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Sharon’s lasting legacy: the West Bank separation barrier

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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is briefed on the route of Israel's separation barrier in 2005. (Photo: Moshe Milner/Israeli government press office via Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is briefed on the route of Israel’s separation barrier in 2005. (Photo: Moshe Milner/Israeli government press office via Getty Images)

Ariel Sharon was once opposed to the building of a separation barrier in the West Bank. The idea of constructing a physical wall to separate West Bank Palestinians from Israeli Jews had long percolated in Israeli political circles, but Sharon was fearful that a barrier would become a permanent border, scuttling his dream of a Greater Israel.

When Sharon was elected Prime Minister in 2001, amidst the bloody Second Intifada, he changed his tune.  One year later, he earned his nickname, “The Bulldozer,” by sending bulldozers to the West Bank to begin building the separation barrier, which was ruled illegal under international law in 2004 by the International Court of Justice.  Sharon may be gone now, but the apparatus of separation he is responsible for remains.

The decision to build the barrier was sold to the Israeli public and the world as a surefire way to prevent the suicide bombings rocking Israel.  But the route of the wall made clear that there were other important purposes that the barrier–consisting of a 25 foot high wall in some places along with fencing, trenches, thermal imaging and sniper towers–would fulfill. Sharon’s barrier snaked through the occupied West Bank, winding its way around some of the major settlement blocs Israel intended to annex eventually.  In one fell swoop, the separation barrier added to Israel’s matrix of control by staunching the flow of Palestinian movement between the West Bank and Israel, creating a de facto border Israel would never give up and bolstering the Jewish demographic majority the state is so obsessed with.

The demographic reasons for building the separation barrier usually go unremarked on, but it was a crucial part of why it was built. (Demographics were also a part of why Israel “disengaged” from Gaza; too many Palestinians, too little land.) As Rene Backmann points out in his book A Wall In Palestine, Sharon was encouraged to build the separation barrier by Arnon Sofer, the top Israeli expert on demography who has been warning about the perils of too many Palestinians in the territories Israel controls for decades.  After Sharon’s election in 2001, Sofer met with the new Prime Minister with his maps in hand. Sofer’s idea was that the West Bank should be divided into three cantons.  Israel should unilaterally redraw the border to include 80 percent of Israeli settlers, with a fence encircling the three Palestinian “sausages,” according to Sofer.  Two years after Sharon’s election, with the separation barrier’s construction in full swing, Sofer told Yedioth Ahronoth that the route of the barrier corresponds to his map.

The idea was to incorporate the Israeli Jews who live in the settlement blocs into Israel proper.  That would bolster Israel’s Jewish demographic majority, and allow it to hold on areas it sees as giving it strategic depth to counter armed attacks.  The settlement blocs also slice and dice up the West Bank, turning the landscape into a Swiss cheese block–Israel being the cheese, the holes being Palestinian areas in the West Bank, as the Alternative Information Centre’s Mikhael Warschawski put it.

Along the way, the separation barrier ran into problems:  some settlers were left outside the wall’s route and it sparked Palestinian resistance.  The barrier has also wreaked havoc on Palestinian lives, displacing families, cutting off farmers from their land and creating bizarre “seam zones” of Palestinian villages located on the Israeli side of the barrier.

Construction of the wall remains incomplete.  Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel, for instance, are two settlement blocs that have yet to be surrounded by the wall.

But bulldozers could easily be sent to those areas if Israel ever decides to sign a peace agreement, with the barrier as the border.  Indeed, that idea has become the prevailing sentiment among Israeli politicians.

Tzipi Livni, the official in charge of current negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, has repeatedly demanded that the barrier become the border.  She should thank Sharon for making that idea a very real possibility.

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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13 Responses

  1. bilal a
    bilal a
    January 15, 2014, 10:41 am

    The key to peace is to broaden the outreach of the secularists to evangelical Christians in the USA and Palestine. I look forward to Max giving a book talk on wht’s happening to Christians inside the West Bank and Israel proper.

    New Evangelical Movement Seeks Split From Pro-Israel Line

    Christ at the Checkpoint

  2. seafoid
    January 15, 2014, 10:43 am

    Sharon’s legacy is the Israeli education system where kids are brainwashed to believe TINA to brutality and eternal shooting and crying.
    His legacy is dead hasbara
    His legacy is the question mark that surrounds Israel and has far deeper foundations than the apartheid wall around East Jerusalem .

    Juan Cole has a great summary

    “Sharon was one of the founders of the modern state of Israel. But unlike the latter, which has been a site of creativity and technological innovation, Sharon was peculiarly unimaginative. He thought that bullying people and using sadism and arbitrariness against them would convince them to comply. He probably helped doom the whole enterprise of Israel; the one he helped create, a site of the forever war and imperial domination, is intrinsically unstable.”

    • ziusudra
      January 16, 2014, 3:25 am

      Greetings seafoid,
      …. a site of the forever war …..
      There’s not a singular precedence in history
      to support this undertaking, especially fighting
      on ones own Turf & being a puny vassal of the
      big brother empire.
      Thank you.
      PS Rome & the UK Empires let them all die & even
      helped in the undertaking.

  3. amigo
    January 15, 2014, 11:06 am

    “but Sharon was fearful that a barrier would become a permanent border, scuttling his dream of a Greater Israel.”

    Israel will get neither a Greater Israel or “The Jewish State” of any proportion.

    Sharon and his antics,along with others of his ilk put paid to that possibility.

    The Zionist project was always going to fail.It is a pity it ever was allowed to get past it,s gestation period.It is the “Runt ” of the pack.

    “1. Lit. the smallest animal born in a litter; the animal in a litter least likely to survive. No one wanted to buy the runt of the litter, so we kept it.
    2. and the runt of the family Fig. the smallest child in the family. I was the runt of the litter and the butt of all the jokes.
    See also: litter

    Apologies to all animals for the comparison.

  4. James Canning
    James Canning
    January 15, 2014, 7:50 pm

    Condoleezza Rice blundered by not opposing the Israeli effort to change the border of Israel by building the barrier.

    • puppies
      January 16, 2014, 10:01 am

      @James Canning: There comes Santa Claus again. Who made over Palestinian land to you so you can freely distribute it? Since when is a freaking armistice line “the border of Israel”?

      • James Canning
        James Canning
        January 17, 2014, 7:12 pm

        @Puppies – – Most countries on the planet regard Israeli settlements inside the Green Line as illegal. This indicates they regard the Green lIne as the border.

      • Citizen
        January 19, 2014, 7:46 am

        I thought Israel expressly accepted, acknowledged its borders as the partition borders. Thus, I’ve never figured out why any country says it’s the Armistice or Green Line.

      • puppies
        January 19, 2014, 3:44 pm

        Oh yeah? Well, “most countries” do not decide on justice or legitimacy. The illegitimate offspring of the British misadministration of its mandatory power immediately rejected the Partition proclamation by invading; it got applauded and approved by a majority of bought governments. So in 1948 what you would sanctimoniously call borders were already nothing but an armistice line. Besides inter-state considerations, there is one more thing to see: the war started by the Zionist entity against bordering states is a sideshow, while the real war that has not been settled by any valid agreement is the war of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian population, owners of the land and not represented by any state so far.
        I know that your phony pretext is shared by a lot of so-called liberal Zionists, as they are hellbent on salvaging most of the Zionists operation. You are, however, sticking out as a particularly insistent propagandist for lowering the pants before even starting the fight, insinuating the same mantra at every opportunity.

  5. Taxi
    January 16, 2014, 6:56 am

    “Separation Wall”.

    You mean ‘Apartheid Wall’. Surely.

    Sharon’s legacy? By creating and encouraging extreme obstinacy within israel’s political culture, he’s insured the downfall of israel.

    Thanks, Sharon.

  6. NickJOCW
    January 16, 2014, 7:37 am

    Haïm Gouri, interviewed in 2006 and asked how it was that Sharon once he became Prime Minister had abandoned the convictions he had held all of his military and political career and withdrawn from Gaza, attributed it to a late but welcome acceptance of reality: “In the end Sharon had come to the conclusion that it was ultimately impossible to ‘conquer’ the Palestinians. For although Israel had won all the wars of movement it had also lost all the wars of attrition.” Just as Yitzhak Rabin, unable to end the first infitada, recognised the PLO, so Sharon had finally accepted the pointlessness of hoping to eradicate Palestinian national aspirations through war.

    Hence, presumably, the wall and the policy of inexorable erosion of land.

    The above derived from a Medipart piece with a lot of good stuff but in French and requiring subscription.

  7. seafoid
    January 16, 2014, 11:41 am

    Nothing says “I love you” more than a product from an illegal Jewish settlement

    “Searching for a great gift idea for someone special? Looking for a gift idea that simply says, “I love you”? At Judaica WebStore, you will find a large selection of unique gift ideas that allow you to express your love in wonderful and creative new ways. Gold and silver heart-shaped jewelry, Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics…”

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