The “Wall”: A Barrier to Peace
Dr. Tony Klug
It doesn’t seem so long ago when an explosion of joy consumed Israel and
the wider Jewish world as the barricades that had divided Jerusalem for
19 suffocating years were triumphantly dismantled in the wake of Israel’s
military victory in the 1967 war. Now the barbed wire, fences and
concrete barriers – eight metres high in some places – are back, courtesy
of Israeli politicians and engineers, not only in the capital city but
all over the captured territories.
As a researcher, I used to move about virtually unhindered through the
West Bank in the 1970s as, mostly, did its Palestinian inhabitants. There
were few Jewish settlements, few roadblocks and few terror attacks. Even
travel across the old Green Line border was barely monitored. The
official Israeli approach was to let the Palestinians see the Jewish
state for what it was – not as “mendacious Arab propaganda” had projected
it for two decades.
Once Palestinian attitudes had changed, the argument ran, the territories
would be returned. Indeed, Palestinian attitudes and policy did go
through a steady, profound transformation. The Israeli strategy was not
unsuccessful. Peace was on the horizon – until the settlements policy
started in earnest.
With it came the waning of Palestinian hope for eventual independence and
the onset of despair and fear for the future.
The fine sentiments of the Oslo Accords restored hope for a while. But
the concomitant division of the West Bank into three security areas,
giving rise to a major expansion in the number of Israeli checkpoints
(currently estimated at nearly 500), severely curtailed the Palestinian’
freedom of movement between their own towns and villages. Humiliating
searches by young Israeli recruits became commonplace.
The enforced requisition of Palestinian land and other resources to
accommodate the burgeoning Jewish settlement programme continued apace.
Palestinian resistance grew in tandem, at times involving murderous
attacks on Israeli civilians.
And now, in apparent response, we have the monstrous “wall”. Were its
route to trail the markedly shorter “Green Line”, as envisaged by its
original architects, this would at least lend credence to the security
argument (and keep it within international legality). Instead, it has
been weaving its way around settlement blocs deep into the West Bank,
effectively annexing huge chunks of Palestinian land and separating
Palestinians from their fields, workplaces, schools, universities,
hospitals, places of worship, and their families and friends.
This is the other side of Sharon’s “Gaza withdrawal” scheme.
An entire population is being brutalized and alienated beyond endurance,
and the future welfare of the Israeli people and state is being put at
risk, to satisfy a dangerous ideological urge and reward a militant
It will be argued, fairly, that attacks on civilians have dropped
significantly since the erection of the wall. Even if we accept a direct,
causal connection in the short term, where does this leave us in the
If the Palestinians fail to gain their place in the sun, the Israelis
will never be left in peace to enjoy theirs. Each holds the key to the
other’s destiny. The answer to Israel’s security problems is not to
tighten the screw and further inflame the passions. This will invite
The erection of the wall is tantamount to giving up on peace – probably
still attainable on well-rehearsed terms – and to an acceptance by Israel
of a permanent international pariah status. This is not inevitable and is
in no one’s interests. We should not blindly be supporting it.
Imagine that we switched on our radios one morning to learn that the
Israeli government had stopped all work on building the new (very un-
Zionistic) ghetto and declared instead its willingness in principle to
terminate in full its 37-year occupation of Palestinian lands, subject to
mutually agreed equitable land swaps and assurances on security.
The local and global repercussions of an Israeli invitation to its
neighbours to agree the modalities of such a withdrawal in the context of
a full peace arrangement would be swift and profound. It would almost
certainly trigger a new momentum. Why, then, do we not hear it?
Dr Tony Klug is an international relations specialist and co-vice chair
of the Arab-Jewish Forum.
This article was published in:
Jewish Chronicle 16 July 2004