Abu Dis – the Separation Wall – a sculpture of our times.
by The People's Cries
The Separation Wall in Palestine:
1). As a physical presence:
For a visit to Palestine in April, organised by Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association, we were based in Abu Dis, once an outlying suburb of Jerusalem, now itself divided by the Wall and the main part cut off from Jerusalem by the Wall, and thus cut off from basic services such as hospitals, educational institutions and cultural centres. Thus it is a really appropriate place to see the Separation Wall and to appreciate its effects.
The Separation wall in Abu Dis from the viewpoint of a demolished house. Beyond the wall, on the horizon – near to the protection of the Israeli army camp that is this side the wall under the radio mast and dominating Abu Dis – is a US settler’s house near the Wall. In what was once a farm house – the white building in a clump of small trees – an Arab family manages without water and electricity, but so far prevents by their presence and ownership of the land the planned building of a planned much larger Israeli settlement.
2 To get into East Jerusalem from Abu Dis took us about an hour and a half, including half an hour or so waiting at a checkpoint which was like an airport security system but much darker, more dirty, and more intimidating. It used to take 20 minutes, and it still does take that time for the settlers who live in the sprawling settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which is actually further to the east.
Looking back through the checkpoint for pedestrians between Abu Dis and East Jerusalem.
Huge height of the wall in the towns is like a prison wall, totally blocking out the people and the scene on the other side, so that their oppression and immiseration is out of sight and out of mind, and at the same time it is an extension of imprisonment into the West Bank communities
Wall cutting across Abu Dis
The main road of the town is blocked by the Wall in the town at the Jerusalem end and you have to turn down a side street.
2). The Wall, settlements, and militarism as an integrated system of domination:
The Apartheid Wall extends for 810 km and cost $1.3 billion. Far from tracing a route, like Offa’s dyke or Hadrian’s wall, to enhance the defensive possibilities of a border, the Wall meanders to capture the best land, and to create a system of security for numerous settlements, which are located throughout the West Bank in the areas that are under Israeli military control. Indeed the settlements, and the fences that surround them, and the settlers roaming the countryside with their automatic weapons, the drones that carry out surveillance overhead, the watchtowers, and the vast array of weaponry that is at the disposal of the Israeli army can really be seen as parts of the same system.
As we travelled to Ramallah, to Jericho, to Bethlehem and to Hebron, we sometimes lost sight of the huge scar across the landscape made by the Wall,
The Separation Wall to the East of East Jerusalem.
……. but we scarcely ever lost sight of the settlements, which are deliberately placed strategically on high ground to dominate the landscape and thus to express entitlement to the landscape as a whole.
We visited three Bedouin villages where people live who have already been displaced northwards from the Negev area in 1948 and subsequently after 1967 they have had their freedom to move around progressively curtailed, though they still try to cling to their way of life that involves grazing animals on open land. These villages have been thrust into the forefront of the struggle against the encirclement of East Jerusalem with a ring of settlements; though they are on land which actually belongs to the wealthier inhabitants of nearby towns such as Abu Dis, it is land designated as under Israeli military control, so they have been subjected to frequent demolition of their homes, and their schools, destruction of their wells, with prevention of adequate road access and deprivation of electricity.
Al Khan al Ahmar school – still standing after last year’s desperate campaign and international outcry, but still under threat of demolition.
Jabel Al Baba view over to settlement.
Settlement of Ma’ale Adumim seen from many-times demolished Bedouin village of Jabal al-Baba
Settlement over Wadi Abu Hindi village, from which diverted sewage has been poured at times, and – when a marquee was set up for a wedding – burning tyres.
The settlements have access restricted to Israelis except for Arab workers with special short-term passes, and they have their own interconnecting roads and routes to Jerusalem that non-Israeli vehicles cannot use. Where such an Israeli-only road meets a main road connecting West Bank cities, the settler road always seemed to have priority, so that the Palestinians had to queue again and again to give way according to a racial logic of inferiority.
Picture of array of passes from Walled-Off hotel exhibition
70% of the land area of the West Bank is controlled fully by the Israeli army, so that the cities and towns where there is nominally Palestinian control are like isolated enclaves, surrounded by some villages where there is nominally joint control, in a kind of no-man’s land that is also subjected by Israeli military incursions and surveillance, and itself surrounded by hostile settlements.
We came closest to an Israeli settlement beside the small enclaves of mostly American extremist settlers in the middle of Hebron, where there are almost daily settler attacks on the indigenous population, with army house searches, arrests and tear gas.
Steps lead up to a house broken into that morning in Hebron.
Children going through a gate in Hebron into the guarded settlement area where some Palestinian Arabs still have their homes, here a child was killed last year who did not understand instructions shouted in Hebrew.
Young woman hand on gate in Hebron.
Hebron access gate in the ruined market area near Shuhada Street.
The system includes the isolation, with their limited and separate citizenship, of the Arab population of East Jerusalem who in the effort to constantly increase the Jewish proportion of the city’s population are subjected to severe restrictions as to marriage, obstruction of relationships with people from the West Bank, travel restrictions, and difficulty and legal expenses trying to register the existence of their children so they can get schooling and health care. They face the constant threat of confiscation of their homes, with expensive litigation the only uncertain route to getting their home back once they have been evicted by settlers. Others who have built or extended their homes without the building permits that are impossible for Arab applicants to obtain, face the constant threat of their home being demolished, or even of being forced to demolish their own homes rather than having to pay the inflated costs imposed when the Israeli army do it. Where homes are taken over, the militant settlers who occupy them regularly throw acids, rocks, or excrement down at their neighbours.
Courtyard with objects on the roof picture
Doorway into shared courtyard where a child’s arm was burned with acid thrown by a settler youth living above.
Israeli flags on house in Via Dolorosa in the heart of the Arab quarter of the Old City
House demolitions – Walled-Off exhibit photo – if you had thirty minutes before your home was demolished, what would you save?
The system includes the high walls and barbed wire of some 19 Israeli prisons and interrogation centres, most of them in Israel itself, in which Palestinians from the West Bank are held after being arrested, a process which usually takes place at about 2 a.m. to maximise the intimidatory aspect of the “swarm” of army and police who carry out arrests, and the humiliation of the family who are woken from sleep to lose one of their members, without being told a reason nor a destination, nor whether they will be tried in military courts, or subject to administrative detention without charge. Conditions within the prisons are poor, and torture is so prevalent and taken for granted that the prisoners often do not even realise that they have been tortured.
Thanks to the system of the Wall and to the even more comprehensive domination of Gaza, Israel is increasingly becoming a producer and exporter of weapons systems, torture techniques and surveillance systems that supply militaristic regimes across the world. “People like to buy things that have been tested. Israel sells weapons that have been tested, tried out. It brings Israel billions of dollars.”
Finance minister statement 2013 exhibit at Walled-Off museum
And the arms industry has become a key part of the Israeli economy.
Ehud Barak statement on arms industry exhibit at Walled-Off museum.
3). As a symbol of abuse/military domination:
The wall in Abu Dis and Bethlehem on the West Bank side has art on it, but this use as a site of expression merely modifies slightly its own enormity as a sculpture, a physical representation of absolute entitlement, an entitlement based more obviously than the entitlements that we are familiar with in the UK, that of ex-Etonians for example, on brute military force. This sculpture reminds us that at the heart of capitalism is the absolute entitlement to land and property, and that entitlement’s proper expression is a Wall.
*** [art on wall at Bethlehem photo]
So what are the Entitlements manifest in the Separation Wall:
1) …..to racialise populations – to make them be Arab or Jew and for those socially constructed categories to be in a conflict to which all the other wealth of people’s identities and character is subordinate. Ironically this has involved entirely eliminating as a cultural group the Arab Jews who once, as in many other surrounding territories, formed a substantial proportion of the indigenous population and, in places like Hebron, for example, were anti-Zionists. It is a tribute to hegemonic power that most of the people we spoke to in the West Bank referred to themselves as Palestinians, and to their oppressors as Jews. It seemed easy to applaud the former identity as a manifestation of solidarity, and to accept, albeit with hesitation, the racist identification of a whole cultural group with settler-colonialism and domination, as an understandable reaction to oppression – the oppressor has to be named, after all, and with a simple formula. The tragedy of this naming of sides and the drive to identify with one side or the other is that this process, this racialisation, is itself a product of the violence that engendered the categories
2)…..to steal some of the best agricultural land at the edges of the West Bank.
3)…. to steal water and then severely ration it, particularly in the summer – two hours a week – whilst it is pumped freely to the settlements.
Water containers on the rooftops – the marker of a West Bank Arab community.
4)….. to cut off people from their employment or from the means of employment, and to create a subordinate workforce of people who are working in a territory that they are not entitled to be in, thus encouraging employers to exploit them even more ruthlessly. An estimated 1200 Palestinians are forced to cross the wall without papers every day, risking death or arrest.
Exhibit of one man’s account in Walled-Off Hotel.
5)…. to humiliate and bully people crossing checkpoints. To have checkpoints operative randomly, but also fixed checkpoints that are only staffed and used to delay and harass non-Israeli travellers at rush hours, undermining the claim that they are for security purposes.
6)…. to engender fear and anger in the dominated population, as often as possible and in as many ways as possible, and then to use the perception of this rage by the racialised dominant group to justify more violence and more oppression, as we’ve seen in the recent Israeli elections.
7)…to use unlimited and often murderous military force in the name of the State, whilst refusing to recognise the targeted population as citizens, even though they pay fines and they pay taxes and they pay extortionate utility bills, in fact they pay more towards their own domination than do the Jewish Israelis, especially the settlers who are often exempt from taxes and from utility bills.
Settlers with assault rifle in the countryside.
8.) ….to use economic levers, corruption, informers, criminals and the desire in a class system to cling to past privileges to try to create a collaborating class amongst the indigenous population.
Domination engenders RESISTANCE.
Not all bullying and domination leads to what we can recognise as resistance by the subaltern party – child victims of abuse, for example, may become perpetrators themselves or they may enter a long period of self-harming behaviour. In the West Bank, however, the inescapability of the racist domination to which people are subjected means that it really is a collective experience. Mimetic individualised reactions, such as those of the adolescents who try to stab a guard at a checkpoint with a knife or a pair of scissors – such children are nearly always killed immediately – are not stigmatised, they are seen as martyrs practicing resistance, albeit futile. Their sacrifice represents and enacts the whole community’s refusal of subordination through military force.
Naji Salim Hussain al-Ali, a Palestinian cartoonist, assassinated in London in 1987, created this figure of a ten-year old boy, Handhala, which has become an icon of Palestinian resistance.
In this context, just remaining alive, experiencing joy and love, is resistance, but what we were really privileged to experience as visitors was a remarkable hospitality extended towards us, a sample of what Abdulfattah Abusrour, director of the Alrowwad Centre in Aida refugee camp called “beautiful resistance”, which involves cultural performance, expression and communication in engendering solidarity.
Mural outside Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem. Layla and Majnun is a narrative poem composed in 584/1188 by the Persian poet Niẓāmi Ganjavi based on a story about the 7th century Bedouin poet Qays ibn Al-Mulawwah and the woman he loved Layla bint Mahdi, who was kept from marrying him by her father.
4). The Separation Wall and its system as export and as prophecy.
If the above list of entitlements has a familiar ring to it, here in London, once the capital of a system of imperialist domination, it is because they are the traditional entitlements of settler-colonialism.
We live in a historical phase when the class that owns the vast majority of the world’s wealth is internationalised through capital mobility; the brutal systems of direct accumulation by dispossession and enslavement in the periphery that always were a fundamental part of the system of industrial capitalism – but too little attended to in socialist theory – are returning, like a tide, from faraway continents into the old imperialist heartlands, just as they did in 1930’s Germany and Italy.
This Separation Wall in Palestine is a representation of what we, as socialists and internationalists, are up against all over the world, and of its modern methods of control in which Separation – i.e. racism – and militarism; the brutal irrationality of force, are key. It is a physical representation of the huge edifice of domination that we have to undermine without ourselves resorting to bullying, torture, political imprisonment, and military force, in the brief time we have left before they destroy the planet. What once was Palestine is an epicentre of strategies of domination, through techniques of racialisation, through the creation of different bands of citizenship with different levels of entitlement, through physical walls and systems of surveillance, through killings and detentions, that is being rolled out across the world to enable the system of gross inequality to survive and to develop as it engenders crisis after crisis.
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