The Segregation Wall

Natasha Roth

Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. © Karen Zack

Some people call the wall in the West Bank a ‘security fence’; others refer to it as an ‘apartheid wall’. The International Court of Justice, in its 2004 advisory opinion declaring the construction illegal, called it simply ‘the wall’. Media style guides tend to suggest ‘West Bank barrier’ or ‘separation barrier/wall’.

But the wall doesn’t only separate; it segregates. In 1963, Malcolm X gave a speech in which he spelled out the difference: separation is between equals; segregation is forced on the weak by the strong. A segregated community is ‘regulated from the outside by outsiders’.

The wall was undertaken unilaterally by Israel (originally proposed by Yitzhak Rabin). Its route and dimensions are exclusively Israel’s to decide. Palestinians do not get a say in where the wall will run or how much of their land they will get to keep. The wall is unfinished – and, in some places, easy to cross; every day, up to 40,000 Palestinians enter Israel illegally from the West Bank in order to work – but it is already twice the length of the Green Line, snaking deep inside the West Bank in order to bring Israeli settlements ‘inside’ Israel.

In rare instances, tireless campaigning and endless demonstrations have succeeded in rerouting it, but they are exceptions and the outcomes are by no means final. Some Palestinian villages are sliced in two by the wall; others are cut off from their land; al-Walaja will be entirely circled by the wall once it is completed. In East Jerusalem, neighbourhoods on the 'other' side of the wall face chronic water shortages and lack of municipal services. The impact on the economy of many villages located on or near the route of the segregation wall has been catastrophic. In all that it does and signifies, the wall is segregation in theory and in practice.

The Civil Rights movement in America is an inspiration to the ongoing struggle against the Israeli occupation. Its vocabulary can help us too.


  • 21 May 2015 at 10:24am
    farthington says:
    There is a comparable wall surrounding Gaza, albeit it is constructed of different materials.
    Moreover, it has the advantage, to the faithful and the wilfully blind, of appearing non-existent.
    It's a work of barbaric genius, held up by acquiescence of the global community.

  • 21 May 2015 at 1:30pm
    Alan Benfield says:
    There has just been quite a kerfuffle (quite rightly) about a proposal for segregated public transport in Israel (presumably passengers would have to show the right sort of ID to be allowed on the 'Israeli' bus). What a long way we have come: even in the Deep South the blacks were allowed on the same bus as the whites - they just had to remember not to get uppity about where they sat, as certain areas were reserved for 'massa'. Strange that the wall continues to advance through the West Bank without much comment these days.

    The only comparable segregation attempt I can think of is what happened under Apartheid: bantustans, pass-laws decreeing where you could live and work, whites-only toilets, drinking fountains, etc. The only wizard wheeze the SA government of those days didn't think of was actually walling off the bantustans. Once again, the Israeli government proves itself an innovator in illiberal measures.

    And the Israelis wonder why they get compared to Apartheid South Africa...

    • 25 May 2015 at 6:03pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ Alan Benfield
      Back in the 80s a Zionist friend of mine used to argue against the two-state solution on the grounds that it would amount to the creation of Palestinian bantustans. His alternative - which hinged on Palestinisn gestures of goodwill being accepted in good faith by a government of liberal Zionists - wasn't entirely realistic, but with each passing year it's becoming clearer that he was right about the bantustans.

  • 25 May 2015 at 2:49pm
    Fred Skolnik says:
    Your writer and commenters do not seem to understand that an occupation entails separation by definition, between occupier and occupied. The Arab inhabitants of the West Bank are not citizens or residents of Israel. The status of West Bank Arabs is no different from the status of the Germans under the Allied occuppation in World War II. The words apartheid and segregation were not coined to describe such a condition or situation. Israel's security measures were instituted for no other reason than to prevent terrorist acts inside Israel, and have succeeded fairly well. Whoever complains about the hardship caused to West Bank Arabs as a result of these measures and did not open his or her mouth when Israeli women and children were being blown to pieces in buses and restaurants by Arab terrorists is a hypocrite and a fraud.

    • 27 May 2015 at 6:24am
      semitone says: @ Fred Skolnik
      This one cuts both ways, Fred. If you abhor the bus bombs (and I hope we all do) but shrug your shoulders at the suffering caused by the occupation then you are guilty as charged.

      And your claim that Israel's occupation is no different from the Allies' in wartime is cynical revisionism at best, and has no place in a serious discussion.

    • 27 May 2015 at 7:48am
      Fred Skolnik says: @ semitone
      But I don't shrug my shoulders and have great sympathy for those among the Palestinians who are innocent. The suffering of the Palestinian people is a direct result of the actions of their leaders, as was the suffering of the Germans, though all Germans were complicit in the actions of their leaders. I don't know what kind of a mythology you subscribe to with regard to the Arab-Israel conflict or whether you know anything about it that you haven't gotten at second or third hand from English-language sources that you are unequipped to verify of evaluate. I at least was in Jerusalem on the night of June 5 when Hussein began his bpmbardment of Jewish Jerusalem. That is why the West Bank was occupied. You start a was, you lose a war, you get yoour territory occupied. That is the oldest story in history.

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