The Wall, 10 years on: part 10 / My encounters with the wall in space

After a long run-down of the wall’s history and effects, and as the series nears its end, I wish to share a collection of thoughts and notes on the aesthetics of the barrier and on the way it fits into the Israeli and Palestinian landscapes, all gathered while wandering along its route.

The Wall: 10 years on (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Project photography: Oren Ziv / Activestills

With all due respect to this seemingly omniscient software giant, there are some things that Google simply doesn’t tell you about the world. A few months back, I was leaving a demonstration in the West Bank, planning to travel home to Tel Aviv after dropping off a friend on one of the main settler highways – Route 5. Although I knew more or less how to get there, I agreed to be guided by Google Maps on her smartphone.

The first thing Google didn’t tell us about was the differences between three types of roads which all looked the same on the map. On the ground, however, you have your settler roads, extremely well maintained, then your roads leading only to Palestinian villages, filled with holes and bumps, and then Palestinian roads sponsored by the EU, the Japanese government or USAID – new, well kept, lacking the safety barriers and street lights of the settler roads, but otherwise quite a treat. Were it not for the sponsorship signs with the funding states’ flags on them scattered along the roads, one could easily forget the troubles of occupation, and the extent to which the Palestinian Authority and people (and thus the occupation as well) are completely dependent on foreign funds to survive.

One other thing you couldn’t see on the map was the separation between these roads, which had us traveling on a Palestinian USAID-funded road overlooking the parallel and detached settler road. At one junction with a deserted checkpoint, the signs encouraged us to take a right for Route 5, declaring that going straight is illegal for Israelis. “The map says that if we just go straight we’ll be at the road in no time, while taking a right would just be a detour,” said my friend, and, somewhat unconvinced, I drove onward. Five minutes later we reached Route 5, only to find that it had been cut off from this Palestinian road by fences, and that the road only leads us under the settler highway.

Israel's central toll highway, road 6, and a mount of earth hiding the Tul Karem wall (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
Israel’s central toll highway, road 6, and a mount of earth hiding the Tul Karem wall (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

“Well, if we stick to this road it’ll eventually take us into a settlement, which in turn will get us back to Route 5,” she said. One road connecting both a village and a settlement? Unlikely, I thought, so we made a bet and followed the map to the road’s abrupt end, where a massive wall cut it off. It was the wall between Mes’ha and Elkana, exactly where Israeli activist Gil Na’amati was shot by the IDF nine years ago. We parked the car, gazing in awe and dread once more at the concrete monster, and eventually turned back. After dropping her off I easily crossed the checkpoint back into Israel. It was the same one described in the first chapter of this series, and once again it felt invisible to me, like the nearby wall in Mes’ha is invisible to the Israeli eyes, and invisible to Google Maps.

[More on the wall’s invisibility can be found in the +972 podcast in which Yuval Ben Ami and I discussed Israel’s borders]

Decorating and hiding the wall

Although most Israelis most likely not only support the wall but also support its current invasive route, it seems that the barrier’s planners felt it necessary to hide it from them, or at least to make it as pleasant to the eye as possible. Along Route 60, for example, in the section between the tunnel checkpoint and the village of El-Khader, the wall looks almost friendly. It is only three meters high, and instead of naked concrete, drivers enjoy a view of bright colored stones in white and pink. On the other side, facing Bethlehem, the wall is taller, thanks to the cliff it was built on, and is as grey and miserable as it is anywhere else.

The other side of the Tul Karem wall. No attempts to hide the brutality of it (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
The other side of the Tul Karem wall. No attempts to hide the brutality of it (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Just before entering Jerusalem from the northeast, the wall creates a corridor on both sides of Route 443. Here, paintings have been drawn on the concrete slabs, showing delicate arches and a “view” of green and plain hills with a blue sky and no sign of the villages and towns that are actually on the other side – where of course there are no parallel paintings.

The most interesting encounter between Israelis and the wall takes place daily on Israel’s only toll highway, Route 6, where the wall (and the Green Line) touch the road twice: near Qalqilia and near Tul Karem (see the pictures above). Near the former, a row of eucalyptus trees has been planted, diverting the eye from the concrete behind the trees, while near the latter, a huge mound of earth has been raised and shrubs planted – hiding the wall completely from passing drivers’ eyes.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Tul Karem border, no one tries to hide the eight-meter-high wall, surrounding recycling plants, a cemetery for water boilers, mounds of construction waste, and several ill-looking stray dogs. This is the “Nitzaney Shalom” industrial zone, one of several “economic peace” compounds, where hard laboring Palestinians are cramped together in order to work hard for little money, and handle Israeli garbage – all hidden and tucked away by concrete from Israeli view.

Graffiti in Bethlehem (Anne Paq / Activestills)
Graffiti in Bethlehem (Anne Paq / Activestills)

Of course, attempts also take place on the Palestinian side to make the wall easier on the eye. Here, initiative is not taken by Israel, which at one point even considered covering it with special anti-graffiti paint, but rather by Palestinian, Israeli and international artists including as Banksy, a collection of whose wall art can be found here. In the same site, it is also mentioned that an old Palestinian man told the famous street artist that making the wall look better is wrong – as it should really be taken down.

Why exactly was it so important for the planners of the wall to hide it from view or decorate for a public that supports it wholeheartedly? This is one question I will leave open for readers to answer.

Construction site

And then there are those places where the wall has not yet been built, or where initial construction has started and stopped. The unbuilt wall is, naturally, even more invisible to Israeli eyes than the constructed wall, but for Palestinians – who know exactly where it is supposed to run through and how it will effect their lives – it often feels like a ghost wall, a wall that is never there except in the potential of its future appearance in might and concrete and steel.

Only in the village of Walajah does construction take place these days, while everywhere else gaps in the barrier are left unattended. Occasional visits to the village show the wall’s progression, slab by slab, and serve as a strong realization of the actual meaning of tearing trees, roads, houses and people apart. With every visit, one can see the wall taking another small step towards surrounding the village entirely, simply cutting it out of the land around it. The understanding of this is quite horrid.

The wall in Walajah and I (Haggai Matar)
The wall in Walajah and me (Haggai Matar)

But does all this – the wall, the fence, the construction, the gaps, the uprooting of trees, the denial of income sources, the scarring of the landscape, the maltreatment of laborers and all other effects mentioned in this series – does all this actually help achieve the wall’s stated goal of offering Israelis security? The answers to that question will be discussed in the next chapter.


Previous chapters in this series:

Part 1: The great Israeli project
Part 2: Wall and Peace
Part 3: An acre here and an acre there
Part 4: Trapped on the wrong side
Part 5: A new way of resistance
Part 6: What has the struggle achieved?
Part 7: A village turned prison
Part 8: A working class under siege

Part 9:  Dividing land – water, fauna, flora


Part 11: Security for Israel?