February 23, 2004 NY Times
Noam Chomsky is professor at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and author "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest
for Global Dominance."
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. � It is a virtual reflex for governments to plead
security concerns when they undertake any controversial action, often
as a pretext for something else. Careful scrutiny is always in order.
Israel's so-called security fence, which is the subject of hearings
starting today at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, is a
case in point.
Few would question Israel's right to protect its citizens from
terrorist attacks like the one yesterday, even to build a security wall
if that were an appropriate means. It is also clear where such a wall
would be built if security were the guiding concern: inside Israel,
within the internationally recognized border, the Green Line
established after the 1948-49 war. The wall could then be as forbidding
as the authorities chose: patrolled by the army on both sides, heavily
mined, impenetrable. Such a wall would maximize security, and there
would be no international protest or violation of international law.
This observation is well understood. While Britain supports America's
opposition to the Hague hearings, its foreign minister, Jack Straw, has
written that the wall is "unlawful." Another ministry official, who
inspected the "security fence," said it should be on the Green Line or
"indeed on the Israeli side of the line." A British parliamentary
investigative commission also called for the wall to be built on
Israeli land, condemning the barrier as part of a "deliberate" Israeli
"strategy of bringing the population to heel."
What this wall is really doing is taking Palestinian lands. It is also
� as the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has described Israel's
war of "politicide" against the Palestinians � helping turn Palestinian
communities into dungeons, next to which the bantustans of South Africa
look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty and self-determination.
Even before construction of the barrier was under way, the United
Nations estimated that Israeli barriers, infrastructure projects and
settlements had created 50 disconnected Palestinian pockets in the West
Bank. As the design of the wall was coming into view, the World Bank
estimated that it might isolate 250,000 to 300,000 Palestinians, more
than 10 percent of the population, and that it might effectively annex
up to 10 percent of West Bank land. And when the government of Ariel
Sharon finally published its proposed map, it became clear the the wall
would cut the West Bank into 16 isolated enclaves, confined to just 42
percent of the West Bank land that Mr. Sharon had previously said could
be ceded to a Palestinian state.
The wall has already claimed some of the most fertile lands of the
West Bank. And, crucially, it extends Israel's control of critical
water resources, which Israel and its settlers can appropriate as they
choose, while the indigenous population often lacks water for drinking.
Palestinians in the seam between the wall and the Green Line will be
permitted to apply for the right to live in their own homes; Israelis
automatically have the right to use these lands. "Hiding behind
security rationales and the seemingly neutral bureaucratic language of
military orders is the gateway for expulsion," the Israeli journalist
Amira Hass wrote in the daily Haaretz. "Drop by drop, unseen, not so
many that it would be noticed internationally and shock public
opinion." The same is true of the regular killings, terror and daily
brutality and humiliation of the past 35 years of harsh occupation,
while land and resources have been taken for settlers enticed by ample
It also seems likely that Israel will transfer to the occupied West
Bank the 7,500 settlers it said this month it would remove from the
Gaza Strip. These Israelis now enjoy ample land and fresh water, while
one million Palestinians barely survive, their meager water supplies
virtually unusable. Gaza is a cage, and as the city of Rafah in the
south is systematically demolished, residents may be blocked from any
contact with Egypt and blockaded from the sea.
It is misleading to call these Israeli policies. They are
American-Israeli policies � made possible by unremitting United States
military, economic and diplomatic support of Israel. This has been true
since 1971 when, with American support, Israel rejected a full peace
offer from Egypt, preferring expansion to security. In 1976, the United
States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a two-state
settlement in accord with an overwhelming international consensus. The
two-state proposal has the support of a majority of Americans today,
and could be enacted immediately if Washington wanted to do so.
At most, the Hague hearings will end in an advisory ruling that the
wall is illegal. It will change nothing. Any real chance for a
political settlement � and for decent lives for the people of the
region � depends on the United States.
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