their nature, but the Israeli Left will never admit it. If I had my way there would be no gates in this wall.' Fortunately there are some gates in the wall, and the Palestinian population can use a limited number of them to get out of the enclosures and reach schools, fields or hospitals - though they will need permits to get through.

'You know, it's easier for us to get to heaven than down the street these days.' Like many Palestinians, the artist's mood was grim. The allusion to suicide bombs and their allure for the desperate was clear. 'Forget the road map, the Geneva Accord, Bush's statements,' she said. 'Forget diplomacy. And forget international law. Even Sharon's Gaza pull-out plan. They're all bullshit. For what's really going on, just look at Israeli construction in the West Bank.'

The reality on the ground is a series of walled-in detention camps: the territory that the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is willing to concede as a Palestinian 'state'. Blind to the demands even of US diplomacy, the construction projects that now lock the West Bank into Israel have forged ahead, leaving fenced-off pockets for the three million Palestinian inhabitants living between the settler domains.

Instead of a 'freeze' on settlement building, existing ones are extended and new ones started, and mile after mile of four-lane settler-only highways are laid out, turning the land into an apartheid warren peppered with industrial parks to keep the incarcerated Palestinians busy - to give them, as a settler from Efrat assured me, 'the only things they want: dignity and a job'. The network of Israeli infrastructure is laid down over Palestinian lands and lives as though they were not there. …

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