From Civilian to Combatant // From Oppressed to Oppressor

March 10, 2011

Michael Sorkin’s Introduction to “Against the Wall: Israel’s Barrier to Peace” sets the historical and political context for the construction of the wall built by Israel to physically separate itself from Palestine. The text also positions itself as a plea to Ariel Sharon (then Prime Minister) to tear down the wall (Sorkin, pxxi).

In this article, Sorkin’ introduces the primary arguments cited by Sharon and Netanyahu in favour of the wall – that it was constructed as “a matter of security” (Sorkin, px1), that it is temporary, and that it is not built on Palestinian land – and sets up a series of convincing counter-arguments. As he notes: the serpentine path of the wall, weaving far beyond its legitimate territorial rights as defined by the 1948 Green Line undermines any claim of security being the primary motivator; the very concrete physicality of this 8m high, 760km long concrete “fence”, under construction since the early 1990s, eludes any definition of transience, and the contested nature of territorial rights renders any argument that denies or affirms the position of the wall on Palestinian land nonsense.

Sorkin is at pains to represent the life of Palestinians confined to the ‘wrong’ side of the wall as that of the oppressed: “restricted in movement, subject to a gauntlet of daily humiliations, surveilled around the clock, and locked in ghettoes” (Sorkin, pvii). Not content with its appropriation of sizeable quantities of disputed territory, Israel further compresses Palestinian space by exploiting areas over and under the Palestinian side of the wall with a series of overpasses and underpasses, as well as control of airspace and the subterranean aquifer (Sorkin, px).

The dreadful irony of this transition in the role of the Jewish people from that of the historically oppressed to that of the oppressor is not lost on Sorkin, who acknowledges that this “national project that was intended…to free Jews from the violence and humiliation of the ghetto has produced a political culture steeped in the practices of ghettoisation”. As Sorkin notes, Israel often laments the absence of a Palestianian of leader the calibre of Nelson Mendela, yet it would be to the benefit to both Israel and Palestine should their leaders adopt an attitude of compassion and forgiveness comparable to that exhibited by Mandela. That this would eventuate is unlikely; in the meantime all that one on the “wrong” side of the fence can hope for are small daily victories over oppression and for burgeoning international outrage.

_Marnie Morieson

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