Unmaking Palestine: On Israel, the Palestinians, and the Wall

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VOL. 35


No. 1
P. 25
Unmaking Palestine: On Israel, the Palestinians, and the Wall

Placing Israel’s separation wall in the continuum of the Zionist project in Palestine since the late nineteenth century, this essay sees the wall as the latest component of long-held policies of exclusion, control, and containment. In particular, it sees the wall as the culmination of Israel’s quest to deal with its “native problem,” which had been largely solved with the 1948 war, but which returned full force with the 1967 conquests. The author traces the evolution of Israel’s approach to this problem, from “partial integration” (and direct military rule) to separation (with indirect military rule and limited Palestinian self-government); settlement and land alienation have been constants. After deconstructing Sharon’s current policy, the essay ends by examining Palestinian options for confronting a bleak future, focusing in particular on an as-yet inchoate strategy of nonviolence, campaigns for enforcing international law, and nurturing the most important potential alliance in the struggle against occupation: the Israeli peace camp.

IN JUNE 2002, Israel’s then defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, cut the ribbon on the first section of the West Bank wall near the Israeli village of Salem. Over the next three years the wall ploughed south, swerving eastwards into the West Bank to take in Jewish settlements on or near the Green Line, the armistice line established in 1949 at the end of the first Arab-Israeli war. It then cuts a sweeping arc around the north, east, and south of Palestinian East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel during the 1967 war. Eventually it rejoins the Green Line east of Bethlehem and south of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, “repossessed” by Israel in 1967 (Gush Etzion had been a small Jewish colony prior to the 1948 war). 

The wall has been built ostensibly as a response to the al-Aqsa intifada, the Palestinians’ second national uprising in less than a decade and their third sustained revolt since Jewish immigrants began colonizing their land in the late nineteenth century. The purpose of this essay is to place the wall in the continuum of that history—the most protracted, implacable, and dangerous conflict of our time—and to outline the future it augurs for Israel-Palestine.

Graham Usher is a journalist based in the occupied territories and the author of several books, including Dispatches from Palestine: The Rise and Fall of the Oslo Peace Process (Pluto Press, 1999). The essay is adapted from the introduction to The West Bank Wall: Unmaking Palestine, by Ray Dolphin (Pluto Press, forthcoming, February 2006).