I thought it was terrible. I was wrong. It is far, far worse! These words sum up
my feelings at that moment.
I was standing on a hill overlooking the infamous Kalandia checkpoint.
Below me was a narrow road, packed with Palestinians in the blazing sun, 30
degrees centigrade (86 F) in the shade (but there was no shade) trudging toward
the checkpoint. Very soon this road will be transformed. It will be widened to
three lanes and be reserved for Israelis: on both sides of it, 8-meter (25-ft.)
high walls will spring up. It will allow the settlers of the Jordan valley to
reach Tel-Aviv in about an hour. The Palestinians living on either side will be
cut off from each other.
This is a small part of the new reality that is rapidly being created on the
West Bank and that is changing the country we knew and loved beyond recognition.
I was standing near the edge of a-Ram. Once this was a small village on the
outskirts of Jerusalem , on the road north to Ramallah. Since successive Israeli
governments have prevented the Palestinians in East Jerusalem from building new
homes, the severe overcrowding has forced a mass exodus to a-Ram, which has
grown into a town of 60,000 inhabitants. Most of them are officially still
Jerusalem residents, carrying the blue identity cards of inhabitants of Israel.
This allows them to come to Jerusalem, a drive of 10 minutes, work there, tend
to their businesses, go to the hospitals and the universities there.
This is about to stop. Along the age-old road from Jerusalem to Ramallah
(leading on to Nablus, Damascus and beyond) construction of the 8-meter wall is
due to start any minute now, not across the road, but along the middle of the
road, the full length of it. The inhabitants of a-Ram, east of the wall, will
not only be completely cut off from Jerusalem, but also from all the townships
and villages to their west, their relatives, the schools which thousands of
their children attend, their cemetery and their places of work. A small part of
a-Ram remains outside the wall and will be cut off from the main part of the
town in which they live.
But this is only part of the story. Because the wall (or in some places a
barrier, consisting of a fence, trenches and roads) will completely surround
a-Ram from all sides. The sole exit from this walled-in area will be a narrow
bridge connecting it with the adjacent area to its east, consisting of several
Palestinian villages, which will be surrounded by another barrier. This enclave
will have a narrow exit to the Ramallah enclave. Through this it will be
possible for a person from a-Ram to reach Ramallah, God willing, by a roundabout
route of some 30 kilometers (19 mi.), instead of the ten minutes or so it took
before the occupation.
A few kilometers to the west of a-Ram lies a group of villages centered around
Bidou (where five Palestinians have been killed so far in protests against the
wall). This area is rapidly becoming another enclave, completely surrounded by a
separate barrier. The only way out will be a tunnel to be built under road No.
443 "the settlers" road of which the section I mentioned before will become
part. All existing roads to Bidou have long since been cut off by trenches or
piles of dirt, one can enter only at one spot controlled by a checkpoint. This
will cease to exist.
If a villager from Bidou has some business in a-Ram, he will have to go through
the tunnel to Ramallah, turn to the enclave east of a-Ram and enter a-Ram by the
narrow bridge, a semicircle of about 40 kilometers (25 mi.) instead of a drive
of a few minutes.
A-Ram will be especially hard hit. Because of its location, it has developed in
the last few years into a kind of transshipment point for goods traveling from
Israel to the West Bank and vice versa. Israelis and Palestinians do business
there. All this will end with the wall. The means of livelihood for many of its
60,000 inhabitants will disappear.
This is only one example of what is happening now all over the West Bank,
turning it into a crazy quilt of walled-in enclaves, "connected" by bridges,
tunnels or special roads, which can be cut off at any moment at the whim of the
Israeli government or of a local army officer and, all around them,
roads-for-Israelis-only, expanding settlements and military installations. Every
Palestinian town, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Kalkilia, Bethlehem, Hebron and
others – will become the "capital" of a tiny enclave, cut off from all the
others, from their "hinterland" and villages, except by tortuous roundabout
routes. Fifty-five percent of the West Bank will be Israeli, the Palestinian
enclaves will amount to 45% (about 10% of historical Palestine).
This is no longer just a nightmarish future prospect; it is happening now,
visible to the naked eye, while Sharon babbles about a "disengagement" to happen
sometime in the future in one small part of the occupied territories.
Practically no Israeli has any idea about all this. It may be happening one
kilometer from his home (in Jerusalem, for example), but it might as well be on
the far side of the moon. The media are not interested, nor is the world.
This is the peace Sharon has been dreaming about. This is the "Palestinian
State" George Bush promised. This is a cornerstone of the new democratic Middle
It will lead, of course, to bloodshed on an unbelievable scale. No people on
earth will submit to such a life. For thousands and thousands of young
Palestinians, a martyr's death will be preferable.
And sometime in the future, this awful structure will be torn down, like the
Berlin wall, which, evil as it was, was much less inhuman. As always, after much
suffering, the human spirit will prevail.
Uri Avneri is an Israeli peace activist.