Israel and Palestine

The concrete grey walls of the Green Line, story of daily violence

by Zoé Barry and Josselyn Guillarmou

The wall has seen its stones thrown in the direction of the militaries of Tsahal, the Israeli Defense Forces. It has experienced teargas canisters crashing between the olive trees to smoke out the Palestinians of Qualqilya and of Bethlehem. Sometimes, real bullets slam into it, or rockets puncture the Green Line. Materializing the frontier between Israel and the West Bank, this which one could also call the “1949 Armistice Line,” or the “1967 Border,” was drawn with a green pencil on the annexation maps in the agreements that ended the first Arab-Israeli War. On the ground, the border is more of a clear grey, same as the color of the concrete slabs placed around Jerusalem by the Hebrew State to protect it from terrorism. Others can see it multihued, full of frescoes telling the story of the settling of the Israeli colonies and the occupation of Palestinian territory. The symbol of a confrontation that is territorially, politically, economically and religiously complex. The Israel-Palestinian border that has been under construction since 2002 reflects a story of violence in the Middle East, and of peace proceedings that have come up against a wall.

A place historically and culturally unique, where the monotheistic religions were developed, the territories of Palestine and Israel are inserted between the Mediterranean Sea, the Dead Sea, and the Gulf of Aquaba, surrounded by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. If the wall took root in this unique region, it was first formed following the disintegration of a conflict that is local, regional and worldwide, which has been fluctuating for many decades following particularly murderous military confrontations, rejected plans of shared spaces, and short-lived peace agreements.

The region has known, in fact, for centuries, many influences and successive dominations. At the beginning of the XXth century, when Palestine was under the British Mandate, Jewish populations, persecuted in Europe, installed themselves there. These migratory movements were intensified in the context of the Shoah. The tensions appeared with the local populations, and the first plans of shared territories were formulated – and contested – in the years 1930 and 1940. Importantly, it is the case that it was the UN plan of 1947 which designated the creation of a Jewish State, an Arabic State, and an international zone.

In 1948, David Ben Gourion proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel. This announcement was followed by a succession of polarizing reactions and events that paved the way to unrestrained violence. The City of Jerusalem was divided in two in 1949. The conflict was regionalized with the intervention of the Arab League. Hundreds of thousands of individuals were forced into exile. The Fatah (Palestinian Liberation Movement) was created in 1959. The Six Days’ War in 1967 permitted Israel to expand its control over the region, the War of Kippur in 1973 placed numerous foreign powers into the conflict. The Camp David Accords were voted upon in 1978. They did nothing to stop the uprisings of the Palestinian populations 10 years later, during that which would be called “The War of Stones”, or first intifada (1987-1993). The Oslo Accords in 1993, then in 1995 placed a provisional halt on hostilities, and led to a division of Palestinian territories into administrative zones. During a peace assembly, organized in Tel-Aviv in 1995, the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a far-right Jew. The peace process talks were sunk shortly thereafter.

The idea to build a border wall came from the Israeli side during the second intifada. This was triggered following a visit by the Israeli parliamentarian Ariel Sharon to the esplanade des Mosquées / Mount of the Temple on the 28th of September, 2000. This event strongly aroused tensions, in a context where the Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement created in 1987, was growing more and more belligerent. The increase in Palestinian suicide bombings drove Israel to a powerful military response. More than 1,000 Israelis and more than 3,000 Palestinians were killed during this period. The erection of a wall all along the buffer zone between Israel and the West Bank appeared ever more legitimate for the Israeli population: It would serve as an effective tool to counter terrorism. In April of 2002, the Council of Israeli Ministers made the decision to build a network of walls and barriers. Land and homes were requisitioned and construction began in June, 2002.

The combined assorted and multilayered wall full of concrete, watchtowers, fenced-in barriers and other technological obstacles is not still finished, more than fifteen years after the first construction. This circuit fragments the territory into discontinuous islands, and shuts in numerous Palestinians on the wrong side of the wall. Only 15 % to 20 % of its’ route follows the border lines recognized by the international community. Once it is finished, it will wind through the region more than 710 kilometers, or twice the length of the Green Line.

Judged illegal according to a ruling held by the International Courts of Justice in 2004, the wall between Israel and the West Bank has pushed back on even the hope of a resolution to the conflict. Tool of colonization for some, tool of safety for others, it feeds the resentment of the Palestinians, the fear in the Israeli population, and permanent violence in the region.

Barrier of separation versus wall of colonization: The No Man’s Land West Bank

by Zoé Barry and Josselyn Guillarmou

The crowd is dense, compact, nervous, stretched out over hundreds of meters, pressed against the metal bars of the checkpoint of Gilo on the road of Hébron, which permits entrance to the South of Jerusalem by the city of Bethlehem. Every day, in the blue-orangey darkness of the early dawn, thousands of workers living on the wrong side of the wall jostle, trample, and wait to be able to cross the border post number 300. Farther, they have to successively cross metal detectors, turnstiles, physical searches, fingerprint and work permit checks, proof of residence, visitor permits, passes. In order to control movement in the region, the State of Israel has seeded some 500 permanent and mobile roadblocks in the West Bank. A defensive structure that normalizes the arbitrary, as well as fear, humiliation, and violence. And whether one lives on the right or wrong side of this wall of separation, the border needs to be crossed everywhere, and daily.

For Israel, this strategy responds to a clear objective: Assure the safety of Israelis in the face of Palestinian terrorism. The proof of its legitimacy? The number of attacks committed against the Israeli military and civilians has diminished since the construction of the walled-up parceling of the land starting in 2002, and the installation of obstacles that split up the territory. Except that the reality is much more complex, and tightly connected to the political, social, and diplomatic context, which is especially fragile in the region.

Over and above the wall, other more convincing factors may permit us to explain the calming of relations and the relative decrease of attacks since the end of the second intifada. One case in particular is the Organization of the Palestinians in the political game following the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1993. There was the cooperation of the State of Israel with the Palestinian Authority in the peace process, or the recognition of the State of Palestine as a non-member observer State of the UN in 2011.

Nonetheless, with or without the wall, the regional situation still remains very unstable. It has now been years that the stakes connected to the City of Jerusalem, the shared holy spaces, the Gaza Strip, and Israeli colonies have been hardening the respective positions. To the extent that the years 2015-2016 were marked by an increase of knife attacks led against Israeli soldiers, and between 2017-2018, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu approved the construction of the colony of Amichaï, and thousands of houses in occupied territories. These events feed an ongoing cycle of endless violence, fear, resentment and opposition to progress.

Amongst the tangle of reasons for the conflict, it is certainly the stake in the colonization that hinders the dialogue today. And the dividing wall is not totally unrelated. Its’ lines correspond, in fact, to an objective more unofficial: Implant the State of Israel into the Palestinian territory as permanently as possible. The barriers which were supposed to be temporary have permitted the incorporation of numerous illegal Israeli colonies, conferring de facto a long term presence. More than 400,000 people have been installed this way in about 150 colonies in the West Bank since 1967. These colonies are nevertheless in opposition to international law, and several UN Security Council Resolutions, and the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution 2334 of December 23, 2016 saw it as “a major obstacle in finding a solution for the two states, and peace that is global, fair and sustainable.” And in fact, this policy of implantation justifies segregation, the barricading off of numerous villages, the obstructions that limit movement, the expropriation of land and homes, and the putting in place of an arbitrary system of permits that allow access to Israeli territories.

70 years after the creation of the State of Israel, 50 years after the start of the occupation of Palestinian territories, and over a dozen years after the beginning of the construction of separating walls, it is difficult to imagine a peaceful outcome with so many complex challenges that are inseparable from a painful and destructive past. Between erratic attempts at peace and the concretization of positions, the barriers of separation that are still being built in the West Bank have buried the possibility of a mutually beneficial solution between the two states. Especially as this tendency joins in a more global movement of walling up the State of Israel at all of its borders (Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt and the Gaza Strip), this foreshadows the standardization of the wall as a border tool.


Zoé Barry and Josselyn Guillarmou are two young researchers associated with the research team for Studies on Borders and Migrations of the Raoul Dandurand Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies (UQÀM). Within the framework of their research, they notably went at the American-Mexican border, as well as in the Migrant Service Centers in France. They have been working on the border walls with Professor Elisabeth Vallet, and are in collaboration with large international media channels (The Washington Post, The Economist, Nouveau Projet, Radio-Canada…).