Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, May 17 2003
by Susan Ives

Build high, build wide your prison walls,
That there be room enough for all
Who hold you in contempt.
Build wide, that all the bad be locked inside.

The Israelis call it a security fence. To the Palestinians it is the wall. And a wall it is, in parts more than 6 feet thick and 25 feet high, raw concrete slabs looming twice as high as the Berlin Wall. Ultimately, about 500 miles of wall and electrified fencing will separate Israelis and Palestinians, six times as long as the ill-fated wall in Berlin.

They started building it last June. Phase one of the new section, about 90 miles, is scheduled for completion in July.

John Reese, a Seattle hydrologist and peace activist who recently spent seven months working with the Palestinian Hydrology Group, spoke in San Antonio last week about the environmental damage caused by the occupation. He calls his talk “Palestine: It’s Hell.”

This is no cozy picket fence. In places it will include moats studded with metal obstacles to hinder vehicles and observation towers manned by soldiers armed with shoot-to-kill orders. Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers-the same monstrous machines that raped the mountaintops of Appalachia-are shaving the delicate ecosystem to create high-tech security zones the length of football fields.

The birds who still insist on song,
The sunlit streams still running strong,
The flowers still blazing red and blue,
All, all are in contempt of you.

Israelis say the fence is needed to block Palestinian infiltrators. Backers point to the Gaza Strip, also surrounded by a security fence, which has not been the source of any successful attacks in almost three years.

Palestinians call it the prison wall, the apartheid wall, the starvation fence. Although the wall roughly follows the “green line” that is the demarcation between Israel and the Palestinian territories on the West Bank, the land seized for the wall strategically meanders into Palestinian turf.

The new wall affects some 210,000 Palestinians living in sixty-seven villages, towns, and cities, Reese said. Thirteen communities will become virtual prisons, sandwiched between the barrier and the green line.

The parents dreaming still of peace,
The playful children, the wild geese,
Who still must fly, the mountains, too,
All, all are in contempt of you.

The area between Qalqilya and Tulkarem is the best agricultural area in Palestine, Reese said. The fence itself will ultimately occupy 10 percent of the West Bank, denying farmers access to their land and cutting off water supplies.

Reese watched as thousands of olive trees, the bedrock of the fragile Palestinian economy, were uprooted. Olive trees, he said, can live for 2,000 years. Cut them down to a stump, replant them, and within six years they will again bear fruit. The trees ripped from the Palestinian soil were replanted on Israeli land, Reese said.

The village of Zeita is on the Palestinian side of the fence, the lands and greenhouses over the wall in Israeli territory. About 72,000 Palestinians will be separated from their farmland west of the barrier.

The Israeli government claims, according to an article in The Jerusalem Post, that “the fence, like other obstacles, is a security measure and its construction is not an expression of a political or any other kind of border.” Yet in places it flaunts the established political borders. In Bethlehem the wall snakes through the city isolating Rachel’s Tomb, part of Palestine, on the Israeli side of the fence.

Maybe the Israelis need that wall to feel safe. Maybe not. But surely they could have bulldozed their own homes and fields instead of heaping yet more hardships and indignities on the struggling Palestinians. Good fences do not always make good neighbors.

When you have seized both moon and sun,
And jailed the poems, one by one,
And trapped each trouble-making breeze,
Then you can throw away your keys.

The song “In Contempt,” by Aaron Kramer and Betty Sanders, was first published in “Sing Out!” magazine in October, 1950.

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