The Inner Wall Will Continue to Grow

In a slim book of photos, Eyal Ofer has documented "everyday life" on the border fortification that was erected to offer the Israelis protection from Palestinian attacks. Amin Farzanefar gives us his impressions of the book.

Eyal Ofer's "Die Mauer, Israel – Palästina"; Melzer Verlag, 2004

​​In his book, Ofer presents the wall, which was supposed to correspond with the "green line," the historical border drawn in 1948, from both sides. The acclaimed Israeli photojournalist works for internationally renowned newspapers and magazines, such as Le Monde and Corriere de la Sera.

Ofer's photos show how closely placed the Israeli and Palestinian settlements are to each other, and how martially and indiscriminately electric and barbed wire fences slice right through fields, villages, and neighborhoods. Long lines of Palestinians are seen crowded before watchtowers, waiting for soldiers armed to the teeth to let them proceed.

Ofer's camera also captures the actions taken against the wall: graffiti, demonstrations, attempts to cut through. The reasons for this protest are well known: the wall was in some cases built right through Palestinian property, with olive plantations and cypress groves relentlessly cleared to make way.

Peace activists comment on the photos

The massive deviations from the original borderline and well into Palestinian territory, along with the destruction of routes to businesses, workplaces, and schools have lead to humiliation and anger that only serve to further stoke the conflict.

Short texts by declared peace activists provide background to Ofer's snapshots. In addition to the journalist Ury Avnery, one of the first official Israel-critical Israelis, these also include the journalist and SPD representative Freimut Duve and journalist Manuela Drivi. The latter became a pacifist after her son was murdered by the Hisbollah in 1988.

Drivi's argumentationally fragmented text is especially effective at making the Israeli position more comprehensible. The vacation hotspot Netanya with its 400 meters of beach promenade formerly had the highest density of terrorist attacks, resulting in several hundred deaths. Suicide bombers needed only 15 minutes to get there from Tulkarem.

The first section of the wall was built here in the Netanya suburb of Bat Hefer, before the government began to expand the project. Now the street to Tulkarem comes to an abrupt end – at the wall.

Solutions only stir up further conflicts

A Palestinian Israeli says of the new artificial situation: "Either there is no wall and life is unbearable, or there is a wall and life is unbearable."

Ofer – himself a resident of Netanya – has ambivalent feelings about the wall. In his conclusion, he ties his criticism of the wall to an insistent appeal to both sides to renounce violence.

The reader – or viewer – who has no personal experience of terrorist attacks comes away from the book with the conviction that the wall has only deepened the gulf between the two sides. On the one hand, the everyday life of the Palestinians living among them has been removed even further from Israeli consciousness, and on the other hand a new set of Palestinian resentments has been provoked.

The inner wall will continue to grow. What was planned as a solution to the problem is in reality yet another symptom of the conflict, and has now itself become the cause of more bitterness and turmoil.

Absurd construction

Examining the map included in the book, the reader's initial feeling of dismay can't help but turn into a sense of absurdity at the complete fragmentation of the Israeli settlements.

Drawing a clean line is impossible. Some villages are almost fully surrounded by fortifications, while other more remote settlements and kibbutzim are linked by means of tunnel systems leading underneath Palestinian territory.

"Die Mauer" also depicts a remarkable "masterpiece of absurdity": The Amars' house stands on the Israeli side because paterfamilias Hanni stubbornly refused to sell Palestinian land.

Now he has his own little door built into the wall. But to make sure the door does not constitute a security gap, an additional, U-shaped fence surrounds his property. And only the Israelis have the key. Hanni's land has become a strange kind of wallflower.

Amin Farzanefar

© 2004

Translation from German: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

Eyal Ofer, with texts by Uri Avnery, Manuela Dviri, Freimut Duve, Oswald Le Winter: Die Mauer, Israel – Palästina, Melzer Verlag, 2004, ISBN: 3937389342.