The Wall

In the New York Review of Books (April 30, 2009) David Hare, the English dramatist, writes a monologue about the Wall. The Wall stretches for 486 miles, the length of Israel’s eastern border. Hare reports 84 percent of the Israelis are in favor of the Wall. He asks: “Have you ever known anything of which 84 percent of people were in favor?”
I think the figure is even more astonishing given the legendary disputatiousness of Jews.

The Wall does not run along the so-called Green Line, the border that was established in 1949 between Israel and Jordan. According to Hare “…85 percent of its intended route is inside the West Bank [and in places] goes far inland to collect up and protect Israeli settlements established far inside the occupied territory. Sometimes it takes in fertile Palestinian agricultural land and water wells, leaving Palestinian farmers without access to their own fields.”

It is also a huge inconvenience for the Palestinians who wish to travel within their own lands, as well as those who are employed in Israel. The Arabs view the Wall as a land grab; most Israelis view it as a security measure. One of Hare’s Arab friends says: “the wall is the perfect crime because it creates the violence it was ostensibly built to prevent.”

An Israeli friend says: “I hate the wall. I regret it. I am ashamed of the wall. I drive for miles so that I don’t have to see. But it works. 80 percent of terrorist attacks against Israel have stopped….Am I not meant to be pleased about that?”

I think if this Israeli drives so far to avoid seeing the Wall, think how far and how long the Palestinians have to drive and wait at the checkpoints to get to where they are going.

Hare gives further information about the Wall. He reports it varies in width between 30 and 150 meters and is a combination of “trenches, electronic fences, ditches, watchtowers, concrete slaps, checkpoints, patrol roads and razor coil…”

Hare meets with an Israeli intellectual who speaks of the defining paradox of Israel: “To the world it seems powerful and aggressive, yet to itself it seems weak and frail.” He says “Israelis have a very fragile sense of the future. It is incredible but the country itself still feels provisional….You might say we have imported from the Diaspora the Jewish disease—a sense of rootlessness, an ability to adapt and make do, but not to settle. After sixty years, Israel is not yet a home.”

Hare quotes Einstein: “If we do not find the path to honest cooperation and honest negotiations with the Arabs, then we have learned nothing from over 2,000 years of suffering and we deserve the fate that will befall us.”

He meets with an Arab friend in Ramallah who comments: “What is so shocking about Israel is that these days it doesn’t even have a protest movement. In the old days, there were peaceniks on the streets and long-haired students. Now they have almost no peace movement at all. What can you say? A country which loses its hippies is in deep trouble.”

On another day Hare talks with David Grossman, the Israel novelist whose son was killed on the last day of the Lebanon war. Hare says that Grossman’s home is “charged with grief.” Grossman speaks eloquently and contrary to his friend in Ramallah, is a vocal representative of the Israeli peace movement.

We squandered our chance to make the state permanent in 1967. Instead of using the conquered territories as leverage in negotiation, instead we became addicted to occupation…Now we have terrible trouble imagining any other reality than the one we live in. You become habituated, you cannot believe there is another possible way of life. And so effectively you become a victim of the situation….we hand our fate over to the security people, we allow the army to run the country, because we lack a political class with a vision beyond the military….I want to begin to live. I want some gates in the wall.”

The Palestinians want to live too. They also want some gates. Here we have two areas of agreement. Let the negotiations begin with living and the gates.