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Israel's wall: 10 years justice denied

"Operation Protective Edge" is under way, with air strikes in Gaza, 22 Palestinians killed and rockets fired at Israel. 10 years ago the International Court of Justice declared the Israeli separation wall illegal under international law. Has anything changed?

Hala Liddawieh and Nagham Yassin crossing Qalandia checkpoint. Credit: Rich Wiles. Hala Liddawieh and Nagham Yassin crossing Qalandia checkpoint. Credit: Rich Wiles.

"I spend up to five or six hours every day travelling just to get to university. Without the wall and the checkpoints, this trip would take 20 minutes.”

English Literature students Hala Liddawieh and Nagham Yassin, both 20 years old, live in occupied East Jerusalem and travel across the wall every day to get to Birzeit university, passing through the infamous Qalandia military checkpoint. Qalandia is one of the largest Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank: to get past, residents have to walk through G4S-supplied body scanners, while Israeli soldiers check their identity cards.

A decade after its illegal construction, Israel's wall casts a shadow over every aspect of Palestinian life.

Liddawieh explains: "We have to wait for an hour or two at the checkpoint just to be allowed through. You can be in one of the queues and then they can just close the gate at any moment and you need to join another queue. Sometimes you have to go through the process two or three times depending on the soldiers’ mood."

Today marks 10 years since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the construction of Israel’s wall and its associated regime in the occupied Palestinian West Bank – of settlements, land confiscation, separate roads, permit systems and movement restrictions – is illegal under international law.

Yet in the 10 years since the ICJ ruling, the international community has allowed Israel to act with utter impunity.

In the face of international inaction, Palestinian civil society called for a movement of Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. The aim is to build an international BDS campaign in the style of the South African anti-apartheid movement, in the hope of transforming the situation for Palestinians by putting the onus on ordinary people around the world to actively hold governments and corporations to account.

As Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights are only made possible through the continued financial, military and diplomatic support Israel receives from western states, the BDS movement calls on people of conscience to launch consumer, sporting, cultural or academic boycott campaigns. The movement also campaigns for sanctions against Israel until it meets the following demands: ending the occupation; enabling the right of return for Palestinian refugees; and providing equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel itself.

One of the prime corporate targets of this movement is the British security multinational G4S. G4S' support for the occupation includes providing equipment to military checkpoints across the route of the wall, including at Qalandia checkpoint. In 2008 the G4S Israel website stated it provides equipment to “enable the performance of full scans of the human body”.

At the most recent G4S shareholders meeting in June, CEO Ashley Almanza attempted to legitimize the company's work in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT), claiming that G4S checkpoint equipment is similar to “the usual airport scanners that we all go through”.

But Israel’s checkpoints are about intimidating and controlling the Palestinian population, involving daily humiliation. The restriction on Palestinian freedom of movement is collective punishment, which violates a basic human right. On the morning of the meeting, notable figures including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker and Roger Waters, and filmmakers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, called on G4S to end its contracts in Israel and the OPT with immediate effect.

The campaign to hold G4S to account for its complicity in Israel’s occupation is ongoing and gaining momentum. Recently pressure to divest from the company resulted in the world's largest charitable foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, deciding to sell down its £110m stake. G4S are also currently under investigation by the UK's National Contact Point for the OECD, stemming from a complaint by Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights over the company's involvement in military checkpoints in the OPT and Israeli prisons. 

While the wall has been a disaster for Palestinians, many corporations, including G4S, have profited handsomely from its construction and are today marketing their ‘expertise’ globally. The Israeli company Elbit, for example, which provides “intrusion detection systems” for the Wall, won part of a $2 billion contract to build the US-Mexico border wall. The Israeli government and Israeli corporations are successfully selling the idea that segregation walls are a legitimate tool to control migration.

Ostensibly built for security reasons, the wall is designed to control the Palestinian population, confiscate land and effectively imprison Palestinians in small enclaves reminiscent of apartheid-era Bantustans. South Africa’s Bantustans appeared to give the black population control over their own municipal affairs while denying them self-determination and any real control of their lives. The apartheid-style bantustans that Israel has created through a complex network of military checkpoints, Israeli-only roads, illegal settlements and the wall, offer Palestinians a fig leaf of autonomy while maintaining ultimate jurisdiction over every aspect of Palestinian life.

The aim behind Israel’s Wall, as with South Africa’s apartheid regime, is to maintain segregation and facilitate further ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population. A radical transformation of this situation necessitates a rejection of the racist segregation logic and a vision of peace based on freedom, justice and equality.

85 per cent of the wall’s route runs inside the West Bank. It is made of concrete walls, fences, ditches, razor wire, an electronic monitoring system, patrol roads, and a buffer zone. Its construction began in 2002 with land confiscations and the uprooting of trees west of the Palestinian city Jenin. 12 years and 400km later, it is nearing completion.

The wall encircles the major illegal settlement blocs in the West Bank, connecting them to Israel. In occupied East Jerusalem for example, where Liddawieh and Yassin live, illegal settlements are now included on the ‘Israeli’ side of the Wall. This ensures that Israeli settlers have unimpeded access to Jerusalem, while Palestinians from the West Bank must obtain permits to enter.

Despite ICJ recommendations, not much has changed on the ground. Palestinian farmers still have to seek permission to go through gates to access their own agricultural lands behind the wall. Entire communities have been cut off from schools and hospitals.

For example, the Wall runs through the Palestinian town of al-Ram, cutting off the neighborhood from the rest of the Jerusalem. The residents of Dhaher al ‘Abed, near Ya’bad in Jenin can only access their village's lands through a gate, with a permit from Israeli authorities. The residents of communities such as Nabi Samwil—whose residents hold West Bank IDs, but live on the “Jerusalem” side of the Wall—cannot access basic services such as trash collection or civil infrastructure through the Jerusalem municipality. In Falamya village, near the West Bank city of Qalqilya, Palestinian farmers must first obtain permits from the Israeli authorities before they may use agricultural gates in the Wall in order to farm their village’s lands.

In the words of Liddawieh and Yassin: "When international people come to learn about the conflict they should see exactly how we are treated, and they should live as we do. For those who live outside Palestine and want to stand with us, keep protesting and refusing those who support the occupation – boycott!”

About the author

Rafeef Ziadah is a Palestinian human rights activist and internationally renowned poet. She leads the Global Justice campaigns for British charity War on Want. 

Read On

In response to a call from Palestinian grassroots organisations to mark the 10th anniversary of the ICJ ruling, War on Want has launched a petition calling on the British government to live up to its obligations and end support for Israel until it fully complies with international law.

Add your name to the petition www.waronwant.org/wall.


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