Supposing Everything West of the Mississippi
Old City, East Jerusalem, Palestine, January 6: As the year 2003 begins, Israel is pushing full speed ahead on one of its most astonishing unilateral actions to date. It is working furiously on a vast construction project, which will effectively take many square kilometers of Palestinian land off a future negotiating table by building a very high barrier, which it is calling a "separation" or "security fence." For the most part it is being built well inside the "Green Line," which has marked the border between Israel and the West Bank since 1967.
How to describe the geographic, political, and economic impact of this latest unilateral action? Well, supposing everything west of the Mississippi was the "West Bank" of Palestine, and everything east of it was "Israel." If you flew over its path, you will find what will be an impenetrable barrier, which has been and is being laid out many many miles west of the Mississippi, often quite far into Palestinian territory. When finished, all of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and parts of Minnesota and Louisiana will have been annexed safely inside Israel without benefit of negotiations.
If you are having some difficulty perceiving the significance of the analogy, think "wall" and not "fence."
Fence is an Israeli euphemism for the twenty five foot high barrier, which in many places will be thick concrete—top to bottom—and in other places a concrete base topped by an electrified fence. Imagine that, and you will have the data necessary to grasp why Palestinians are calling the new barrier a "Wall of Hate" or an "Apartheid Wall."
A critical slice of Palestine's most productive agricultural land will be swallowed up. The land has been owned, tilled, tended, and harvested by Arab farmers for centuries; but since work on the wall began last summer, an increasing number of farmers have and already are being denied access to their assets. So the process of defacto annexation of this part of Palestine into Israel proper is already underway.
As we all know, even before construction on the wall began west of the Mississippi, Israel had already established in every area of Palestine (in defiance of current international norms and agreements), more than one hundred post 1967 settlements such as Rochester, Moorhead, and Minneapolis, Minnesota; Ames, Council Bluffs, and Davenport, Iowa; St. Louis, St. Joseph, and Poplar Bluffs, Missouri; Fort Smith, Texarkana, and Hot Springs, Arkansas; and Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, and Shreveport, Louisiana, and, of course, more settlements further west than that—all the way to the Pacific. Soon all those cities in Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas and some in Minnesota and Louisiana will no longer be settlements in Palestine, but municipalities in Israel.
Their settler inhabitants naturally will continue to have all the rights of Israeli citizenship. However, even though Israel's current Arab population has legal second class citizenship status, the west of the Mississippi Palestinians, who before long will find themselves trapped on the Israeli side of the wall, will not have even those rights. As a result, they will soon constitute a new and special case in statelessness, helplessness, and hopelessness.
Furthermore the wall is being so craftily planned that it is being laid out in such a way as to cut off Palestinian villages, which will not be annexed, from their adjacent fields and orchards that will—making those areas easy and inevitable targets and prey for expropriation by nearby Israeli settlements. Also virtually all of the wall will be dug out of some of the most fertile vegetable tracts and fruitful orchards in the West Bank, some of which are being despoiled. Typically the corridor is about half a football field length wide. Often another fifty yards and more on one side—or both—is used to dump spill from the leveling off process. At the same time tens of thousands of dunams (about a quarter of an acre) are in the process of disappearing beneath the concrete and wire— removed forever from cultivation.
The exact route of what will be eventually an approximately 220 kilometer long barrier (it would be many times that in our west of the Mississippi analogy) keeps shifting to accommodate vote-powerful settler blocs anxious during the current parliamentary election campaign to snatch more land from Palestinian control while they have the electoral clout.
Current estimates—by both Palestinian and Israeli organizations monitoring the construction—of the total West Bank area, which will finally end up confiscated and/or destroyed, is around 10%. Besides valuable farm land and orchards, Israel will be making off with Palestinian water. Dozens and dozens of groundwater wells will end up in Israeli territory, and thus be lost permanently to Palestinian use.
By way of example of the eventual effects of the wall, the Qalqilia District of the West Bank—about half of Missouri in our comparison (even so the multiplier is in double digits)—is going to be radically and typically decimated and plundered as the wall goes up. 22 groundwater wells will disappear behind it. Also isolated from their Palestinian owners will be 25,000 citrus fruit bearing trees producing approximately 2.5 million boxes of oranges, lemons, etc. each year; 80,000 fruit and almond trees yielding 2 million boxes; 2,000 greenhouses producing 3 million boxes of vegetables; 4,000 dunams of fields yielding another 1 million boxes of vegetables; 120,000 olive trees and their 500 tons of oil; and 12,000 additional dunams of potential crop and pasture land. All those means for survival will be lost to the Palestinian economy. And that's just in the Missouri/ Qalqilia District.
A few days ago, a farmer standing in the middle of the recently bulldozed corridor, which had destroyed dozens of dunams of his holdings, and which also slices right through it, told how for several weeks he has been prevented from working his land on the Israeli side of the cut. He said that at one point, local Israeli official tired of being approached by him to let him get through, yelled, "You are a donkey!" The farmer said, he answered back, "Only God can make a donkey and a man. Why are you trying to make me into a donkey?" Naturally, the farmer still can't get to his fields. "In every Palestinian house," he complained, "Sharon is making everyone crying."
As long as the effects of this new and extremely serious issue remain disregarded and/or neglected in the west, and, of course, by the United States, Israel will be able to treat complaints here about the wall harshly and with impunity, as for instance it did a week ago in the town of Jayous, which is in the process of having 75% of its farm land, orchards, and all of its current water resources disappear behind the wall.
A group of locals and internationals on their way down a hill from the town to the wall to stage a nonviolent protest were stopped short of their goal by Israeli military and armed civilian security guards from a nearby settlement.
After a quiet discussion, the group was told that it would be allowed to proceed in about thirty minutes. After about twenty minutes, an army jeep and a Police jeep rolled relentlessly down on the group from behind. Then two soldiers burst from the jeep brandishing stout batons. After just a few seconds of angry shouting, one soldier fired off a percussion grenade. Then others fired tear gas canisters at the delegation. Then shots were fired by the Israelis.
Frustrated, angry boys began throwing and slinging stones back at the soldiers, while older Palestinian men tried to get the boys to stop but couldn't.
The barrage of stone throwing, which continued for about a half hour, was answered with intermittent retaliatory gun fire. One Palestinian was wounded. One was arrested. Then curfew was imposed, and the demonstrators dispersed.
A few days later a similar event planned a few kilometers to the north in Tulkarm, never got off the ground. The Israelis, perhaps getting wind of what was planned, declared curfew early that morning and dispatched extra forces to the area in order to keep things quiet.
Jerry Levin is a former CNN Correspondent who was taken hostage in Lebanon and who has become a full-time member of the 'Christian Peacemaker Team' living in Hebron, Occupied Palestine. Email: