Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The West Bank Separation Wall

I saw this message written on the separation wall next to the checkpoint on the Jerusalem-Ramallah road. I assume it's intended as a reference to President Reagan at the Berlin Wall, however inaptly, since the Israelis certainly did not put the wall up to keep their population from fleeing to the West Bank.

The Berlin Wall lasted from 1961 until 1989 and the beginning of the end of the Cold War. It's hard for me to see any scenario under which the West Bank separation wall will be dismantled short of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And, having read the Palestinian National Charter and the Covenant of HAMAS, both of which utterly reject any division of historic Palestine, I cannot foresee an end to that conflict unless one side or the other someday loses its national identity and dissolves.

It's hard to watch the suffering of the innocent Palestinians as they negotiate the checkpoints. On the same day my party crossed the Israeli green line into the West Bank, we heard that a woman who had gone into labor prematurely while at that same checkpoint lost the baby when the Israeli troops wouldn't call an ambulance. I couldn't confirm that story via the local press, but I can believe it. Border guards are callous the world over. Moreover, from purely anecdotal evidence as well as my own observation of the troops manning the checkpoints, I suspect there is a high percentage of Russians and other recent immigrants serving in the Israeli military and Border Police, which probably adds to the cultural distance between the guards and the guarded.

However, I also remember the suffering of the innocent Israelis during the hundreds of terrorist bombings that took place inside Israel during the second Intifada, killing around 1,000 persons as they went about their daily business in buses, schools, restaurants, markets, etc. The savagery of those attacks, and the gleeful celebrations in the West Bank that accompanied them, were truly striking. Were I an Israeli, I would have been all out of sympathy for the victims on the other side after a few incidents like the Ramallah lynching.

The separation wall has had one big redeeming feature: after its construction began in 2002, it quickly reduced the number of attacks launched from the West Bank and, hence, the tensions. The below chart is from a biased source, but I can find nothing wrong with its figures.

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