Seth Freedman
The Guardian (Opinion)
July 22, 2009 - 12:00am

In many parts of the West Bank, Israel's much-vaunted separation wall is conspicuous by its absence; Ha'aretz reports that only around 60% of the barrier has been completed will come as no surprise to those who spend time in the area around the project's proposed route.

In places such as the South Hebron Hills, the only obstacles separating thousands of Palestinians from Israeli communities are sporadic flying checkpoints thrown up by the army, or flimsy, unguarded wire fences ostensibly keeping the terrorist hordes at bay. If mainstream Israeli thinking is to be believed, the "security" wall is vital for the safety of Israel's citizens, the implication being that scores of would-be bombers are daily banging their heads against a concrete wall as they try desperately to reach Israeli cities to unleash carnage on unsuspecting women and children.

However, the facts simply don't add up. If 40% percent of a mosquito net was removed, the remaining mesh would have no protective effect, since the insects would simply sail through the hole and get on with their blood-sucking task unimpeded. Yet, according to the Israeli authorities, that is not the case when it comes to the separation wall, and millions of Israelis are all too eager to swallow the lie in order to achieve a deceptive peace of mind.

At the end of a trip to Nablus, I was shown first-hand how simple it is to circumnavigate the wall and checkpoints and enter Israel entirely at will, and without encountering a single soldier or slab of wall. If it was that easy for me by day, it would be even easier for a militant by cover of darkness, and the same is true throughout the porous perimeter across the West Bank.

Travelling unchecked to and from Bethlehem, Bet Jalla and other towns to the immediate south of Jerusalem is child's play for determined tourist or terrorist alike, yet statistics have shown a marked decrease in suicide attacks – suggesting that something other than the non-existent barrier is preventing such atrocities taking place around the clock.

Some believe that Hamas are responsible for the reduction in bombings, having never rescinded their declared hudna on suicide attacks shortly after coming to power. Others believe that the Palestinians realised that suicide bombings were a failed policy, in that they simply gave Israel justification for further land-grabs and heightened security measures in response to the attacks.

One activist to whom I spoke commented that the Shin Bet's network of informants was in fact the most effective tool Israel had in preventing suicide bombings, noting that the massive unemployment rate in the West Bank drove more and more Palestinians to desperate measures, such as collaboration, in order to supplement their meagre incomes.

Whether the near-cessation of suicide attacks is down to a policy of ceasefire or an increase in informers tipping off the Israeli authorities, the wall itself has very little effect on the statistics. If anything, it increases the likelihood of renewed violence against Israeli citizens in the long term, thanks to its crippling impact on life for Palestinians affected by the route of the barrier, and their belief that their situation is unlikely to ever improve.

In the meantime, many settlers are up in arms about the route of the wall, claiming that they have been "abandoned" behind the barrier by the Israeli authorities. They claim that they have no protection from attacks at the hands of Palestinian militants, despite the army maintaining a presence wherever Jewish settlers set up shop in the West Bank.

The defence minister Ehud Barak is "determined to complete the security fence, despite the delays", according to reports, although legal challenges and diplomatic pressure appear to have put paid to any major construction efforts for the foreseeable future. Settlements, as well as the infrastructure supporting their existence, are too hot a topic at present for the Israeli authorities simply to take unilateral decisions about where to place the wall or how to fence in those communities currently bereft of barricades.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand and pretending that all is well in terms of Israelis' security as a result of an incomplete wall, Israel's leaders ought to be worried about the consequences of continuing their policies of intransigence towards the Palestinians. The cyclical nature of the conflict means that the relative calm of today is by no means guaranteed to continue into the future.

Stifling the Palestinians of the means to provide for their families, whether by denying them freedom of movement or by brazenly taking their land from under their noses, ensures another generation will grow up resenting Israel and eventually resorting to violence as a way of expressing their rage.

Despite such tactics not being in the best interests of the Palestinian people, the fact that they have seen no progress even when they put down their arms means that the dam will inevitably burst again soon. When it does, the inefficacy of Israel's half-built wall will be plain for all to see, as too will the half-hearted measures at rapprochement which have hampered peace efforts for years and decades gone by.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017