Backs to the Wall
Israel's stranglehold on
the Palestinian economy
is consolidated by a massive wall
by Lucy Mair and Robyn Long
Dollars and Sense magazine,
Uncertainty about the future intensified
for Mufida Ahmad's family this year when a mammoth wall ripped
through their land in the West Bank village of Jayyus. Ahmad and
her husband had bought the quarter acre for $1,400-a hefty but
hopeful investment for the family of seven. On it, they cultivated
eight olive trees. To pay for the land, and pay off a $4,000 bank
loan they had taken to meet the family's basic needs, Ahmad worked
nine hours a day in a sewing factory for a mere $150 a month.
But the trees, land, and future for which they had sacrificed
have all disappeared under the Israeli Separation Wall.
The Wall-called a "security fence"
by the Israeli government and the "Apartheid Wall" by
Palestinians-is actually a series of walls, razor wire, electrified
fences, trenches, and watchtowers flanked by a 30- to 75-yard
"buffer zone" which the Israeli military patrols. The
first phase of construction was launched in June 2002 and finished
just 13 months later, in July of this year. The completed section
stretches for 90 miles in the northwestern West Bank districts
of Jenin, Tulkarem, and Qalqiliya. At several points it cuts almost
four miles into the West Bank (which spans only 35 miles at its
widest section; see the map on p.29). The Wall has already resulted
in Israel's de facto annexation of fertile Palestinian agricultural
land, groundwater wells, and 10 illegal Israeli Jewish-only settlements.
Although the first phase of construction was declared complete,
demolitions and razing continue around it. The Israeli government
has announced three more building phases and it plans to finish
the structure by 2005.
In March, the Jewish settlers' council
(YESHA)-fearing that many settlements would be trapped on the
Palestinian side-convinced the Israeli government to change the
Wall's trajectory so that in future phases it will cut 10 miles
into the West Bank, incorporating major settlement blocs like
Ariel and Immanuel. The route zigzags to annex the maximum amount
of land possible for the Israeli settlements while leaving major
Palestinian population centers outside Israel's borders.
Also in March, Israeli prime minister
Ariel Sharon announced plans to erect a second wall along the
Jordan River Valley-far inside the eastern border of the West
Bank-to annex a string of Israeli settlements on prime Palestinian
agricultural land. (On the map on p.29, the path of the second
wall appears as a light gray line in the eastern West Bank.)
If built in its entirety, the first, three-phase
Wall alone will constitute the largest confiscation of Palestinian
land since 1967, devastate the agricultural base of the West Bank,
and destroy any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. If
both walls are built, they will enclose the entire West Bank and
run over 400 miles, four times the length of the Berlin Wall Not
only will they take some of the most fertile land and richest
water resources in the West Bank, they will partition the territory
into three ghettos: one located around the cities of Nablus and
Jenin in the north, a second in Ramallah in the north-center,
and a third in Bethlehem/Hebron in the south. (These three urban
areas are further subdivided into numerous enclaves by Israeli
settlements, bypass roads, and military checkpoints.) In total,
less than half of the West Bank will remain in Palestinian hands-just
12% of pre-1948 Palestine. (See "The Green Line," p.
28.) The Wall will completely separate East Jerusalem, which was
illegally annexed by Israel in 1980, from the rest of the West
Bank East Jerusalem is not only the intended capital of a future
Palestinian state, but also the religious,
cultural, social, and economic center of the West Bank. A total
of 430,000 West Bank Palestinians, including those in East Jerusalem,
will be trapped on the Israeli side of the Wall.
Even before the Wall's construction began,
the Palestinian economy lay decimated from the three-year long
Israeli military crackdown against the intifada, particularly
the enforced curfews, military destruction, and closures. (Closures
place movement restrictions on Palestinian people, vehicles, and
goods. Under closure, hundreds of military checkpoints and roadblocks
make it almost impossible for Palestinians to enter Israel or
to move from one Palestinian population center in the West Bank
and Gaza to another). As of October 2002, closures had cost Palestinians
$3.3 billion in lost income and left 67% of Palestinian households
living in poverty. The Separation Wall will make permanent the
state of siege experienced by much of Palestine during the current
intifada. The full economic impact of the Wall is not yet known,
but its first segment has already gutted productive assets, blocked
access to resources, and hobbled people's movement.
THE WALL'S FIRST PHASE AND COMING EXPANSION
Twenty-two percent of the population of
the West Bank- half a million people-live in the three northern
districts sliced through by the Wall's first phase of construction.
Approximately 206,000 live in directly affected communities-ones
that lost land to the Wall, had markets, homes, and agricultural
buildings demolished, or find themselves cut off from the rest
of the West Bank. Some 11,550 residents in 16 villages are now
trapped between the Wall and the Green Line, in an area considered
a "closed military zone." They are completely isolated
from the rest of the West Bank and these residents fear that they
will ultimately be evicted from the area by the military or forced
out by economic strangulation.
Another 18 communities are completely
imprisoned by the Wall. For example, Qalqiliya, a city of 42,000,
is surrounded on all sides, and its single entrance and exit is
opened and closed at the whim of the Israeli military. Why should
the Wall maroon this city? Qalqiliya has the misfortune to be
positioned between two Israeli settlements-Zufin lies to its north
and Alfe Menashe to the south. Prior to the beginning of the intifada
in September 2000, the 18 communities together had an average
unemployment rate of 18%. This figure has swelled to 78% since
Israeli closures and the Wall sealed them in.
'Abbas Khaled 'Ali Yusef, a shop owner
in the Nazlat Isa market, has seen his shop demolished three times.
It mysteriously burned to the ground in November 2001 after an
Israeli military checkpoint was erected next door. He rebuilt
the shop but it was destroyed a few months later by the military.
After he opened a shop in a different location, it was demolished
in August 2003, along with over 100 others, to clear the way for
the Wall. Abbas hopes to start a fourth business in Tulkarem,
where he thinks he and his brothers can continue to support their
Thousands like 'Abbas Khaled 'Ali Yusef
and Mufida Ahmad have lost their family property with no compensation
or recourse. 'Ali Yusef's town of Nazlat Isa-once a thriving market
on the Green Line that catered primarily to Palestinian citizens
of Israel-saw over 200 shops and five homes demolished by the
Wall's construction in the past year and a half. In addition,
over 100,000 trees have been uprooted in 47 communities and approximately
3,700 acres of cropland destroyed for the footprint of the Wall.
And these direct losses of assets are just one type of economic
destruction wrought by the construction of the first phase of
the Wall and its buffer zone.
In addition, the Wall makes large tracts
of land inaccessible to their owners. Its first phase isolated
51 communities from their lands, which total 25,000 acres. While
this land has not been officially confiscated, many fear that
it soon will be-according to Israeli law, land that goes uncultivated
for three years becomes government property. While Israel has
built 20 gates in the Tulkarem and Qalqiliya districts, ostensibly
to help farmers reach their fields, most are permanently closed,
and at the few that open sporadically there have been reports
of Palestinians shot, beaten, humiliated, and prevented from crossing.
Even farmers who still have access to their land face serious
questions about whether and how much to plant, since impeded access
to markets means they may see little or no return on their investments.
Likewise, the Wall blocks access to water.
The first phase of construction has trapped 50 wells in the buffer
zone and west of the Wall. These wells supply 8,770,000 cubic
yards of water annually and are essential to the irrigation of
cropland in the area. In Qalqiliya, 34 of the district's 75 wells
are now inaccessible to residents, and over 200 cisterns and tens
of reservoirs are isolated behind the Wall. Certain areas west
of the Wall, like Baqa ash Sharqiya, have long served as sources
of water for surrounding villages. Tankers would drive well water
to neighboring communities that have no water source. Now that
the Wall separates Baqa ash Sharqiya from these villages, it is
virtually impossible for the tankers to get through. Not only
does the loss of water assets result in reduced water access for
households and a decline in agriculture, but since these wells
are privately owned, it also means lost income for the well owners.
Finally, the Wall hinders mobility, and
therefore, economic activity. Because some communities are trapped
between the Wall and the Green Line, while others are almost completely
sealed off by the Wall, residents simply have limited access to
the employment opportunities, markets, and resources that they
once enjoyed. In many communities the Wall makes it impossible
to travel for work.
AGRICULTURAL BASE AT RISK
With wage laborers unable to get to jobs
in Israel, and Palestinian businesses floundering, agriculture
has become an increasingly important source of income and sustenance
for Palestinians. Yet this is the sector most threatened by the
The northwestern districts of Jenin, Tulkarem,
and Qalqiliya sit atop the Western Aquifer, the major groundwater
source of the West Bank. This area-where the first segment of
the Wall now stands-accounts for about 42% of the West Bank's
agricultural sector, contains 80% of the West Bank's wells, and
provides 53% of its water-sector employment. The region serves
as the bread (and water) basket for the rest of the West Bank,
and the presence of the Wall in this region may seriously reduce
While the northwest region is the West
Bank's most developed agricultural area, projections show that
several other areas have potential for agricultural development.
However, these areas-in the southwest West Bank and the Jordan
River Valley-are also slated to fall on the Israeli side of the
Wall. (See "Water Apartheid.") In sum, the Wall will
destroy the current and potential agricultural base of the Palestinian
economy. In addition, industrial development will be limited by
lack of water and by the internal fragmentation of Palestinian
territory as well as the isolation of the Palestinian ghettos
from Israel, Jordan, and the wider world. Without access to employment
in Israel, the only option for many Palestinian workers will be
to go to the industrial zones and agricultural plantations of
the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have benefited
from cheap Palestinian labor.
MOBILIZING AGAINST THE WALL
The Wall is estimated to cost $1 billion
if completed in its entirety-around $2.5 million per mile. Part
of this bill will likely be underwritten by U.S. grants and loans
to Israel, which is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.
The Bush administration has mentioned the possibility of imposing
economic sanctions on the country if it builds the Wall by subtracting
$1 from U.S. Ioan guarantees for every dollar Israel spends on
construction. However, the administration itself is split and
the pro-Israel lobby has scoffed at the idea. Many in the region
are skeptical that Bush will act, given his record of almost unconditional
support for Israel's actions and the imminent U.S. elections.
Meanwhile, Palestinian communities and
local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are
mobilizing to stop the Wall. Affected communities are organizing
meetings, exhibitions, and demonstrations. In some communities,
such as Jayyus, local residents have erected "protest tents"
on land trapped behind the Wall, and are camping out day and night.
To support these communities in their struggle, the Palestinian
Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON) created the AntiApartheid
Wall Campaign in 2002. Campaign coordinator Jamal Juma' explains
the campaign name this way: "We are witnessing a 21st century
apartheid, which will lay siege to Palestinians within fragmented,
disconnected cantons, taking final possession of the Palestinian
right to live in freedom, in a state like any other people."
The campaign is a Palestinian national
grassroots movement that calls for the Wall's elimination, works
to educate local and international journalists, coordinates the
resistance of Palestinian communities, and lobbies the Palestinian
Authority to take a strong, unequivocal stance against the Wall.
The campaign has declared November 9, 2003 the International Day
Against the Wall, and activist groups around the world are organizing
Only a small number of Israelis oppose
the Wall; the majority of the Israeli "peace camp" is
not mobilizing against it, although some are advocating that it
be moved to the Green Line. This position is unacceptable to Palestinians,
who recognize that even building the Wall along the Green Line,
while perhaps minimizing the loss of land and damage to property,
would make Israel's crippling closure of the West Bank and Gaza
permanent and devastate the Palestinian economy. The 36-year Israeli
occupation has made the Palestinian economy completely dependent
upon Israel, which controls all imports, exports and labor flows.
Even right on the Green Line, the Wall would exacerbate that dependence
and vulnerability. Furthermore, the Wall would forcibly separate
families and communities that found themselves placed arbitrarily
on opposite sides of the Green Line after the 1948 War, but who
continue to function as one community.
If a just peace is to prevail in the region,
Israel must agree to dismantle the Wall, return confiscated land
to its owners, and compensate Palestinians for damages and lost
income. The U.S.-sponsored Oslo Process and "road map"
have demonstrated that no peace process can succeed without guaranteeing
basic human rights, providing economic justice, and answering
the questions of Palestinians like Abdel Nasser Quzmar from 'Izbat
Salman. Once a farmer with seven acres of land cultivated in olives,
citrus, and vegetables, and spotted with greenhouses, he has lost
almost everything since the Wall surrounded his community. "I
had never before come home empty handed. So, what shall I do now
when everything I have ever owned is either confiscated or destroyed?"