Sending a message to the world

Palestinian activists leave their mark on Israel’s ‘security wall’.

60 years of division

Faris Aruri, a youth activist who spray-paints messages on the wall, says its colossal size is
oppressive to the neighbourhoods it cuts through [Linda Haddad]

As two Palestinian youth activists spray paint messages on the ‘security wall’ in the town of Ram, a 75-year-old woman slowly approaches the massive concrete wall, stares up at it and asks: “Is this peace?”

For Nelly Mousa, the wall is not only an inconvenience to her way of life, but damaging to her family’s small fruit and vegetable shop, which sits on what used to be the main road from Jerusalem to Ramallah – now directly opposite the wall.

Since Israel started constructing the wall in 2004 – today it is two-thirds completed – the United Nations International Court of Justice ruled that the construction of the West Bank barrier is illegal and that construction should stop.

Raising awareness

Many activist groups have done a great deal to raise awareness about the injustices they say the wall has created against Palestinians and the Peace and Freedom Youth Forum (PFF) is one group doing just that through a project called ‘Send a Message’.

Faris Auri and Yousef Nijim want to raise
awareness of the wall’s impact [Linda Haddad]

“One of the key things behind this project was to create media attention about the wall, which we hope would teach individuals about the injustices Palestinians are enduring with the building of the wall,” says Faris Aruri, the Palestinian chairman of the PFF who lives in the city of Ramallah.

The ‘Send a Message’ project is simple. People all over the world have emailed a message they would like spray-painted on the wall.

Aruri and Yousef Nijim, a volunteer coordinator for PFF, take those messages, and spray paint them on the wall. Pictures of peoples’ messages, while being spray-painted and once completed, are taken and then emailed to a recipient of your choice, all for the cost of $30.

The money raised from the project is spent on youth programmes to help enrich the lives of young Palestinians.

As Mousa stares with sad eyes at the young activists spray-painting new messages on the wall, she explains that it is now hard for her to visit her girlfriends who live on the other side.

“I used to just cross this road and I’d visit all of my friends. Now it would take an hour to see them. I’m an old lady and I can’t do that these days because it just takes too much time,” she says.

Saving Israeli lives

“Israel has built the security barrier throughout the West Bank to combat terrorists infiltrating Israel to commit suicide bombings and kill Israelis and Jews,” says Major Avital Leibozch of the Israeli army.

“It’s about saving lives and we have very clear cut figures showing that the security fence is saving Israeli lives,” she says.

According to the Israeli army, in early 2000, dozens of suicide bombers killed 700 Israelis. Most of those suicide bombers came from the West Bank.

“If you look at the figures, since the security fence has been built we had a decrease of attacks in Israel by suicide bombers,” Leibozch says.

In 2006, four suicide bomb attacks came from the West Bank, in 2007, one attack came from Gaza, and this year, another attack came from Hebron, the Israeli army says.

“As anyone can see, [Israel] has had a major suicide bomb attacks over the years and the way it works is that less than five per cent [of the security] barrier is made of concrete in areas that are extra security threats,” the major explains.

“The rest of the security fence is a fence, made out of iron and barbed wire which has censors and we are alerted in our war rooms when a person touches it and is trying to go over it.”

Induced transfer

Aruri believes that if the wall was intended solely for reasons of security it would have been built only along the borders of the West Bank, and not within the territories of the West Bank itself.

He explains that Israel’s solution for transferring Palestinian territories to Israeli ones is executed either by force, which he says took place in 1948 and 1967, or by induced transfer.

The wall has damaged business for Nelly
Mousa’s small shop [Linda Haddad]

“This wall makes live unbearable for Palestinians to the point that they have to leave their homes and move to another area or, leave the areas all together.

“I am not saying this is Israel’s plan now, but this is the effect of the wall,” he says.

The part of the wall Aruri and Nijim spray-paint their messages on these days was built along the main two-way road that went from Jerusalem to Ramallah.

Three years ago this road was a major route that brought all-important business to the small shops in Ram.

A tool shop owner directly across the street from the wall says he now makes just 20 per cent of what he used to make three years ago, before the wall was constructed in this area.

“We are just getting by. My sales barely put food in my kids’ mouths and give them an education,” says the shop owner, who did not want to give his name for fear that the Israeli authorities would raise the taxes on his shop if they learnt of his criticisms.

Frame of reference

Aruri says the construction of the wall has now become the Palestinians’ frame of reference.

“The village didn’t move but the road has. It has come to the point where the wall has changed the geography of the West Bank,” he says.

But the IDF says the security barrier is not the only factor protecting its citizens.

Leibozch says the Israeli army tracks activity taking place in the West Bank to prevent suicide bomb attacks and enforces strict check points.

“People have criticised the security barrier calling it massive. It resembles highway barriers of other countries. It really is not huge,” she says.

For Aruri, this is far from the truth.

“In the beginning, it was the size of the wall itself [that bothered me]. It’s so colossal. When you get up close to it, you see how big, ugly and oppressive it is to not only to you as a human, but also to nature and to the neighbourhood – it gets you slowly and hard,” he explains.

And as for the old Palestinian woman, she wonders if she will see the wall torn down in her lifetime, but thinks it will never happen.

Mousa says, “They keep building and building it. I don’t think [the Israelis] will stop. We will never get Palestine back.”

Source: Al Jazeera