“Consider the lilies of the fields, how they grow, they neither toil neither do they spin.” Matthew chapter 6; verse 28
Qalqilya lies in the heart of the Palestinian hills. A light, airy city of forty thousand people, its broad streets, palm trees and brightly painted shops give it a tropical feel. The Green Line – the UN recognised border between the West Bank and Israel – runs a few hundred metres to the west.
Adrian a free-lance journalist and I went to Qalqilya to see the longest of the apartheid walls which, when complete, will follow the Green Line border for 350 km. In places, the wall will run ten kilometres inside the West Bank.
These walls must rate as one of the ugliest symbols of oppression ever designed. They are built to pen people in, to divide communities and cut them off from the outside world, creating Palestinian ghettos.
The first phase of the wall, a section of which Adrian and I saw in Qalqilya, will extend for some 115km. It will be 8 metres high and include electric fences, trenches, cameras, sensors and security patrols. At least fifteen villages will be trapped between it and the Green Line. Another fifteen villages will have most of their land confiscated, with the residential areas to the east of the wall and the agricultural land to the west. Qalqilya is going to be completely encircled and, by the time the wall is completed, close to 10% of the West Bank will have been confiscated without compensation.
The apartheid wall is the longest of all the walls planned or under construction. In Rafah and Khan Yunis, South Gaza, other walls are already in place; they divide the refugee camps from the Israeli settlements.
The entire Gaza Strip is also cut off from Israel by electrified fencing, watchtowers and gun emplacements, dividing the occupied from the occupier. The Israeli government recently confirmed that this electrified fencing would be replaced with a solid wall. A similar proposal is being considered for the Israeli/Egyptian border.
These walls, and sections of walls, do not just run from point A to point B, they sprout offshoots and spurs, they encircle and divide. Their massive physical structure scars the landscape and further bantustans hundreds of villages and communities. In addition, walls are being built to protect other walls! Are they the future for all Palestinian cities?
In Qalqilya everyone we meet has a personal tale of horror to recount. Abu Ahmed, with whom I am staying, is one example – his son is incarcerated in the tented Negev desert prison. He will be there for thirteen years, for working illegally in Israel; no visits are possible. In 1988 two Israeli soldiers smashed Abu Ahmed’s knees. They sat him on a chair, stood on either side, then rammed the butts of their rifles down on his kneecaps. Another son is imprisoned in Ofra, outside Ramallah, where conditions are particularly bad. He has been given a six months ‘revolving’ sentence, without charge – administrative detention – the sentence to date has been renewed three times.
Israeli terminology, employed for this oppression of Palestinians, is part of the PR spin put out to the world: A settlement is in effect an illegal Israeli colony. An incursion is in effect an invasion. The Israeli Defence Force is in effect the Israeli army. Administrative Detention is imprisonment without trial. Interrogation is a beating plus questions. Targeted killing is licensed murder (Israeli licensed). A terrorist is any Palestinian. It is a cynical attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the
Nablus, a town where Adrian and I spent time, before coming to Qalqilya, is in a dreadful state. Of the 140,000 inhabitants, roughly half live in the refugee camps of Balata and Askar. We had gone there to support a Palestinian march for prisoners’ rights in Jericho prison and to take part in a demonstration by children demanding the right to education. We took the opportunity to visit Balata Camp with its population of 40,000 refugees, but stayed the night with a family in the smaller Aska Camp. Everyone wants to tell his or her stories, demanding only that we listen.
A maze of alleys crammed in amongst the rocky hillsides make up the city of Nablus. Nablus may not yet possess an apartheid wall, but it has endured its own particular brand of horror. In April last year, during Israeli incursions into many West Bank towns and cities, one hundred and sixty Palestinians died in Nablus alone, this in a single week. Apache helicopters, F16s and tanks bombarded the city from the ground and the air.
Bodies lay where they fell for days, and many wounded bled to death as ambulances were refused permission to reach them; underfed dogs took full advantage of the situation. Coming so soon after the Jenin horrors, 29 March 2002, the world’s media was preoccupied; the Israelis gave out little information. Much of what happened in Nablus still remains unreported.
Our host Saheed in Aska Camp has two brothers both imprisoned, one for twenty years, again no visits are possible. They have children, parents and grandparents, all of whom live together. No one has money. If it were not for food supplied to the camp by the United Nations they would not survive.
What Israel is doing in the West Bank and Gaza is simply terror by another name. Why is the world averting its eyes to this policy of racial segregation? Now, each time I pass through a military checkpoint and an Israeli soldier waves me through in a friendly manner I remember the Arab saying “If you see the lion’s teeth, do not take it for a smile”.
Courtesy Israel Shamir