A Decade of Separation

The Separation Wall is now 10 years old. The Israeli government has not reversed course despite protests, a UN General Assembly resolution (ES-10/13), an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion, and almost unanimous international condemnation.

The Israeli government began constructing the Wall—a system of electric fences, concrete walls and ditches—across the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2002 at the height of the second Intifada. Though  many in the international community, including the UN General Assembly and then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, readily acknowledged Israel could build a wall as a security measure, all voiced strong opposition to the proposed path of the wall. Instead of the proposed (and since then actual) incursion deep into the West Bank (incorporating settlement outposts while isolating Palestinian communities), the UN urged the Israeli government to build the Separation Wall either within its own territory or along the internationally recognized “Green Line” (the de facto border between Israel and Palestine since the 1949 Armistice). The UN’s reasoning was that such construction would minimize the social and economic impact of the Wall on Palestinian communities – hard to imagine how since Palestinians in the occupied territories had been economically integrated into Israel since the occupation began in 1967.

Also, the international community was [rightly] concerned that as planned the Wall would create “facts on the ground” that would undermine the eventual creation of an independent, viable, contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Today in 2012, the combination of the Wall, the numerous settlements (which in some cases are really large towns), the Israeli-only roads, and the Israeli-controlled Area C (at 60%, the majority of the West Bank including the vital Jordan Valley) the notion of an independent Palestinian state is just that – notional, as in unreal. What is on the ground are dozens of little Bantustans (including Gaza, the largest of them) à la Apartheid South Africa.
 
Concerned with Israel’s flagrant disregard of ES-10/13, which called for an  immediate end to the Wall’s construction, the UN General Assembly requested an advisory opinion on the ‘Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory’ from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On July 9, 2004, the ICJ issued its landmark advisory opinion, concluding that the construction of the wall was contrary to international law, violated Palestinian rights to self-determination and “that all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.” The ICJ further ordered the Wall’s immediate demolition and compensation to Palestinian communities for destruction caused by the Wall’s construction through their communities. Even the Israeli Supreme Court intervened in 2004, 2005, and 2007 ordering changes to the Wall’s path where it found a proposed  route’s detrimental impact on the economic and social lives of Palestinian communities far outweighed the government’s security interest. 
 
While in Palestine, I observed the meandering path of the Wall as it snaked across a vibrant landscape—complete in some places, and with only a skeletal metal structure in others. As a first-time visitor to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the Wall felt oppressive and looked dreadfully out of place in the Holy Land. There’s nothing holy about this Wall. It’s currently 90 percent complete and is twice the length of the internationally recognized Green Line at 422.53 miles long with 85 percent of the Wall falling within Palestinian territory. As a result, 8.5 percent of Palestinian land, mostly agricultural land, is now on the Israeli side of the Wall in the so called seam zone—an area between the Green Line and the Separation Wall. For all practical purposes, this land is inaccessible to Palestinian farmers. For one, they need permits to cross the Wall, and secondly entry and exit points through the Wall are few and far in between. What was a five minute walk from home can now be a two-to-three hour journey or more and not on foot!

Effects of the Wall on Palestinians: Separate and Unequal
 
For Palestinian communities encircled within the Separation Wall – which is practically the entire West Bank – life is severely circumscribed. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) regulates entry and exit into their communities through gates that are only open a couple times a day for less than 30 minutes, if at all. All visitors, including emergency personnel, require entry permits. Because these communities rarely have health services, schools, and first responders within the community, restricted access to these basic resources affect their ability to access health care (including in emergencies), to educate their children and to put out fires. And since the Wall’s path consumes farmland, affected communities are becoming more dependent on food aid from humanitarian agencies as food insecurity increases. And it's not just the Wall. Besides the illegal settlements that extend almost to the Jordanian border, the settler-only roads connecting settlements to each other and to Israel amount to even more land confiscation.
 
The Wall -- and the long-winding and circuitous bypass roads for Palestinians -- is breeding discontent and poverty in affected communities. The Palestinians I spoke with in places like Tulkarm, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem reported traveling a minimum of 30 minutes to get to places that were once five minutes away before the Wall. They spoke of diminished access to water and their farms. They spoke of not being able to sell to neighboring communities with whom they had traded for centuries. They spoke of children not being able to get to school and patients to hospitals and doctors. And they spoke of the Wall’s negative impact on household income. The injustice of the Wall’s destructive path through agricultural land, the way it separates communities, or completely isolates Palestinian communities by imprisoning them within unnatural concrete slabs are a few ways in which it violates Palestinian rights to self-determination and human rights.  It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which one increases one’s security by unilaterally constructing a wall through a neighbor’s house. Your neighbor would not stand for it—no one would, including Palestinians who demonstrate against the Wall on a weekly basis.
 
The Wall was purportedly constructed to protect Israelis, including nearly 500,000 settlers living across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But since Israelis can move freely across many areas of the West Bank, these settlers enter adjacent Palestinian towns and villages where they have uprooted olive trees, set Palestinian farms and mosques on fire, and destroyed wells. Palestinians across the West Bank are living extremely difficult lives in the shadow of the Wall.
 
Who Benefits from the Separation Wall?
 
Israel is the primary beneficiary of the Wall because of land and freshwater resources acquired by the Wall’s construction. And that is really what the Wall is about – permanently incorporating the settlements (that extend deep into the West Bank as far as the Jordanian border), the Jordan Valley (the West Bank’s bread basket), and the major sources of water (such as the Mountain Aquifer) into Israel.
 
However, there are also corporations profiting from the misery of Palestinian farmers and communities. One such corporation is Elbit Systems, Ltd., an Israeli defense contractor instrumental in the Wall’s construction that provides drones and surveillance equipment utilized in monitoring Palestinians along the Wall. Its products help the IDF control Palestinians’ freedom of movement along with access to their farms and wells. Elbit’s shameless profiteering from the occupation  is one reason Grassroots International launched a campaign calling for the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) to divest from all Elbit investment holdings. The Elbit campaign calls on TIAA-CREF to do the right thing by living up to its motto of “Financial Services for the Greater Good.” 
 
The 3.7 million non-profit and public sector employees who hold TIAA-CREF accounts are unwittingly funding house demolitions, displaced communities, land and water grabs, food insecurity and widespread human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories through their TIAA-CREF investments. These are all acts that are decidedly not in the public interest and do not advance a just society nor a just, peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
On the 8th anniversary of  the ICJ’s advisory opinion striking down construction of the Wall as an illegal, unilateral act contrary to international law, Grassroots International is renewing its call to TIAA-CREF’s 3.7 million account holders—join us in demanding an end to TIAA-CREF’s continued investment in Elbit. 
 
At this year’s shareholder meeting, tell TIAA-CREF that they cannot promote the greater good by funding the destruction of communities and livelihoods throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.  Sign our petition today.
 
 
 
Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org

Caption: A caterpillar bulldozer works on a new section of the Separation Wall in Shu'fat refugee camp near the new military terminal located at the entrance of the camp, East Jerusalem, December 27, 2011. The Wall and the new military terminal will separate more than 20,000 Palestinian Jerusalem residents from East Jerusalem directly affecting their access to their schools, workplace and other facilities and institutions