February 23, 2004
A Wall as a Weapon
By NOAM CHOMSKY
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — It is a virtual reflex for governments to plead
security concerns when they undertake any
controversial action, often as a pretext for something else.
Careful scrutiny is always in order. Israel's so-called security
fence, which is the subject of hearings starting today at the
International Court of Justice in The Hague, is a case in point.
Few would question Israel's right to protect its citizens from terrorist
attacks like the one yesterday, even to build a security wall
if that were an appropriate means. It is also clear where such a wall
would be built if security were the guiding concern: inside
Israel, within the internationally recognized border, the Green Line
established after the 1948-49 war. The wall could then be as
forbidding as the authorities chose: patrolled by the army on both
sides, heavily mined, impenetrable. Such a wall would
maximize security, and there would be no international protest or
violation of international law.
This observation is well understood. While Britain supports America's
opposition to the Hague hearings, its foreign minister, Jack
Straw, has written that the wall is "unlawful." Another ministry
official, who inspected the "security fence," said it should be on the
Green Line or "indeed on the Israeli side of the line." A British
parliamentary investigative commission also called for the wall to
be built on Israeli land, condemning the barrier as part of a
"deliberate" Israeli "strategy of bringing the population to heel."
What this wall is really doing is taking Palestinian lands. It is also —
as the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has described
Israel's war of "politicide" against the Palestinians — helping turn
Palestinian communities into dungeons, next to which the
bantustans of South Africa look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty and
Even before construction of the barrier was under way, the United
Nations estimated that Israeli barriers, infrastructure projects
and settlements had created 50 disconnected Palestinian pockets in the
West Bank. As the design of the wall was coming into
view, the World Bank estimated that it might isolate 250,000 to 300,000
Palestinians, more than 10 percent of the population,
and that it might effectively annex up to 10 percent of West Bank land.
And when the government of Ariel Sharon finally
published its proposed map, it became clear the the wall would cut the
West Bank into 16 isolated enclaves, confined to just 42
percent of the West Bank land that Mr. Sharon had previously said could
be ceded to a Palestinian state.
The wall has already claimed some of the most fertile lands of the West
Bank. And, crucially, it extends Israel's control of critical
water resources, which Israel and its settlers can appropriate as they
choose, while the indigenous population often lacks water
Palestinians in the seam between the wall and the Green Line will be
permitted to apply for the right to live in their own homes;
Israelis automatically have the right to use these lands. "Hiding behind
security rationales and the seemingly neutral bureaucratic
language of military orders is the gateway for expulsion," the Israeli
journalist Amira Hass wrote in the daily Haaretz. "Drop by
drop, unseen, not so many that it would be noticed internationally and
shock public opinion." The same is true of the regular
killings, terror and daily brutality and humiliation of the past 35
years of harsh occupation, while land and resources have been
taken for settlers enticed by ample subsidies.
It also seems likely that Israel will transfer to the occupied West Bank
the 7,500 settlers it said this month it would remove from
the Gaza Strip. These Israelis now enjoy ample land and fresh water,
while one million Palestinians barely survive, their meager
water supplies virtually unusable. Gaza is a cage, and as the city of
Rafah in the south is systematically demolished, residents may
be blocked from any contact with Egypt and blockaded from the sea.
It is misleading to call these Israeli policies. They are
American-Israeli policies — made possible by unremitting United States
military, economic and diplomatic support of Israel. This has been true
since 1971 when, with American support, Israel rejected
a full peace offer from Egypt, preferring expansion to security. In
1976, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution
calling for a two-state settlement in accord with an overwhelming
international consensus. The two-state proposal has the
support of a majority of Americans today, and could be enacted
immediately if Washington wanted to do so.
At most, the Hague hearings will end in an advisory ruling that the wall
is illegal. It will change nothing. Any real chance for a
political settlement — and for decent lives for the people of the region
— depends on the United States.
Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, is the author of "Hegemony or
Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance."