Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Palestinians, Contained

Israelis credit the serpentine, 400-mile (640 km)system of fences, barricades and checkpoints with reducing terrorist attacks to almost nil since construction began in earnest seven years ago. But the Wall has done more than keep out suicide bombers. No less important, it has created a separation of the mind. Israelis say they simply think much less about Palestinians. And a generation of Palestinians is coming of age without even knowing what Israelis look like, much less the land both sides claim as their own. The absence of familiarity, names, basic knowing — the absence of the foundations of empathy — does not bode well for the chances of the two peoples one day living as neighbors in peace.

The economic consequences of the Wall are plain: it has kept out of Israel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to travel there every day, mostly to work. In the living room of Ramzi's father, family friend Taeser Ihmad complains that after 20 years earning 200 shekels ($55) a day as a gardener at a Jerusalem hospital, he now makes just 80 shekels ($22) building houses in Ramallah.

"I never faced a day that they were not nice to me," Ihmad says of the Israelis as Ramzi and his older brother Anis watch silently from the sofa, drinking in the adult conversation with both the silence expected of the young in an Arab household and the curiosity that betrays a less obvious effect of the barrier. Whatever lies beyond it — enemy, oppressor, kindly cashier — is largely a matter of speculation to those born in the hammock of optimism between the 1993 Oslo accords and the second intifadeh, the uprising that began in 2000 and ended after an iron curtain was drawn across the occupied territories.

Read more at Palestinians, Contained. Kudos to Karl Vick in Ein Arik

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