Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

A Wall of Silence

Posted by Andy Hockley on 9 April, 2003

A wall is being built around Palestine. An eight-foot high steel barricade encircling the West Bank, with an accompanying patrol road. Of course this wall is not actually on the recognized (pre-1967) border between Israel and Palestine, but within Palestine itself. Even as it walls off the people, Israel cannot resist yet another opportunity to plunder more of this land.

As a passenger driving from Jerusalem north to Afula and my local checkpoint, I looked out at this monstrous wall, encircling the cities of Qalqilya and Tulkarem, a grotesque protrusion on the landscape, hiding Palestine from sensitive Israeli eyes, and from the prying eyes of the world. One only wonders how long it will be before brave Israeli and foreign tourists are led on safari behind this wall, while being warned not to feed the Palestinians.

At Jalame, the checkpoint, I was met with the usual incredulity and reluctance – why did I want to go in there? Didn’t I know it was dangerous? They checked my suitcases and let me pass, shaking their heads at my insanity. It was a hot day, and my taxi home was forced to wait half a mile down the road. I struggled to stay upright, heavily laden and sweat dripping into my eyes. Towards the end of this walk through what is effectively no-mans land (or, synonymously, Palestinian-mans land) I reached the scar in the landscape that marks construction on this section of the wall. Approximately 500 metres from the checkpoint, and right through the middle of a field. Pausing in my throbbing-hot walk I asked the construction worker who was sitting at the roadside taking a cigarette break, what he was doing.

“Building a wall”.
“But why here, exactly,” I enquired, “and not there?” I pointed back up to the checkpoint.
“This is Israel,” he pointed to his feet, “and that is Palestine.” he gestured down the road, baffled at my question.
“This is one field, though. This road and wall is going through the middle of one field.”
“Yes, this is Israel, that Palestine”.
“So the Israeli farmer and the Palestinian farmer share this field, planting the same crop in the same rows?”
He hesitated, uncertain of how to continue this clearly ridiculous charade. Behind him in the field, an armed guard had stirred, and was walking towards us. “This is Israel and that is Palestine”, he stated with finality, making it clear that this conversation, such as it was, was over.

In the town of Jalame, before heading off the few miles to the University where I work, we were first obliged to stop off at a student’s house and drink tea and juice. Ziad, our taxi driver entertained us with the story of repairing his car in Nablus. He had been near Nablus when his car had begun to make some ugly and fatal sounding noises. Thinking that he wouldn’t be able to get back to Jenin before the engine gave up the ghost, he instead headed for Nablus to get it repaired. As with most cities in Occupied Palestine, Nablus is effectively shut off from the countryside around it. Roads are closed, and in some cases dug up. Within the wall, the country has been divided up into increasingly small pieces of territory, travel between each being at the whim of the Israeli army. Unable to drive his ailing car into Nablus, Ziad was forced to stop at the base of a hill. The local population would leave their vehicles here and hike up and over the hill to the other side where they could be picked up and driven into the city. Clearly this was not an option in this case, so instead, he was forced to remove the engine from his car, and strap it to a donkey. The image of the donkey carting this engine up and over a hill to the mechanic had a blackly comic element to it, yet another oddly humorous story of living life through the occupation. A tragic and blackly comic farce.

After drinking our coffee, our tea, our juice and our water, a never ending supply of beverages, each successive drink appearing as we supped from the bottom half of our glasses, we headed back onto the road to Zababdeh, our home. We had heard that the village, a small, predominantly Christian community, had been closed and put under curfew. It seemed beyond bizarre that sleepy Zababdeh would be placed in such a situation, but then the actions of the Israeli army are rarely rational and compassionate. Along rutted farm tracks we drove, avoiding the primary roads which have been reserved for the illegal Israeli settlers. On one corner a car stopped and waved down our taxi. A heavily pregnant woman and her husband emerged and asked if our driver could take them to Jenin, as she needed medical attention and wanted to get to the hospital before her waters broke and urgency became emergency. Ziad agreed, although warned that he couldn’t drive all the way to Jenin as the roads were closed. He took us down another heavily potholed farm track until we reached the impromptu cul-de-sac so familiar in the West Bank. From here the couple needed to walk another half a mile, before they could pick up another vehicle. As we drove off I looked back to see her picking her way over a mud bank, leaning on her husband for support and assistance.

We turned and headed back towards Zababdeh, experiencing no more major problems or incidents on the way. The town was still closed, but the University campus was outside the line of curfew. As yet, soldiers have not been onto the campus, but I can only imagine it remains a matter of time. While the world watches Iraq and the Middle East correspondents remain embedded with the US Military, the Israeli government is stepping up its incursions into the lives of the Palestinians. Symbolically, the wall is supposed to make the Israeli civilian population feel more secure. For the Palestinians the symbolism is equally unmistakable – behind such a barrier, the already grotesque level of brutality can be stepped up, unseen by the eyes of the world.

(Published in The Morning Star)

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