Back against the wall

Patrick Segal • Patrick Segal – writer, left paraplegic after an accident, former French government Interministerial Delegate for People with Disabilities

Jean-Baptiste Richardier • physician, co-founder of Humanitarian Alternatives

Editor’s note: the opinions expressed in this article solely reflect the authors’ views

 

All pictures : © Jean-Baptiste Richardier

U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is widely perceived by the international community as the U.S. giving up on the two-State solution. In this international context leading to a possible new escalation of violence, and to shed light on this decision we publish Patrick Segal and Jean-Baptiste Richardier’s impressions, following their visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in June 2005. Twelve years later, their views on the chances of a lasting peace perspective remain strikingly relevant.

The visitor approaching Jerusalem’s hills is struck by those boomtowns where houses are crammed together to the point of resembling these fortresses which crusaders came to besiege. Despite international decisions, colonies spread way beyond the green line, defying a landless people who used to live there.

Two thousand years of history cannot be rewritten, and so two peoples, seeking to live in the same place watch each other, staring with defiance in the hope that the other will admit defeat. For now, they live in the same land but separately, in a reciprocal feeling of suffocation, fearing each other and both convinced of their own legitimacy. A strange shared suffering which consolidates an irreducible and unreasonable opposition, trapping two peoples into senseless violence. This conflict, which strongly divides both sides, seems hesitant to turn into a total civil war. And what looks more and more like a state of “apartheid”, resulting from missed opportunities and lost battles, sucks the most radical ones into the spiral of terrorism or the illusion of a safe life behind new fortifications…

By taking the long and “dehumanized” tunnel leading to the Gaza Strip, one measures the hard path and daily life of the Palestinians forced to submit to Tsahal soldiers’ requirements. One must travel to the edges of Gaza, forget the cars and the seemingly placid city in order to contemplate the very heart of the Palestinian drama, where the wall weaves it’s way within firing range of the bulldozed or bullet-riddled houses.

A couple of hundred meters from the houses planted in the sand, the Palestinians’ only horizon is the long, concrete ribbon where sinister watchtowers rise, from which death may strike at any time, chopping body parts off anything that moves, lives and hopes in this parcel of the land of Palestine.

This is what happened to Fawzeya. The most surprising part of this very young Palestinian girl’s story – who misses part of her leg muscles after it was torn apart by an explosive bullet while she was walking out in the open – is the absence of heinous words or desire for revenge against the unknown soldier who shot her like a sitting duck. She almost died and – irony of this crazy situation – her leg was saved by an Israeli surgeon. Other children were not so lucky and others turn their pain into a tenacious hate, making them unable to express other wishes than to die as martyrs. Where is the burst of humanity that would make it possible to tackle the absurd logic of this pointless war, where such unequal forces are opposed one to the other?

For it is the disequilibrium, the daily humiliation of land and freedom-deprived Palestinians that breeds this terrorism which we cannot understand, with people sacrificing themselves in one last refusal of a dreamless future or a fair solution. However, one cannot tolerate that this ultimate weapon – the weapon of the desperate –also strikes the women and children living on the other side of the wall.

At the Gaza hospital, the rehabilitation room is filled with children and teenagers mutilated during the most violent episodes of the Intifada. It is the story of David and Goliath, but upside down. After each confrontation, shredded beings lie in the dirt. And every time it mutilates the Palestinian youth, the Israeli army strengthens the feeling of injustice, and lessens the probability of a process towards peace; for children are the heart of every Nation, and also the future of what it hopes for…

In Gaza alone, thousands of them bear in their flesh the terrible scars of these confrontations. And yet, contemplating daily life in the street, one does not see disabled people begging for the necessities of life, like in other conflict-affected areas. Because beyond the uncertainties, frustrations and sufferings, there remains a firm resolve to live normally, in spite of everything. Discussing technical issues with the medical teams we support – who can appreciate the ravages of this endless war – one gets the feeling that our contribution will remain modest. They are sure to know the solutions they need, and the community solidarity with the families affected by disabilities is remarkable. What associations of persons with disabilities expect from us is a contact with the outside world, as well as knowledge regarding integration, accessibility and protection of their rights, despite a powerless and obviously dysfunctional Palestinian authority.

How can we not understand these associations’ expectations in terms of accessibility, transportation, schooling and all that makes up the daily lives of people with disabilities?! Almost trivial demands, as if tomorrow, a country would surely be starting to move. This determination and will to live contrast with daily desperation. Beyond the obstacles that separate, attitudes sometimes add contempt to domination. While crossing the tunnel, under the unreal pink canvas that softens the way back to Israel, orders barked through the loudspeakers echo with the wall’s coldness – a genuine divide between the two peoples.

Running alongside the houses of the Bethlehem and East Jerusalem neighborhoods, the wall’s construction nurtures –for the children and grandchildren of the Holocaust – the feeling of an irrational rush forward that locks them up inside their own self-hatred, with incalculable consequences. Is this a utopia of security? A scared population’s act of desperation? History teaches us that such protections are illusory and bound to fail. What was thought to be indestructible has always ended up by cracking. Descendants of the victims of the unspeakable, yesterday victorious and carrying a vision for the future, the inhabitants of Israel today look like the victims of a project without a solution, with a “besieged” state of mind as the sole perspective.

In Bethlehem, the despair of the stateless Palestinian children – whose only model is that of their elder brothers incarcerated in Israeli prisons – confirms the dead-end in which these men and women, bound to share the same land, are stuck. In Martyr’s Street, we saw children with fear or defiance in their eyes, unsure whether such sacrifices would bring about peace, or announce the pursuit of an endless and unequal struggle, stained with blood and injustice. But one thing is certain: under the shadow of the wall, where one can read “Warsaw 1943 – Israel 2003”, the city of Bethlehem slowly dies.

One last detour through the cold Palestinian night brought us to Ramallah, to the Mausoleum of Yasser Arafat – who passed away without making the last concessions that may have paved the way for an agreement between two peoples fighting for the same land. They cannot do this alone… A few more check points later, we were back in the heart of Jerusalem, city of three great monotheist religions, where people have stood through the ages facing another wall, full of tears, hopes and prayers.

 

Translated from the French by Benjamin Richardier

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