No Apartheid Wall
One of the interesting things about living in Palestine is that events in your home town and those of your friends are daily world news. Coming from a country whose one-off national disasters hardly make global headlines, it is somewhat disorientating to see the demonstration you just passed by on the way to work within the hour on Al-Jazeera and every quaff between the president and prime minister top story on yahoo.com.
But what is really interesting, is how little global news actually reflects what is here. And no, I am not talking about representation of marginalised points of view, political bias or any of those touchy-feely media activist things. With daily reports in most news papers and on tv channels around the world and the highest density of foreign desk journalists, writers and photographers for months managed to miss what is everybody's personal top story, even if they only spend half a day in Palestine. It's the Wall, stupid!
It's the Wall, stupid!
In June 2002, the Israeli government decided to build what it calls a "separation barrier" between Israel and the West Bank to "prevent the uncontrolled entry of Palestinians into Israel". The government’s decision called for construction of a barrier around the entire West Bank. The western part of the wall, known as "stage 1 and stage 2", is already under construction. The Ministry of Defense has not yet completed its planning for "stage 3". However, the route of the eastern section of stage 2 suggests that Israel intends to extend the barrier southward, thus separating the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank (B'Tselem, Israeli human rights organisation). What started out as a small project of the Israeli military is turning into a state-supported annexation of almost 30 percent of the West Bank to Israel.
In Palestine today, you see cement walls, barbed wire and electric fences in various stages of construction everywhere you travel. They separate farmers from their lands, villages from their urban centers and people from their families. The speed at which, and the places where they appear are seriously alarming. While the global story on Kalandia checkpoint (the main exit out of Ramallah) is that it might be opened as part of Israel's "limited withdrawal" from the West Bank, the people waiting to pass see that from one day to the next engineers put together a much more permanent checkpoint construction and the omnious cleared path of land approaching from the horizon has neatly reached the checkpoint's fences. Someone commented to me that he fears it will become another "Eretz", the prison-like enterance to the Gaza Strip.
The activists shouted "South Africa!", "Bantustans!". The Palestinians "If they want a security wall, why don't they build it on their land?", and protests, peace camp and information campaigns were widely publicised. Whatever your opinion about the Wall, that it is Palestine's main story should be obvious to anyone talking to anybody. But for months there was no reporter to record the sound bites of either the Palestinians affected or the activists protesting.
(Detail: The person who commented on Eretz is a photographer for Associated Press, who has spent the last weeks taking pictures of Palestinian policemen reclaiming Palestinian streets as part of "The Road Map". Which to him was welcoming relief after months of photo-ops of Arafat and Abbas hugging various heads of state and donor agencies.)
The politics of bad reporting
But things change. Last week Reuters sent one of their top-photographers to shoot what every visitor to Palestine has had in her or his scrap book for months already: the four-metre high cement blocks sealing off the city of Qalqilia. In the race for the commodity called news, AP and others could not but follow and now when you type "Wall" or "Qalqilia" into the News Photo search of Yahoo, you get dozens of pictures. It is no top story yet, but hey, it is difficult to beat the burial of Odai and Qusai.
So what brought on this change? My photographer friend could not really answer me this question on office politics and he would not give me access to his boss's "How well did we represent reality this month?" evaluation report, so comments are welcome from anybody with answers. What is clear, are the consequences.
The main peace game in town is the Road Map. The Road Map does not include any provisions concerning the Wall. Whatever the reason for president Bush's decision to not present a document that actually addresses reality (that would be another article), the silence of the media on the Wall did a lot to make this ommission possible. While the world was discussing hand shakes, terrorist structures and settlements, the Israeli hardliners quietly implemented their plans to imprison millions of people and steal a third of the land they live on. That the corporate media have now decided to report on it, to me - as a touchy feeling media activist - indicates that the Wall has become so much of a "fact on the ground" that it will soon replace settlements as the household name for impediments for a viable peace.
So, in case a Reuters or AP writer feels like righting some wrongs and come up with that top story, here are some pointers that address your readers questions and concerns:
- "One of the government's primary considerations was inclusion of as many settlements as possible west of the barrier in order to increase the likelihood of their annexation into Israel. The authorities also determined the route of the barrier in a manner that would avoid the political problems resulting from recognition of the Green Line as the border of Israel. In one of the areas, the route was changed due to pressure by residents of the Israeli town of Matan, who demanded separation between Qalqiliya and Habla, a village south of Qalqiliya, in order to safeguard their "quality of life." In other areas, it was decided to move the barrier eastward to prevent damage to sites containing antiquities. In the area of Bethlehem, the authorities decided to erect the barrier within the city to ensure Jewish worshipers free access to Rachel's tomb." (B'Tselem Position Paper)
- No, "the Wall" is not a four-metre high cement block wall everywhere. It is also electric fences, three-metre deep ditches and piles of barbed wire. What it will look like when finished is anybody's guess, but you know what: THIS IS NOT IMPORTANT. It is a _separation barrier_, with watchtowers every twenty or so metres; checkpoints and roadblocks; private construction security personel and settlers who prohibit Palestinians from going through the gates designated to them by the military; etc. The wall, barier, fence or whatever you want to call it, is built to lock Palestinians in and it will. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
- The National Committee Against the Wall, the International Solidarity Movement, International Women's Peace Services and several Israeli peace organisations are organising a summer campaign of actions against the wall. The campaign has already been properly opened by farmers tearing down a gate to their land, a Palestinian activist jumping the fence in front of bewildered Israeli soldiers and the prevention of a family's home being made into a one-house ghetto stuck between the Wall and settlement barbed wire.
- If you like local angles, follow these leads:
##On July 12, Manchester shoppers came face to face with Apartheid West Bank style when over 200 local activists built their own cardboard box wall across Albert Square. full report | video | photos
##Leila Sansour and Jeremy Hardy are on tour with her film "Jeremy Hardy v. the Israeli Army", about Hardy and ISM's activities in Palestine
##Apparently there was a Oxford Street Intifada on Sunday. If you find reports, please post on Indymedia so I can read them as well.
##In autumn DAM, a Palestinian hip-hop act will tour the UK to raise awareness of Palestinian issues. They are looking for people/collectives to put them on.