February 23, 2004


A Wall as a Weapon





     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

for drinking.


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."