The Nightmare Comes True

by Uri Avnery

I thought it was terrible. I was wrong. It is far, far worse! I stood on a hill overlooking the infamous Kalandia checkpoint.

Below me was a narrow road, packed with Palestinians in the blazing sun, 30 degrees centigrade in the shade (but there was no shade), trudging towards the checkpoint. Very soon this road will be transformed – widened to three lanes and reserved for Israelis: on both sides of it, 8-meter high walls. It will allow the settlers of the Jordan valley to reach Tel-Aviv in an hour. The Palestinians living on either side will be cut off from each other.

A New Reality

This is a small part of the new reality rapidly being created on the West Bank and changing the country we knew and loved beyond recognition.

I was standing near the edge of a-Ram, once a small village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. 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 to a town of 60,000. Most of them are officially still Jerusalem residents, carrying blue Israeli identity cards. This allows them to come to Jerusalem, a 10-minute drive, work there, tend to their businesses, go to its hospitals and universities.

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 – 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. 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, instead of the ten minutes or so it took before the occupation.

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 travelling between Israel and the West Bank. Israelis and Palestinians do business there. All this will end with the wall. Many of its 60,000 inhabitants will lose their livelihoods.

Walled-in Enclaves

This is one example of what is happening 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, Israelis-only roads, 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.

This is no longer a nightmarish future prospect – it is happening now while Sharon babbles about a “disengagement” to happen sometime in the future in one small part of the occupied territories.

Practically no Israelis have any idea about all this. It may be happening one kilometer from their homes, but might as well be on 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 East.

It will lead, of course, to immense bloodshed. 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, a longtime Israeli journalist and peace activist, works with Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group. A veteran and former member of the Israeli parliament, he was the first Israeli to meet with Yassir Arafat in 1982.