The West Bank Barrier – Security or apartheid?

Written by Selma Aalachi

With a third of the world’s countries constructing barriers along their borders, the promise by Donald Trump to build a wall along the border between US and Mexico isn’t precisely a new idea. As a matter of fact, mankind has from early history to modern times built barriers with the aim to protect and demarcate. When the Berlin wall was demolished in the year of 1989, there were approximately 16 border fences around the world. Today, more than 40 states have built barriers against their neighbouring countries. Some of them are completed, while others are still under construction. One such example is the Israeli West Bank barrier.

As an attempt to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel, the Israeli government began constructing a barrier in 2002. The barrier divides the West Bank and is a network of concrete walls, fences and closed military roads. In some places, it is as high as 8 meters, making it twice as high as the Berlin Wall (the average height of the Berlin Wall was 3.6 meters). The West Bank barrier is also expected to reach at least 650 kilometers in length, making it not only twice as high as the Berlin Wall, but also four times as long. The Barrier will also be more than twice as long as the internationally recognised Green Line, which was supposed to outline the border between Israel and West Bank.

The Israeli government argues that the Barrier has a pivotal defensive purpose. They indicate that the number of Palestinian attacks have decidedly decreased on their soil since the beginning of its construction, as proof of its effectiveness. To emphasize its association with security, its proponents terms it the “Security-,” or “Anti-Terrorist Fence”. The term “fence” is ostensibly less correlated with dictatorial power, but rather with the belief that “good fences make good neighbours.”

On the other hand, for the opponents of the Barrier it is the “Separation-,” “Colonisation-,” or “Apartheid Wall,” as it infringes Palestinian territory, restricts freedom of movement and demolishes communities. The phrase ‘wall’ evokes negative connotations equated with dictatorial power and perpetual segregation. Additionally, because 85 per cent of the Barrier runs inside the West Bank, many consider it to be an impediment to the desire of establishing a viable state of their own. The international Court of Justice (ICJ) has stated that the wall should be dismantled, because it is constructed on occupied Palestinian territory. According to international law, no country has the right to act outside its sovereign territory. Therefore, in compliance with the fourth Geneva Convention, the Israeli West Bank barrier is illegal. Yet, the wall is expanding, just like the rest of the walls around the world.

Border walls and fences may not be a new phenomenon, but the rate at which they’re coming to being is assuredly anomalous; as it is the fastest rate since the Cold War. But Israel is not only separating themselves from the West Bank, it is also building a concrete wall along the Gaza Strip. The country is additionally planning to wall itself off from the surrounding Arab states, becoming a fortress-like nation. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has described the surrounding Arab states as ‘wild beasts’, which Israel needs to protect itself from. Moreover, let us not forget about the Egypt-Gaza barrier or the barbed-wire fence that India is constructing around Bangladesh. Turkey is building a concrete wall along its entire border with Syria. Hungary is planning to construct a second wall on its southern border with Serbia, while the Estonian government has approved the building of a fence along its border with Russia. Europe will shortly have a greater amount of border barriers than what it had during the Cold War.

The perception of boundaries performs a leading role in the conflict of nation building, territory and resources within Middle East. The reasoning behind this view is based on the concept of the nation-state, where every population should have their own territory and where no foreigners are allowed to intervene in their internal affairs. In the opinion of realism, the dominant school of thought in International Relations theory, states are central actors which operate in an anarchic system. Because states desire to guard their sovereignty, the primary motive is state survival. States will endeavour to gain power at the expense of their rivals. If Israel is to become more powerful, that necessarily means the loss of land for Palestine. This explains why the wall has shifted the borders. It can be argued that Israel is building the Barrier with the purpose of offering their people protection from the ravages of an insecure international system; especially being the only country in the world with a Jewish majority.

Nevertheless, there are those who argue that walls and border fences don’t work. Because terrorist groups, for example, have the resources to enter by safer methods, they are not affected by walls. They are able to shoot rockets over the fence or to dig tunnels under it. They also manage to trespass by using fake documents. West Bank Palestinians still manage to enter Israel on a daily basis in hopes of work, to harvest their fields, to visit their families or to attend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

So if the West Bank barrier doesn’t stop terrorists or undocumented workers, nor outlines a substantial border – then what is it for?

Security theatre could be one explanation. The phrase refers to actions taken by the government with the purpose of making citizens feel safer by seeing something being dealt with; even though that action generates a negligible contribution to the general efforts of truly keeping the population safe. Security theatre provide the sense of security, not actual security. The state, by demonstrating sovereignty, simultaneously reifies authority over that territory and defines the limits of the people that are situated there. This differentiation stimulate more passionate feelings of belonging to the in-group, as well as the separation from the other on the outside. The creation of an ‘us’ can only exist by its separation of a ‘them’. By creating distinct territories, when dividing the two populations, it demonstrates what Israels is and what it is not.

Many argue that the Barrier’s real raison d’être is to create facts on the ground, or what is better known as expansionism. Without delving into the complicated, notwithstanding interesting, past, a vital fact is the close correlation in Israeli history between ideological goals and the advanced practical actions. When the Zionist movement began to promote Jewish resettlement of Palestine in the nineteenth century, the settlement policy had three primary goals: the establishment of conterminous sections of settlement, the purchase of rural land and the expansion of the territory that would help to delineate the future boundaries of the state.

Invariably, border fences and barriers are justified in the language of security. It has long been a toon in regulating, or attempting to regulate, human passage and defending territory by the construction of walls. But wasn’t this supposed to be a new era in global affairs? An era in which the national borders were softened because of international financial interdependence? Globalization was supposed to tear down barriers and bring people of different ethnicity together, not to create new walls.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every human being has the right to life, freedom and legal security. The Berlin Wall became an emblem for state violence, oppression and denial of human rights. Even though the West Bank barrier has made it more difficult for terrorists to reach their target, and Palestinian attacks have almost entirely disappeared since the construction begun, correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation. Even though a wall offers more security than no wall, they do little to address the roots of insecurity and migration. The West Bank barrier, in its current aggressive route, may severely harm the peace process and stimulate terrorism. It has destroyed Palestinian neighbourhoods, restrained the economy and illegally occupied land. So whether we choose to see the West Bank barrier as simply a security matter or as a symbolism of modern apartheid, the Barrier is sure to play a vital role in the complex process of territorial negotiation related to the Israel-Palestine conflict as a whole.

Lecture: ”How and why do the Israelis vote the way they do?”

IMG_9748Tuesday 26th of febuary Isabell Schierenbeck, researcher and lecturer at the Shool of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg came to Sprängkullsgatan 25 to give a lecture on how and why Israelis vote the way they do, with the Arabic spring in mind.

I was there, in Israel when the Arabic spring began. I was watching the fireworks over the western wall that told me Hosni Mubarak had resigned. Isabells theme was perfect for someone interested in how Israel works, like myself and a lot of others attending the lecture last Tuesday night.

To make us understand how and why the Israelis vote the way they do Isabell starts off by telling us about the different cleavages within the Israeli society and politics. Jews vs Palestinians (Arabs), Mizrachim vs Ashkenazim, religious vs secular and left vs right wing. Most often we only get the picture of the cleavages of religious and secular groups, but as Isabell shows us during the lecture there are many other groups to keep in mind while observing Israeli politics.

Since there are many cleavages, and therefore a lot of big issues in Israel, a party only needs 2 % of the votes to gain seats in Knesset, the Israeli parliament. This leads to a high interest for politics in Israel.

The state of Israel is only 64 years old, and yet it has already had 32 governments, despite the mandate length of four years. The reason why? Coalition governments that do not work.

In the election that took place the 22nd of January this year 34 different parties were competing for parliament and 12 parties (with all cleavages mentioned above represented) gained representation in Knesset to form a government. Isabell explains how the different parties are reasoning while making coalitions and according to her it is usual that parties with completely different opinions cooperate.

Interesting about the election this year is the influence of the Arabic spring on the political issues. ”They are scared” Isabell says, proving it by showing the two big issues that dominated the election 2013. ”They don’t know who their neighbours are or who they will be”, she says.

The first issue is about the drafting of ultra-ortodoxs. Today the ultra-ortodoxs do not have to do military service, but a growing fear in the country makes the question about pushing them in to the army an important one. The other issue is about the social econimic situation, after the ”Israeli spring” in Tel Aviv that Isabell.

One thing Isabell notes, analyzing the influences the Arabic spring have had on the politics of Israel, is that the peace process for the first time was not on the agenda (except for the party Hatnuah that wants a peace process).

With the Arabic spring, a coalition government, focus on security instead of a peace process, what to expect? How stable will the Israeli politics be? Isabell thinks that there will not be any major changes, despite regional uncertainty. But she is curious about how many seats the different coalitions will get. She means that we can see a process of neo-liberalism loosing ground, and even though the peace process was not a big issue during the elections, she sees certain possibilities for progress.

While Isabell is giving her lecture, it becomes clear that Hatnuah (the party that propagates a peace process) have joined the government. As one of the first parties to do so, she thinks that they have got a good deal. This, in addition to Obama’s re-election, enhance the possibility for renewed peace negotiations, according to Isabell.

Thanks to Isabell’s lecture, we in the audience know more about the complexities in Israeli politics, and time will tell what the outcome will be.

Text & Photo: Lina Alsterlund

Who is who in Israeli politics?

I guess most of you have heard that there was parliamentary elections in Israel two weeks ago. Since Israel is one of the most debated countries in the world I thought I would help to figure out who is who in Israeli politics. Here is a quick guide to the different political parties:

Likud Unification” — A right of center party which is currently leading the government. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanhayu, Likud represents conservative middle-class citizens.

Yesh Atid  “There is A Future” — A new party headed by an Israeli journalist named Yair Lapid, who many says is an upcoming political star. He was also voted for being the sexiest man in Israel. Yesh Atid is now the second largest party with 19 seats in Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

HaAvoda  “Labor”– Israel’s Labor party. Until 1977, all Israeli Prime Ministers were affiliated with the Labor movement, but lately the party have had troubles finding a clear path in their politics. HaAvoda is the only party in Israel led by a woman: Shelly Yachimovich. She is the second woman to hold that position after Golda Meir.

Israel Beitenu  “Israel is our Home” — An extreme right-wing party. The voters of this party belong to a large extent to the Russians speaking community in Israel and it is led by Avigdor Lieberman, the current Foreign Minister of Israel.

Hatnua “The Movement” — This party is led by former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and is composed of leaders from Labour and Likud that lost in their primaries. They won 6 seats in Knesset.

Habait Hayehudi  “The Jewish Home” — An extreme right-wing party with an ecological agenda – weird, I know! The party is led by Naftali Bennet, also a new star in the Israeli politics. The party is against the two state solution and will do everything in their power to block a Palestinian statehood.

Hadash  “New“, also known as “The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality” — A left-wing party that supports the complete withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories. Their main supporters are the Israeli-Arabs.

Balad “Country”, also known as ”National Democratic Assembly” — A left-wing party, almost the same as Hadash. Balad’s most famous member is Hanin Zoabi, an Israeli MK who took part in the Gaza flotilla. She was on the Mavi Marmara ship and was onboard when Israeli navy seals boarded the ship.

Shas  “Orders” — An extremists party representing ultra-orthodox Jews. Their agenda is to restore former glory, return to biblical times and hallelujah moment. It breaks my heart to inform you that they got 12 seats in the parliament.

Kadima Forward” — A centrist party that used to be the largest one in the parliament, and the leader of the opposition. Kadima made so many mistakes over the past years that (almost) all its members left. From being the biggest party in parliament it is now the smallest one, with only two seats.

After this quick guide, you know a little bit about who is who in the myriad of political parties in Israel. I must say Israeli politics are so interesting as it seems as there is a party for every imaginable problem. Actually it seems so easy to start a new party in Israel, that for the next election I think I am going to starting a new party for peace – who is with me?

Text: Yacob Rajes