The Dialogue of Death:
When a “Fence” is a Wall and “Security” is Apartheid

[Published in The Issue, McGill Law School Review, vol. 3, avril 2004.]

Construction of the “security fence” began in June 2002 to the west of Jenin near the village of Salem.  This “fence” was designed and constructed with the aim of preventing suicide bombers entering Israel.  Or so says the Israeli government on its website (http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/fence.html) where an animated presentation begins with the question: “Why does Israel need a security fence?”.  Consequently, we are given the official reasons as in large bold letters appear the words ominously stating:  “It’s a 15 minute walk between the Palestinian city of Qalqilya and the Israeli city of Kfar Saba”.  These words hover above, the number “15” appearing in large, bold red print,  as the viewer is shown the cartoon image below of a suicide bomber walking west from the brown town of Qalqilya to the blue town of Kfar Saba.  An explosion occurs a moment after the bomber disappears into Kfar Saba.   Then we are quickly shown the only “real” image, a photo of a bombed bus, followed by yet another animated map of the Israeli-Palestinian border with the words “Fifteen minute walk:   four terrorist attacks,  five killed”.  Statistics for the suicide bombings are given for the nearby towns of Rosh Ha’ayin, Petah Tikva, Eyal Junction.   The focus then shifts further north  on the map where we are shown the “dangerously close” distance between Metzer, Afula  and Megido to the pre 1967 Israeli-Palestinian border.    The words appear:  “When death is only minutes away…how can it be stopped?  The security fence — saving lives must come first.”  And then we are shown a very clear image of a fence along the bottom of the map.  Or, this image is what most every person would call a “fence”, to include the Merriam-Webster dictionary (“a barrier intended to prevent escape or intrusion or to mark a boundary; especially: such a barrier made of posts and wire or boards”) and the Cambridge Dictionary (“a structure which divides two areas of land, similar to a wall but made of wood or wire and supported with posts”).   But this image of the fence we are shown online is nothing like the “fence” that Palestinians have come to know.

As this virtual animation of the “separation fence” is clearly a public relations tool which the Israeli government utilizes to defend its implementation of the “separation fence”, I would argue that this animation also quite unintentionally lays bare the very ideological framework for Apartheid exercised by Israel today.  For this animation shows the contradictory spaces where language remains hollow, impotent, against a quite consciously unreal, cartoonish “other”.   In short, very little represented on this official website is actually true—either in text or in picture—and this official state animation demonstrates that anything can be misrepresented as long as quite unreal images accompany the equally perfidious language.  Just as the “separation fence” is shown to be a flimsy, innocuous wire barrier, the words “separation fence” go written without quotation marks.  This state presentation of the wire “fence” almost makes it seem that the Israeli government is merely adding an aesthetic touch to the border while also protecting Israelis from harm as the presentation remains void of any one single image of Palestinians that is not charicatured, that is not a cartoon.  Hence, the Palestinian is ipso facto that dark image we see that runs about about the West Bank with a bomb and Kaffiyeh, planning to kill the Israeli.  As this cartoonized legitimation of the  “fence” functions  to foment a fear of the Palestinian as terrorist, it likewise dehumanizes the Palestinian who is never real, never victimized, and of course, never murdered.   Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the only real image we are shown is that of a photograph of a bombed-out Israeli bus whereby Israeli subjectivity is the only thing represented with any sort of verisimilitude and humanity.

This “separation fence”  is a structure which measures  over 650 kilometers, potentially annexing almost 50% of the West Bank and destroying dozens of communities living along the wall’s path.  The “fence” is one of two structures—and sometimes both conterminously:  an 8-meter high division made of concrete with the occassional armed watchtower and/or a division composed of razor wire and/or electrical fencing surrounded by trenches, surveillance cameras and trace paths (to detect footprints).  The former division might actually correspond to the word “wall” given that the Berlin Wall was actually 3.6 meteres and the Warsaw Ghetto  wall, 10 feet.   Given that Palestinians are restricted  from travel to and from work, hospitals, schools and even family, we might be able to use the word wall to describe if not an ontological reality at every meter, then certainly a quotidien existence of immobility, isolation and physical imprisonment.  Moroever, as of October 2003, over 11,000 Palestinians need special permits to live in their homes because they live in what is called a “seam area”, the zone between the Wall and the Green Line.  (Israelis and foreigners can freely move about with no such permit.)  And the Wall has amassed major ghettos, such as that of  Qalqiliya, that brown cartoonish city the Israeli government shows us, which is sourrounded almost entirely by the Wall with over 50% of its farmland being trapped on the other side.   That the Wall has caused Qalqiliya and neighboring Tulkarem to be cut off from approximately thirty neighboring wells not to mention that the wall dispossess these towns from the Western Aquifer, the second major source of water in the West Bank after the  Jordan River.  These are just a few of the facts notably absent from the Israeli government’s website.

The official discourse of the “security fence”  demands that the language of “terror prevention” be scrutinized as a potential rationale for repression and state-sponsored  Apartheid.   For just as the Israeli government postulates a “fence” for a Wall, “security” for Apartheid and “saving lives” as the starvation and thirst of thousands of Palestinians, we must ask where the dialogue of violence will stop.  Perhaps it is not surprising that the first woman suicide bomber (Wafa Idriss, January 27, 2002) was a Red Crescent paramedic who daily witnessed death at the Wall’s precursor, the checkpoints.  In an interview in June, 2003, Wafa Idriss’ mother explained her daughter’s actions to me: “Wafa was tired of the suffering and dying she saw every day in her work and she wanted to prevent more death.”  Indeed, I imagine many young suicide bombers ask themselves the very question that the Israeli government posits on its website:   “When death is only minutes away…how can it be stopped?”