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Debray on the West Bank Wall


Last year outgoing French President Jacques Chirac asked the noted French philosopher and writer Régis Debray to take a look at what was transpiring on the West Bank and issue a report. Debray’s comments were published recently in Le Monde diplomatique. They mark an interesting development on the basic themes of Álvaro de Soto’s earlier report. Here’s a quick take:

It is clear from developments on the ground that:

  • the purpose of the security wall is not, as is believed, to trace a border that, however illegal (since it encloses over 10% of the West Bank), will at least serve as the dotted line for a future international frontier;

  • it is true (as Ehud Omert said on Israeli army radio on 20 March 2006) that Israel’s strategic border lies on the Jordan: the whole valley has been declared a forbidden area and the intervening area has been nibbled away (cross-river transit is only possible at certain points);

  • the new east-west bypass roads built at the expense of the old north-south axis clearly chart a territory in the process of annexation, with space for three or four Arab bantustans (Jenin, Ramallah and Jericho). The exhaustion of natural resources in these overcrowded enclaves will eventually lead to massive emigration (much of the elite, especially Christian, has already left); and

  • with the construction of the separation wall, the ongoing judaisation of East Jerusalem and reconfiguration of the Jerusalem municipality, the UN’s repeated but purely formal condemnations have no effect on Israel’s grip on the whole city.

There is a huge gap between what is said because we want to hear it (local withdrawals, easing of travel restrictions, removal of one checkpoint out of 20, a change of tone) and what is being done on the ground, which we don’t want to see (interlinking of settlements, construction of bridges and tunnels, encirclement of Palestinian towns, expropriation of land, destruction of houses). Some would describe that gap as duplicity, others as ambiguity. The gradual encroachment happens out of sight of the cameras, without causing a stir and without an explicit colonial diktat. Nobody makes a formal complaint, even supposing they can find out what’s going on – difficult if you haven’t grown up locally. Israeli maps and school textbooks refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria and, following the Knesset’s recent rejection of a proposal from a Labour education minister, obliteration of the 1967 green line is now a legal fait accompli.

Debray has harsh words for the Europeans, who are, he says, ignoring the plain facts and salving their conscience with petty and ineffective humanitarian aide. And as for the Americans: “The thinking of the Americans owes more to the Old Testament than the New; their link with Israel is a parent-child relationship beyond criticism. This shared illusion of self-protection results from the coincidence of opposing interests.”

Is someone going to stand up for the Old Testament here? I consider his comparison of the Bush Administration’s West Bank policies to the Old Testament a definite slur against the good book.

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