For what seems like an eternity, Israelis and Palestinians have been trying to scale an ideological and religious wall deeply rooted in conflicts and casualties. And for nine months, Palestinians have seen this wall take a frighteningly physical form.
Currently being constructed by the Israeli government in hopes of preventing continuous attacks from Palestinian militants, a separation wall between Israel and the West Bank has been jutting far into Arab-controlled land. It could possibly displace some 90,000 Palestinians who work or travel to Jerusalem on a daily basis. With the creation of the new border now approximately a third completed, some Palestinians have perceived the structure as a not-so-subtle attempt by Israel to capture more land.
One of the biggest points in question is Jerusalem, a holy city being grappled over by both Judaism and Islam. Israelis conquered the eastern part of the city in 1967, and it has been under the magnifying glass of the international community ever since. Israel has declared that the city is their “eternal and undivided capital,” and Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has unilaterally insisted on extrication from the Palestinians.
The separation wall, as well as the cut-and-dry demeanor of Sharon, has driven many Palestinian families to move back into Jerusalem after residing in suburbs and surrounding areas of the West Bank. This is due in part to a fear that they will have to pay taxes to a city from which they could permanently be expelled.
Also due to the barrier, Palestinians have been continually losing access to their schools, hospitals, farms and workplaces. One such story, reported by Sharmila Devi for The Financial Times, told the story of “Khalil,” a Palestinian who could walk from his house to work in five minutes. After the construction of the separation wall and its multiple checkpoints, his travel time has been extended to over an hour.
The wall seems to be nothing more than glorified movement control that hampers the everyday lives of normal Palestinians not involved in the conflict. As Helena Cobban opined in The Christian Science Monitor, “Israel’s movement controls have been the single major cause for the collapse of the Palestinian economy and the rise in Palestinian militancy.”
Now, more than ever, Palestinian militants have been showing signs of unification. Once ideologically divergent groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have found common ground after the assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin by the Israeli government.
Resentment toward Sharon’s attempts to seize land and water, his ousting and explicit death threats toward Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, (which was publicly denounced by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage) and the construction of the separation wall continue to plunge the Middle East into a downward spiral.
As the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Palestinian Michel Sabbah said, “It is a wall which is planted in the hearts of the people, the hearts of Palestinians…That means that you put more hatred in their hearts.”
Sharon’s political maneuvers have been counterproductive toward a peace process backed by the United States, Russia and the United Nations. The “road map” to peace looked to end conflict and create a recognized Palestinian state within a year. But if Sharon continues the construction of the separation wall, which will undoubtedly cause a rise in Palestinian militancy, that year could seem like an eternity.
Brandon Lausch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.