With construction beginning in 2003, the Israeli authorities erected the 8m concrete wall with incredible speed. It’s aim, they say, is to help stop Palestinian suicide bombings on Israeli soil. Since then, the number of attacks has declined by more than 90%.
However, the wall makes life for many Palestinians even more difficult. For a start, Palestinians cannot get through the checkpoints and onto the other side of the wall without a permit, and permits are very difficult to come by. If you have a job on the Israeli side, and you have kids, it can be easier, but your permit will still only last 3 months, meaning that people have to withstand constant questioning and bureaucracy in order to go about the simple business of getting to work.
What’s worse for many however is the fact that the wall separates them from family and friends. I met one woman – Sarah – who used to live next door to her aunt, but now the wall travels along what was once the fence between their homes. Sarah is now only able to get a permit to travel across the border to see her family-member once a year.
The wall also habitually separates Palestinians from their land. These olive groves have been split in two by the wall, with a substantial portion annexed into the Israeli side.
In this case, the diversion from the ‘Green Line‘ is due to the fact that Rachel’s tomb happens to be several hundred yards into the Palestinian territory. Rather than stick to these UN agreed boundries, Israeli authorities simply built the wall into Palestinian land, annexing the tomb and the olive groves around it. The farmers have not received compensation.
Aida refugee camp is just within the boundaries of the wall on the outskirts of Bethlehem. It homes around 5000 Palestinians, most descended from the original 800 or so that fled to the UN led camp in the 1948 “war of independence”.
All in all, around a million Palestinians fled their homes in what is now Israel, and most have resettled in the West Bank, where they now number at around 2 million.
Aida isn’t what you might imagine from a refugee camp. There are buildings, streets, schools and community centres holding theatre classes and dance workshops for kids.
One organisation in particular, Al Rowwad, does some amazing work teaching young people photography, theatre and journalism – it aims to help Palestinians tell their story to the world’s media.
Still, the walls are covered in bullet holes and barbed wire. Not sure anyone would choose to live here.
The wall has become a canvas for political graffiti, communicating messages of peace, anger, hope and despair. Banksy set the trend, coming out here a couple of times over the past few years, usually with a crew of 4-5 other graffiti artists
This one (above) is one of his. Some argue that this trend is a bad thing, as it somehow trivialises people’s traumas and injustices.
For others, it is an essential way means of protest for Palestinians; taking this symbol of oppression and, somehow, making it their own.
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities continue to build towns (‘settlements’) and roads on the Palestinian side of the wall.
Palestinians are not allowed to travel on many of the Israeli built roads or enter the settlements, which are most often populated with ultra-orthodox Jews from America and Eastern Europe who see this land as their own, as promised by Abraham in the Torah and captured by Israel in the 1967 ‘six day war’.
Settlements continue to be built at an incredible pace, despite pleas from the international community, including America, to freeze this activity in order to give the peace process a chance of success. It seems like a peculiar brand of craziness (not to mention a double injustice) to go to the trouble of building a mammoth barricade between these two peoples, only to continue colonising the land on the other side.