Security Barrier or Segregation Wall: the Politicization of Language and the Wall as a Geopolitical Tool
As George Orwell once stated, if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought, suggesting that terminology in any political discourse can be actively recruited in shaping the nature of debate and the perception of any political issue. The construction of the West Bank barrier in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is one of the most controversial and hotly debated issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Since the beginning of the wall’s construction in 2002, a whole range of terminologies have emerged reflecting the opposing perspectives on the wall’s fundamental purpose.
The wall in the West Bank consists of eight meter concrete slabs, watchtowers, razor wire, trenches, foot print tracking paths and electronic surveillance systems. In areas of high population or in the vicinity of the Green Line, the wall consists mainly of concrete slabs with watchtowers placed approximately 250 meters apart. Upon completion the wall is expected to stretch up to 680 km.
The discrepancies in terminology between the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives indicate both the increasing politicization of language and the growing significance terminology plays in shaping the political dialog of the conflict. Furthermore, attempts to monopolize and control language though the media have become a means by which certain political views and ideologies are expressed and widely understood.
The state of Israeli emphatically refers to the wall as a security barrier or anti-terrorist fence which supports the claim that the wall is necessary to protect Israeli citizens from suicide and other attacks. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs the wall is a temporary measure and last resort for the protection of its civilians under imminent threat. Israeli statements highlight that construction of wall has saved lives whereby the number of suicide attacks in Israel have since decreased.
Critics of the Israeli occupation however, highlight the wall’s illegality under international law and attempts to dictate permanent status solutions overwhelmingly in Israel's favor. The construction of the wall annexes land, isolates wells, separates Palestinian communities and causes wide scale destruction of the environment. A wide variety of other terms are subsequently utilized including annexation wall, segregation barrier or even apartheid wall. According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, the path of the wall was based on considerations completely unrelated to the security of Israeli citizens and that a major aim was to build the barrier east of as many settlements as possible, to make them easier to annex to Israel.
Israel's emphasis that the wall is a "security barrier" transforms the terminology into a political maneuver to shape the nature of the debate away from territorial expansion to a security issue. While Israel's security concerns may be genuine, the effective outcomes of the wall clearly indicate wider ambitions. In terms of understanding these, investigating the wall in terms of its geopolitical implications might be useful.
Upon completion, 46% of the West bank will be annexed by the wall and settlement blocks. The wall alone will de facto annex 9.5% of the West Bank whereas settlement blocks in the Jordan valley are likely to contribute an additional 36.5%. In September 2004, Israeli authorities issued a military order creating a buffer zone 100-200 meters on the Palestinian side of the wall making an additional 252km² inaccessible to the Palestinians. In addition to this, the wall has effectively cut Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank, severing historical links with other Palestinian cities which have existed for millennia.
The number of Palestinians trapped between the wall and the green line numbers approximately 242,000. Palestinians in these areas suffer significantly due to Israeli policies which encourage them to leave, paving the way for Israeli migration. In 2003, the Israeli Army issued an order declaring all land between the wall and the 1967 border to be closed military zones. The order requires that people to have permits to travel in and out of their lands. Residents often receive insufficient water and electricity while in many cases building permits for new housing structures are denied, forcing many Palestinians to build illegally, which are then subject to Israeli demolition orders.
Israel's claims that the wall is for solely for security are undermined by a variety of factors. Primarily, if the wall was just a security measure and not an effective attempt to annex land, it would have been built on Israel's internationally recognized border, the pre-1967 occupation line. Furthermore, the path of the wall more than doubles the pre-1967 boundary which would arguably make the border more difficult to patrol.
Another discrepancy in the claim for security is the provocative impact it has on Palestinians. Regarding the "temporary" nature of the wall, serious doubts also emerge when considering Israeli actions in the past which suggest the opposite. In 1967 when Israel began building settlements in the West Bank, it similarly claimed that these were temporary security measures. More than 39 years later, many settlements have not only have remained but have been further expanded.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) highlights other discrepancies in Israel's argument especially in reference that the wall has saved lives. The department indicates that between the September 2000 and July 2005, 4,681 Palestinian and Israeli civilians were killed. A total of 2,707 were killed after Israel began construction of the wall of which the vast majority were Palestinians living in the Gaza strip where a similar wall has existed since 1994. In other word there has not been a significant drop in the number of civilians killed. Although the number of Israeli casualties has diminished, the wall has not stopped Israel from killing Palestinians. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada to July 2005, Israel has continued to kill Palestinians at a rate of 53 per month.
Regarding the decrease in Israeli casualties a fundamental correlation with the wall has yet to be established. The diminished occurrence of suicide attacks is also likely to be related to the Hamas declared truce. As it stands, there are numerous points along the wall's path which are not completed. The borders between Israel and Palestine can be easily infiltrated, which is indicated everyday by Palestinians working illegally in Israel. Should another wave of terrorist attacks be declared, the wall will not be able to prevent it.
The construction of the wall is inherently tied with the Israeli policy of unilateral disengagement which has been adopted following popular resistance against the occupation. Prior to the first Intifada the Israeli government was opposed to handing back territory to the Palestinians. However, with the increasing costs and difficulties associated with the occupation, as well as the perceived need to preserve an ethnic Jewish majority, disengagement has been assimilated into Zionist strategy. The path of the wall encloses 98 illegal Israeli settlements accommodating 98% of Israel's settler population while simultaneously segregating the 86% of Palestinians east of the barrier. The path of the wall in this respect enables territorial expansion, annexation of key settlement blocks while preserving “Jewish” hegemony in Israel.
When one considers the geopolitical considerations for the wall's construction, the terminologies used by Palestinians appear less pejorative, but reflect a perspective whereby the wall is utilized as a tool of systemized oppression. Despite this, Israel has been highly effective in its manipulation of language in order to distort western media perceptions and avoid criticism. Israel presents a positive image to the outside world which suggests a close affiliation between Israel and “western” values. Since September 11 Israel has been a vocal supporter of the ensuing “war on terror” aligning itself with other western democracies in the apparent defense of democratic values. The electoral victory by Hamas and growing concern over Iran’s nuclear capabilities has further enabled Israel to portray itself as a country under imminent threat and the only democratic state in a sea of “terror”. The apparent legitimacy of the state of Israel juxtaposed to its "unruly" Arab neighbors creates the perception that Israel is acting in a reasonable manner.
Press coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict generally fails to place any analysis in the context of occupation and this has subsequently led to deterioration in press terminology. In this respect occupied East Jerusalem becomes Israeli "Jerusalem", illegal settlements become "Israeli neighborhoods" and terms like "segregation wall" have been replaced with the Israeli alternative "security barrier". In a conflict where language has been increasingly politicized for ideological ends, the press has adopted seemingly neutral language in it attempt to appear balanced. However, behind the benign sound of "security barrier", lies a calculated political agenda to blur the lines between Israel's geopolitical interests and safety of its civilians. Whether knowingly or not, the Western media utilizes the language of expansionist "doublespeak", and in doing so directly assists the political ambitions of the State of Israel.
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