From Ma’an News Agency on Friday 20 June: …”Israeli forces used a new kind of weapon capable of firing 30 tear gas bombs at once, and dozens of demonstrators suffered from gas inhalation … Tear gas bombs fired by the Israeli soldiers also set a grove of olive trees on fire, burning about ten trees. Israeli soldiers also used another weapon known as ‘the scream’, which they had used three years ago in Bil’in. This weapon makes a terrible sound that affects the middle ear, causing people who hear it to lose balance and fall to the ground. Bil’in residents have held non-violent protests against the Israeli separation wall each week for over three years. In 2007, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in favor of the villagers and ordered the Israeli army to dismantle a segment of the wall so that villagers would regain access to some of their lands. The Israeli army has yet to re-route the wall in the village, refusing to comply with the Court’s order for ‘security reasons’.” The full news report can be read here .
Here’s an excerpt from Uri Avnery’s weekly article, which arrived today by email, and which this week focuses on Israel’s upcoming anniversary:
“There is no escape from the historic fact: Israel’s Independence Day and the Palestinians’ Naqba (Catastrophe) Day are two sides of the same coin. In 60 years we have not succeeded – and actually have not even tried – to untie this knot by creating another reality.
And so the war goes on.
WITH THE 60th Independence Day approaching, a committee sat down to choose an emblem for the event. The one they came up with looks like something for Coca Cola or the Eurovision song contest.
The real emblem of the state is quite different, and no committee of bureaucrats has had to invent it. It is fixed to the ground and can be seen from afar: The Wall. The Separation Wall.
Separation between whom, between what?
Apparently between Israeli Kfar Sava and neighboring Palestinian Qalqiliyah, between Modi’in Illit and Bil’in. Between the State of Israel (and some more grabbed land) and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But in reality, between two worlds.
In the fevered imagination of those who believe in the ‘clash of civilizations’, whether George Bush or Osama Bin-Laden – the Wall is the border between the two titans of history, Western civilization and Islamic civilization, two mortal enemies fighting a war of Gog and Magog.
Our Wall has become the front-line between these two worlds.
The wall is not just a structure of concrete and wire. More than anything else, the wall – like every such wall – is an ideological statement, a declaration of intent, a mental reality. The builders declare that they belong, body and soul, to one camp, the Western one, and that on the other side of the wall there begins the opposing world, the enemy, the masses of Arabs and other Muslims.
When was that decided? Who made the decision? How?
102 years ago, Theodor Herzl wrote in his ground-breaking oeuvre, Der Judenstaat, which gave birth to the Zionist movement, a sentence fraught with significance: ‘For Europe we shall constitute there [in Palestine] a sector of the wall against Asia, we shall serve as the vanguard of culture against barbarism’.
Thus, in 22 German words, the world-view of Zionism, and our place in it, was laid down. And now, after a delay of four generations, the physical wall is following the path of the mental one.
The picture is bright and clear: We are essentially a part of Europe (like North America), a part of culture, which is entirely European. On the other side: Asia, a barbaric continent, empty of culture, including the Muslim and Arab world.
COULD IT have been different? Could we have become a part of the region? Could we have become a kind of cultural Switzerland, an independent island between East and West, bridging and mediating between the two?
The history of this country has seen dozens of invasions. They can be divided into two main categories.
There were the invaders who came from the West, such as the Philistines, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, Napoleon and the British. Such an invasion establishes a bridgehead, and its mental outlook is that of a bridgehead. The region beyond is hostile territory, its inhabitants enemies who have to be oppressed or destroyed. In the end, all of these invaders were expelled.
And there were the invaders who came from the East, such as the Emorites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Arabs. They conquered the land and became part of it, influenced its culture and were influenced by it, and in the end struck roots.
The ancient Israelites were of the second category. Even if there is some doubt about the Exodus from Egypt as described in the Books of Moses, or the Conquest of Canaan as described in the Book of Joshua, it is reasonable to assume that they were tribes that came in from the desert and infiltrated between the fortified Canaanite towns, which they could not conquer, as indeed described in Judges 1.
The Zionists, on the other hand, were of the first category. They brought with them the world-view of a bridgehead, a vanguard of Europe. This world-view gave birth to the Wall as a national symbol. It has to be changed entirely.
ONE OF our national peculiarities is a form of discussion where all the participants, whether from the Left or from the Right, use the clinching argument: ‘If we don’t do this and this, the state will cease to exist!’ Can one imagine such an argument in France, Britain or the USA?
This is a symptom of ‘Crusader’ anxiety. Even though the Crusaders stayed in this country for almost 200 years and produced eight generations of ‘natives’, they were never really sure of their continued existence here.
I am not worried about the existence of the State of Israel. It will exist as long as states exist. The question is: What kind of state will it be?
A state of permanent war, the terror of its neighbors, where violence pervades all spheres of life, where the rich flourish and the poor live in misery; a state that will be deserted by the best of its children?
Or a state that lives in peace with its neighbors, to their mutual benefit; a modern society with equal rights for all its citizens and without poverty; a state that invests its resources in science and culture, industry and the environment; where future generations will want to live; a source of pride for all its citizens?
That can be our objective for the next 60 years”.
Dion Nissenbaum posted this photo on his blog, Checkpoint Jerusalem, today:
(See our posting on 5 December here mentioning this particular graffiti comment– CTRL + ALT + DELETE — just on the Ramallah side of the Qalandia checkpoint.)
Because the woman and the child are in the foreground, the photo is a bit foreshortened. You could get the impression that The Wall here is short — but it’s not. It’s about 30 to 50 meters away, elevated up on a little hill — and it’s massive.
Dion titled his posting: “Sometimes a wall is really a wall…” And he wrote: “As pretty much anyone taking the time to read this blog well knows, language is one of the main battlegrounds in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … I thought about this tonight when I was checking out this story in Haaretz about graffiti artists who spray-painted a falafel recipe on the side of Israel’s concrete wall near Ramallah. The lead for the story reads: ‘For the rest of the recipe, turn over the wall’, reads a falafel recipe spray-painted on Israel’s imposing West Bank separation fence Tuesday, in a lighthearted but serious protest against the hardships it causes Palestinians’. Separation fence? It is entirely true that the vast majority of this controversial project is made up of high-tech fencing and that only about 5 to 10 percent is made up of sections of the 25-foot-tall concrete slabs. (Though the fence is relegated to largely rural areas while the wall encloses the major Palestinian population centers along the Green Line…) That is why, after much debate, many journalists refer to the network of walls and fences, somewhat obliquely, as the ‘separation barrier’. Pro-Palestinian activists derided it as the ‘Apartheid Wall’. Hard-line Israelis often opt for ‘security fence’. But, in this particular case, this isn’t Tom Sawyer and his friends painting picket fences; it is artists painting on towering concrete slabs. Look up just about any definition of ‘fence’ and it will say something like ‘a barrier enclosing or bordering a field, yard, etc., usually made of posts and wire or wood, used to prevent entrance’. In this case, it is really more accurate to call it a wall”… Dion’s blog is here.
This structure it is so imposing that whenever I see it, it hits me right in the solar plexis, and knocks the breath out of me. For this reason, the policy of this blog is to call it The Wall.
This is the message that was painted in large square bright blue paint on The Wall just beside the concrete guard tower at Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem – the main checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel: CTRl + ALT + DELETE.
Would that it were so easy.
An Israeli friend explained the other day that The Wall is actually a barrier between Israel and the third intifada, which he believes is coming. His only problem is that he believes The Wall should be built not on Palestinian land but only on the Green Line – the line crossed by the Israeli military in the June 1967 war, when they occupied the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip — as well as the Golan Heights.
Meanwhile new Wall art has appeared in Bethlehem:
McClatchy newspapers’ Dion Nissenbaum covered this development in his blog, Checkpoint Jerusalem, yesterday. He wrote: “Welcome to Santa’s Ghetto, a new artistic/political collaboration led by the celebrated/infamous/mysterious British artist known as Banksy.
In what is probably the biggest artistic assault ever on Israel’s separation barrier, Banksy organized a team of artists this Christmas season to transform parts of the towering concrete walls — and the surrounding walls of Bethlehem — into powerful political statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…”
Dion’s post continues: “Banksy first came to the Middle East two years ago to put his imprint on the wall … This year, Banksy returned with an artistic posse and decided to bring Santa’s Ghetto to Bethlehem as a way to highlight the political situation…”
Dion reports, on his blog, that “Banksy and the other artists have set up a temporary art space in an abandoned shop on Bethlehem’s Manger Square, right across from the Church of the Nativity where tradition says Christ was born … Banksy’s artistic initiative has helped spark an interesting debate about art on Israel’s wall. There are some local artists, including Mansour, who feel that painters should not use the wall as a canvas. Some feel that artists shouldn’t do anything to transform an ugly and divisive wall into something beautiful. Others think that artists will, in some small way, want to keep the wall standing once they have put their artistic stamp on it. Those that do use the wall for their art see it as an opportunity to draw attention to the political conflict … If Banksy was there to witness the reactions, few knew: As always, Banksy remains an enigmatic figure who conceals his true identity”. Dion Nissenbaum’s blog post on new murals painted on The Wall in Bethlehem was published yesterday here.
Today, the Bethlehem-based Palestinian news agency Ma’an covered the story, reporting that “Six new murals by the illusive English graffiti artist known as Banksy have appeared on the separation wall around Bethlehem in the past few days”. Ma’an added that “Banksey” had “moved on to the Palestinian territories in 2005 using the Israeli separation wall as a canvas for nine politically-motivated pieces. His murals reflect Palestinian isolation and the hardships endured under Israeli occupation. He uses his talent to mock Israeli soldiers, depicting them as even inspecting the donkeys at the Israeli checkpoints in the Palestinian territories. Palestinian reaction towards Bansky’s graffiti is mixed, varying between anger and applause. Some Palestinians consider his drawing of an Israeli soldier inspecting a donkey’s identity card to be humiliating to the Palestinian people. Others see it as representing the truth, saying Israeli soldiers treat Palestinians like animals…
The Ma’an report continues: “Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of Bethlehem residents who turned out to see Banksy’s latest art work particularly loved the mural of the little Palestinian girl searching an Israeli soldier”. The Ma’an report is posted here.
This photo from the Santa’s Ghetto website — Actually, I think the little girl doesn’t really look Palestinian — but rather more like a character in a children’s story … like Dorothy from Oz.]
The Guardian newspaper reported about Banksy being back in Bethlehem in an article written from London on Monday. According to The Guardian, the new artwork on The Wall is a “publicity stunt” designed to help increase tourism in Bethlehem as Christmas approaches: “Guerrilla Artist” Banksy has returned to the Holy Land, with his trademark stencils and spray paints, in an effort to revive the tourist industry and stir interest in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis … Banksy, who has successfully outfoxed the art world over his identity, has ‘tagged’ the 436-mile West Bank wall before. In 2005, he stencilled nine scenes of life beyond the concrete wall, sparking a craze for international graffiti artists to leave their mark on the eight metre-high concrete barrier and winning plaudits from human rights campaigners for his satirical attack on the wall, which borders large sections of the occupied territories. His latest publicity stunt is timed to coincide with today’s opening of an exhibition of his work, and that of other artists, in the city which aims to bring tourists back to Bethlehem over the Christmas period. Banksy said: ‘Because of the troubles Bethlehem is no longer a top tourist destination, but it would be good if more people came to see the situation for themselves … If it is safe enough for a bunch of sissy artists, then it is safe enough for anyone’. Visitors will be able to buy original Banksy works at his Santa’s Ghetto exhibition in the city until Christmas Eve”. The report in The Guardian can be read here.
There have been a number of critiques of the Palestinian negotiating team for not mentioning, for example, The Wall. In a recent conversation about the lack of Palestinian initiative on the subject with Palestinian Authority officials in Bethlehem, I was informed that Palestinians believe this is a matter that the international community should tackle. [But the international community has decided that its conscience has been soothed by long, slow efforts to open a Register of Damages caused by The Wall — and the Registry is helpfully based at the UN Office in Vienna…]
The Times of London, meanwhile, calls Banksy “the best-known British urban artist”, and has reported that “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are among his growing array of fans, after reportedly spending more than £1 million on his works at a sale at Lazarides gallery in Soho this year”. This Times report can be read here.
The Santa’s Ghetto website says, here, that the point is simply this: “Bethlehem is one of the most contentious places on earth. Perched at the edge of the Judaen desert at the intersection of Europe, Asia and Africa in the state of Palestine [n.b. — state? Not quite yet...], it was governed by the British following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. After World War II the United Nations voted to partition the region into two states – one Jewish, one Arab and there’s been fighting ever since. It’s obviously not the job of a loose collection of idiot doodlers to tell you what’s right or wrong about this situation, so you’re advised to do further reading yourself (this month’s National Geographic has an excellent article all about Bethlehem). We would like to make it very clear Santa’s Ghetto is not allied to ANY race, creed, religion, political organization or lobby group. As an organisation the only thing we’ll say on behalf of our artists is that we don’t speak on behalf of our artists. This show simply offers the ink-stained hand of friendship to ordinary people in an extraordinary situation“.