Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…
(from “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost)
It used to take ten minutes to ride from the village of Azariya to the Old City that divides West (Jewish) and East (Arab) Jerusalem. Following the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, Israeli soldiers set up a checkpoint across the main (only) street that links the West Bank with Jerusalem. As the cycle of violence increased, with Palestinian suicide bombers striking at Israeli civilians in Jerusalem buses and cafes, the Israeli army built a six-foot-high wall across the street. That stopped cars from crossing, but enterprising Palestinians placed boulders on both sides of the wall, enabling men going to work, youth going to school, old men with canes and women with shopping bags to climb back and forth. People would pass babies over the barrier like an old-time bucket brigade. Entrepreneurial souls even set up makeshift stands to sell goods and produce on both sides of the wall, a spontaneous Middle Eastern souk. Taxis took travelers to one side of the wall, they climbed over, and were picked up on the other side by another taxi to continue on their way. Sometimes bored soldiers stood alongside the wall and spot-checked people, but more often than not there was just the wall, and a semblance of normal life continued.
A few weeks ago the residents of Azariya suddenly awoke to discover that a hulking, twelve-foot-high granite wall was emerging in place of the six-foot obstacle. It wound its way up and down hills like a gloomy medieval dragon, casting a dark shadow over the area. An outsider could immediately sense the dispirited pessimism that overtook Azariya. All the stores on both sides of the wall closed, almost overnight. It was like a scene from a novel by García Márquez.
This granite monstrosity–there’s nothing even slightly aesthetic about it–is part of the “Jerusalem envelope” built to protect the citizens of Jerusalem, Jewish and Palestinian, since both are random victims of the suicide bombers.
And now the wall is going to The Hague, to the International Court of Justice (the World Court), with hearings beginning on February 23.
Originally a fence/wall was proposed by Labor Party members as a temporary security barrier until negotiations for a permanent settlement could resume and reach fruition. The idea was that it would run more or less along the Green Line that separates the State of Israel from the West Bank. The right, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was opposed to the idea, because it implied recognition of the pre-1967 borders as the eventual dividing line between Israel and a future Palestinian state. However, as Sharon proved unable to provide the “peace and security” he promised in his election campaign, the idea of a security barrier began to look more appealing, particularly when compared with a political initiative that would require genuine and “painful” (his words) compromises. The settler lobby insisted that the barrier should include as many West Bank settlements on the Israeli side as possible, so the barrier kept moving eastward, encompassing more and more settlers and Palestinian villagers–tens of thousands of them. It cut off farmers from their lands, children from their schools and workers from their sources of livelihood, uprooting ancient olive trees in the process.