I see that Adam at Mondoweiss has written a post today about the Separation Wall in the West Bank, and the cost it imposes on the people who live there.
Whenever you see a blog post on the subject, it is virtually guaranteed that someone will show up with the boilerplate response about how it’s not really a wall it’s more a fence because part of it is made of barbed wire and besides it’s all for security reasons and it stopped the suicide bombings so what are you anyway some kind of anti-semite who’d rather see Jews dead and anyway you’d want a wall too if your neighbors wanted to kill you…
To which the answer is this:
1. It’s very unlikely that the halt in suicide bombings came about because of the Separation Wall. The wall is only about 60 per cent complete, and progress on the remaining 40 per cent has ground to a halt because the whole process is bogged down in legal challenges. It is hard to believe that Hamas cannot find a way around a wall that is 40 per cent unfinished with gaps as wide as 30 kilometers.
2. It’s also unlikely that the wall stopped the suicide bombings seeing as the wall is incapable of stopping migrant workers entering Israel from the West Bank. On 27 Sept 2007, Israel’s Channel 2 aired a news report about undocumented West Bank Palestinians working in the Tel Aviv area, in which the Israeli Border police said that each week they arrested on average more than 1200 Palestinians who had snuck in from the West Bank, and concluded: “The wall, siege, security cordon, police patrols and border guards have not prevented tens of thousands of workers from reaching Tel Aviv every month”. News stories about the arrest of migrant workers caught working in Israel by the Border Police continue to be a regular fixture in Palestinian news outlets. It is hard to believe that on average 1276 Palestinian laborers can sneak over the wall and disappear into Israel’s black economy every week, but not a single suicide bomber can work out how to do it.
It is much more likely that the reason suicide bombings stopped was because their primary perpetrator was Hamas, and Hamas redirected its efforts away from suicide attacks onto a new target in 2005. Unlike Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the underlying strategy of Hamas was that Palestinian society should first be Islamized, and only then would Palestinians be strong enough to launch an armed struggle against Israel. Therefore the primary target of Hamas should be “the pork eaters and wine drinkers” of Fatah and the PLO, as Ahmed Yassin put it. Hamas moved away from this path during the first intifada, because Fatah’s leadership of massive civil disobedience threatened to make Hamas irrelevant. (Ironically, the process was reversed in the second intifada, when it was the pressure to be seen to be doing something against the occupation that led Fatah to imitate Hamas’ use of suicide bombings). This is why Hamas entered into armed attacks on Israel from 1988 onwards.
But in 2005, with the approach of Palestinian elections and a Palestinian electorate that absolutely did not believe any more that the negotiated route Fatah was following would ever lead anywhere, Hamas saw an opportunity to return successfully to its first goal of toppling Fatah and the PLO and becoming the primary Palestinian nationalist movement. Hamas’ subsequent win in the Parliamentary elections has hardly led (yet) to the united, Islamized society that is Hamas’ immediate goal. Nevertheless, it seems much more likely that Hamas’ switch away from armed struggle against Israel in favor of first toppling the secular nationalists of Fatah better accounts for the end of suicide attacks than a wall with 30 km gaps in it that is circumvented on a weekly basis by hundreds of undocumented workers.
As for Israel having neighbors some of whom want to destroy it, well that would be an inherent problem in any plan to create a “Jewish state” on a land with a preexisting population that is overwhelming not Jewish, and which has to be endlessly exiled or disenfranchised in order to gerrymander and maintain an artificial Jewish majority. It is the scenario itself that is a recipe for insecurity and instability, not some collective failing in the preexisting population. If Israel wants security, it is going to have to find a way to become a state that belongs equally to all its people. If it would get out of the West Bank, its people would be 80% Jewish, and it would not be haunted by the “demographic threat”, but it shows no capability of doing that. It is the very idea that Israel can continue to be a sectarian state where most of the emerging Palestinian majority should be left forcibly disenfranchised that is the basis for Israel’s insecurity, not some inexplicable defect in its non-Jewish citizens and subjects that some punitive Separation Wall will take care of.