Atrocities of War: Qalqiliya and the Apartheid Wall
by Mina Hamilton
October 20, 2003
Atrocity: A word to handle with care. Used too often the word loses its power, slips into insignificance.
Over the years memories of unpopular or controversial wars tend to coalesce around a signature atrocity, one particularly brutal episode. The event becomes the perceived norm for the war. It's the act or sequence of acts that we know, even without proof, was repeated in other less publicized, but equally appalling, acts of annihilation.
For the Korean War, it wasn't until 1999 that the 1950 massacre at No Gun Ri hit the news. In this case US troops fired upon South Korean civilian refugees huddled underneath a railroad bridge. The slaughter went on for several days during which 100 to 400 refugees died. The details of the slaying are murky. Despite conflicting memories of Korean survivors and US veterans, even the US Army admits an "unknown number of Korean civilians were killed." (1)
For the Vietnam War, the atrocity was My Lai, the 1968 massacre by US troops of 300 to 500 peasants in an impoverished village in Quang Ngai Province. The court-martial trial of Lieutenant Calley, the wrenching photographs in Life magazine, the interviews with soldiers who participated gave Americans a sickeningly clear picture of innocent civilians executed in cold blood and thrust into mass graves. (2)
As one moves closer in time to more recent wars it's harder to select one event that is the most horrendous. For Gulf War I, some might focus on the attack on the Amariyah shelter where, in 1991, 300 to 1500 innocent civilians were incinerated by two US bombs. (3)
For the War in Afghanistan can the horrific event be anything other than the suffocation of an estimated 3000 Taliban prisoners in sealed metal containers? First revealed in Newsweek magazine the 2002 crime involved captives who were being transported to Sherbeghan prison in Northern Afghanistan by troops under control of the ruthless Uzbek warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum. Packed for four days into the sealed containers with no ventilation holes and no water virtually all the prisoners died. (4)
Which act or acts would one select to represent all the cruel suffering, the terrible miseries of Gulf War II? It's perhaps too soon to know. And what about the other contemporary war, the Israeli-Palestinian War? Each side would have many candidates.
Atrocities are about death.
Alas, humans in their ingenuity have designed many kinds of deaths. There is the quick, bloody snuffing out of physical murder. Then there are the slow, excruciatingly slow, deaths. The death may be the bitter attrition of a population starved of jobs, food, water, and hope. It may be being imprisoned, surrounded by towering slabs of dark gray concrete. It may be the oppression of living day by day with a terrible injustice.
Such is the building of the Apartheid Wall at Qalqiliya in Palestine, such is the immense concrete cage around Qalqiliya. The residents of this city of 42,000 can only leave through one -- yes, that's one -- military checkpoint. This checkpoint is supposedly open from 7 AM to 7 PM. It's often closed at the whim of the occupying soldiers.
What's happening in the ghetto-ized city of Qalqiliya, is certainly one of the signature frightful events of the Israeli-Palestinian War.
The Western media and many politicians continue to
name what the Palestinians call the Apartheid Wall a "fence" or a "separation barrier."
This is not a fence. This is an immense, sky-obliterating, concrete edifice that belittles the walls at Sing-Sing prison.
This is not a fence. This is an act of war. Described as a security, anti-terrorist fence by the Israelis, the wall is redrawing the boundary between Israel and Palestine. Gone is the Green Line (the boundaries established after the 1967 war), arrived is the boundaries of the Apartheid Wall. In the first phase alone, the wall will confiscate 160,000-180,000 dunums or 40,000-45,000 acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank and much of this acreage is prime agricultural land. (5)
Twenty-five feet high, punctuated by giant "sniper" towers, and entrapping Qalqiliya on three sides, the wall is a brazen attack on what is vital to life in a dry environment - water. In villages around Qalqiliya and nearby Tulkarem over 30 Palestinian wells have been lost due to the construction of the wall. This may not sound like many wells, but since Israeli law prevents Palestinians from drilling any new wells, this means no water for drinking, for agriculture, for life. (6)
Even more ominous is the attack this represents on one of the most important water resources in Palestine, what Palestinians call the Western Aquifer and Israelis call the Mountain Aquifer. This aquifer is, after the Jordan River, the largest source of water in historic Palestine. (7)
Used as Americans are to plentiful rainfall and aboveground water supply reservoirs, the word 'aquifer' is foreign to many of us. But in a land of low rainfall, an aquifer, which is an underground reservoir of water, is the key to agriculture and life.
Not only has Qalqiliya been cut off from the Western Aquifer, but also the town has been severed from the rich farmlands that used to make Qalqiliya prosperous. Fifty-five percent of Qalqiliya's farmland is now on the other side of the Apartheid Wall. (9)
Prevent the residents of Qalqiliya from being able to water and tend their groves of olive trees and citrus trees and you cut a livelihood - and a people - off at the knees.
This was the town that, formerly, exported its fruits and vegetables to Israel and the Gulf. This is the town that used to be wealthy - at least, by Palestinian standards. Income is now averaging $60.00 a month instead of the pre-Wall $1000 a month. (10)
What else has the wall done to Qalqiliya? We could try to pin down the disaster in more facts and figures:
Six hundred shops and businesses out of a total
of 1800 have been closed. (11) Unemployment has reached 80%. (12) And, according to the city's mayor, since the concrete cage was constructed, 20 % of the residents have been forced to leave in what some bitterly call "voluntary transfer." (13)
Numbers and words walking across the page can only faintly trace the horror. As one resident says: "It is always there, me and my family no longer see the sky, nor the sunset, nothing but a ten-meter-high concrete wall." (14)
The Wall at Qalqiliya. It's an atrocity.
(1) Department of the US Army, Inspector General, Review of No Gun Ri, Executive Summary, 2001, p.x
(2) Hersch, Seymour, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and It's Aftermath, 1970.
(3) Clark, Ramsey, The Fire This Time: U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf, 1992, p. 70.
(4) Democracy Now, "Afghan Massacre: the Convoy of Death," May 26, 2003.
(5) The Apartheid Wall Campaign, Report #1, November 2002, p 4, available at www.pengon.org.
(6) Ibid, p. 19.
(7) Al Tamimi, Abdel Rahman, "Theory into Practice into Final Implementation: The Wall's Path is Based on Ultimate Control over Palestinian Water Resources," August 26th, 2003, at www.stopthewall.org.
(8) Al Shanti, Khaled, "The Apartheid Cage around Qalqiliya: Qalqiliya's Struggle for Survival since 1948," August 26th, 2003, at www.stopthewall.org.
(9) Humpries, Isabella, "Building a Wall, Sealing an Occupation," Middle East Report, September 29, 2002, available at www.merip.org/mero/mero.
(10) Jensen, Michael, Letter from Qalqiliya, Middle East International, December 26, 2002.
(11) Pengon/Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, 2003, "Conquest of the West Bank: UN Report Calls Wall 'Annexation.'
(12) Cook, Catherine, "Final Status in the Shape of a Wall," Middle East Research and Information Project, September 2003.
(13) Williams, Emma, Letter from Qalqiliya, Middle East International, May 16, 2003.
(14) Al Kharouf, Hassan, "Personal Testiomony," October 3, 2003, at www.pengon.org