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The power of the wall

"The wall of the West Bank is so far Israel's last step to wipe out the cultural landscape of what until 1948 was called Palestine," said writers Nora Ingdal and Anne Hege Simonsen.


This week, Cappelens Forlag launched the book Mur – divided landscape in Israel and Palestine.

In 2004, Nora Ingdal and former Ny Tid editor Anne Hege Simonsen traveled along the dividing wall on the occupied West Bank. They have examined the circumstances around the wall, talked to people on both sides and illuminated the historical background.

In 2002, Israel began building the wall. The rationale was protection against terror. It had a planned length of 728 kilometers, but ambiguities have arisen about the route. Today about 250 kilometers are completed. Only 37,5 of these follow the pre-Six Day War 1967 borders, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza.

- What was the motivation for writing this book?

Anne Hege: News from the Middle East are dramatic events happening right now. The wall is a slow thing and therefore not news material anymore, but the consequences of it are both long-term and dramatic. We would say something holistic about it, not least clarifying historical assumptions.

Nora: The wall is so far the final stage of Israel's transformation of the historic Palestinian landscape. Israel has conquered not only air, water and land, but history as well.

- What do you mean by that?

Nora: In 1948, 750 Palestinians were violently displaced, and 000 villages were razed to the ground. Afterwards, Israel planted pine forests and built roads where these villages had been located. Place name was changed or moved. This is a whimsical way to conquer space and at the same time erase traces of the past. Today, the wall surrounds and suffocates Palestinian towns and villages. Living conditions eventually become so unbearable that many have to move. The villages are again laid waste and can be transformed by the Israelis. The difference from 418 is that the expulsion is now "voluntary". In this way, the wall also helps to secure more land for Israel.

- So the wall does not mean that Israel has cemented its borders and given up Greater Israel from Jordan to the Mediterranean?

Both: Not necessarily.

- Can you concretize how the wall affects the lives of Palestinians?

Anne Hege: The wall makes visible the oppression. Together with the system of checkpoints, it undermines Palestinian mobility, agriculture, trade, health care. From the Israeli side, on the other hand, the wall is barely visible. Landscape architects have planted and covered it with flowers and cacti.

Nora: Farmers lose their basis of life. Countless olive trees have been raised to pave the way for the wall, cutting off farmers from their land. The wall's opening hours are not adapted to a farmer's everyday life. Early in the morning a farmer should carry goods from the soil to the market, but now he must wait until soldiers open an agricultural gate.

Anne Hege: Last year was one of the best olive harvest in many years. A farmer in the village of Jayyous said he could not sell anything, because the wall and roadblocks are blocking traffic between the cities. Jayyous is no longer making money on agricultural products. Suddenly, the city has about 80 percent unemployment. For example, many do not dare to marry, they can neither afford a wedding nor a family.

- What determines the route of the wall?

Anne Hege: The winding path of the wall winds around Palestinian residential areas. This is demographically conditional; as much land as possible on the Israeli side, as many people as possible on the Palestinian side. This is particularly evident in Jerusalem, where Israel is working intensely to secure a predominantly Jewish majority within the city limits. Israeli settlements fall within the wall, while Palestinian neighborhoods and villages are cut off.

Nora: We have repeatedly asked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman why the wall is not built tightly around Israeli settlements if the purpose is security. It is built far away from the settlements, close to Palestinian villages. We have not received any good answers, only explanations as to that the route is dependent on topographical conditions. But we have also spoken to Israelis who are convinced that the wall will be Israel's new border.

- In the book you mention inner walls. What is it?

Nora: In the city of Ramle, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, an Israeli urban planner and scientist discovered that local authorities had erected small dividing walls between Israeli-Palestinian and Jewish residential areas. Like the Great Wall, the small ones are also built close to Palestinian residential areas so that uninhabited land ends up on the Israeli-Jewish side. Thus, the possibility of Israeli-Palestinian expansion is being stifled. Like the Great Wall, this is about demographics, about saving the Jewish majority state.

Anne Hege: Israeli-Palestinians are discriminated against in health and education, leading to poorer living conditions. Officially, therefore, the walls are said to protect against crime, but the city planner explained that the municipality planned new Jewish apartment complexes even closer to the Palestinian districts, so it does not quite fit. Why would Jewish Israelis want to live in high crime areas?

- In the book you describe the "iron wall doctrine". What is it?

Nora: The principle was formulated by right-wing revisionist Vladimir Jabotinsky in 1923. Jabotinsky's point was that conquered areas of Palestine had to be protected from the Arabs by an iron wall. Then the Zionists were to carry out armed colonization until the indigenous opponents begged for peace. When Sharon builds a wall, it joins this line of thinking about crushing and humiliating Palestinians so that they eventually accept what Israel offers.

Anne Hege: The essence is the Israeli's fear of being a minority. The Jews' painful experiences from Russia and Europe have been transferred to the Middle East.

- The wall is known illegally by the court in The Hague. Does it help?

Nora: A small number of Palestinian farmers have been upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court in restructuring the wall. This happened about a week before the Hague Tribunal's ruling. The Supreme Court may have tried to reach it. Otherwise, Israel did not care about the Hague judgment. The use of Israeli law is also disputed among Palestinians. Some believe that it legitimizes the rest of the wall, that one is only negotiating the size of the prison.

Anne Hege: We have talked to one of those who were successful. We witnessed the bulldozers destroy his soil and place his olive trees on another man's soil. The red, precious soil layer that the trees need to grow ended up in a settlement. His nephew was killed by soldiers during a peaceful demonstration. The decision of the Israeli Supreme Court says that the land should be returned as it was, but who can make the verdict enforceable?

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