January 9, 2004

Commentary

Walls of Fear: The Israeli ‘Security Wall’ and the U.S. Border Fence

By Emmanuelle Le Texier

In June 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to start the construction of a ‘safety fence’ along Cisjordania to “prevent Palestinian terrorists to enter in Israel – as a reaction of self-defense.’ The initial project accounted of 350 kilometers (of which one third are already built). A year after the beginning of the internationally criticized construction, Ariel Sharon decided to increase the length up to 600 km to include the ‘Ariel colony’ located in the Palestinian territories under the pressure of Israeli colons.

International organizations as well as states opposed the construction of the divisive wall. In July 2003, Condoleeza Rice expressed the U.S. government critics to these exclusionary methods. Despite the international opposition to the construction, Sharon declared that ‘the wall contributes to security and leads us to peace.’ In August 2003, George W. Bush stated that the wall was a real problem threatening the peace process and envisioned to cut some funding to Israel to express U.S. disagreement. Colin Powell implicitly said that the wall was being built in Palestinian territories, as a subtle intent from Israeli government to colonize more land. A few days later, the United Nations Human Rights Commission recommended to stop a construction that violates the 1966 Convention on free movement of people, signed by Israel. On December 8, 2003, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution asking the International Justice Court to give its judgment regarding the legal consequences of the Israeli wall edification in Cisjordania.

Nevertheless, the construction is still going on. Palestinian residents have been evicted from their land in the Eastern periphery of Jerusalem to vacate the place and allow the edification of a wall around the sacred city. The wall consists into a cement infrastructure, reinforced by patrols, anti-tanks holes, electronic detectors, barbed wires. The cost of the wall is evaluated to be 1.2 million Euro (1.5 million $) by kilometers, which will be a total amount of 1.2 billion Euro when the new project covering 1200 km is accomplished. It is indeed a paradox that the U.S. administration opposes the Israeli construction of the security fence when its southern border has been the leading example for militarization of international borders.

On October 1st 1994, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) launched Operation Gatekeeper at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Ysidro. Operation Gatekeeper was designed to ”secure and protect U.S. borders” by preventing illegal entries and detecting, prohibiting and detaining all undocumented people, smugglers, human traffickers and all people violating the law. Operation Gatekeeper serves as a national model for Operation Hold the Line in Texas and Safeguard in Arizona. It also serves as an international model for South Korea and Israel. In 2002, a number of 9500 Border Patrol agents cruise the border all day long. The San Ysidro fence is being reinforced by a second wall, electronic detectors, helicopter patrols… As a consequence, migrants have decided to try crossing the border further East. Since the beginning of the Operation, more than 2.300 migrants died of hypothermia, dehydration, and fatal injuries in accident. The militarization of the border has been regularly denounced by local, national and international non governmental organizations. The post-9/11 context has deepened their concerns because recent legislative changes violate American law and international human rights standards. In fact, the enforcement of the 2001 USA Patriot Act allows to detain immigrants and foreign visitors indefinitely in case of suspicion. The new legislation is building a new security wall inside the U.S.

In fact, Israeli and U.S. administrations use the war against terrorism to legitimate a reaction of self-defense and justify the construction of walls. But the problem is that they not only exercise their right to self-defense in a reactive way. In the Israeli case, the government deliberately programs a new colonization of Palestinian territories. In the U.S. case, the wall symbolizes an aggressive and proactive step that constitutes all foreigners as potential threats to the country. In both countries, civil societies are the first to suffer from these ‘walls of the shame,’ increasing the risks for deadly crossings for migrants and diminishing opportunities for a peaceful resolution in the Middle-East. Since the end of the Berlin wall which divided East and West Germany, these are the first attempts to build new militarized borders in the world.

Emmanuelle Le Texier is a guest scholar, Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies and Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology, Institut D’Etudes Politiques de Paris-France. She can be reached at eletexie@weber.ucsd.edu

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