The Writing on the Wall

Toine van Teeffelen

In September 2002, Israel began constructing a security fence,” claiming it was a preventative measure to forestall Palestinian attacks. The fence made up of concrete and barbed wire, when finished, will be three times as long and twice as high as the Berlin Wall. Its construction will also result in an unofficial expansion of the Israeli borders by annexing dozens of Jewish settlements and tens of thousands of Jewish settlers living in Palestinian occupied territories.

Palestinians have dubbed it The Apartheid Wall,” claiming its construction violates multiple international human rights laws. Last July, International Court of Justice in the Hague agreed and ruled that the construction of The Wall was illegal and that it must be dismantled.

Israel has since modified some of its original plans, but continues construction.

Toine van Teeffelen of United Civilians for Peace, a coalition of Dutch development and peace organization movements, talked to Maha Abu Dayyeh, director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) in Jerusalem about The Wall. 

Toine van Teeffelen: How is your daily life influenced by the Wall and the checkpoints?

Maha Abu Dayyeh: Currently I walk across the street from my home to my office. The Wall ends just before the intersection where I cross. When its construction is completed, I will have to drive all the way through the Qalandia checkpoint, turn around, cross the checkpoint again and go to Dahiet Al-Barid, before I can get to my office. 

All the services for my daily existence will be on the side that will be blocked off, including purchasing vegetables and food or getting maintenance and household support. Life is going to become much more expensive and not only monetarily. We also will pay heavy social and emotional costs. 

We will become disconnected — literally and figuratively — from family and friends. Visiting them Ramallah or Beit Jala, places actually not very far from here, will be difficult. A special permit will need to purchased from Israel just to travel. The Wall is imprisoning us. 

Due to digging in the streets, dust, fuel, and fumes are destroying the areas surrounding the Wall. Any travel means jumping over rubble, concrete and building refuse. Clothes and shoes are destroyed. 

And every morning, you wake up and face the massive, ugly, grey cement blocks. We are living in chaos.

What does freedom mean to you?

Freedom is the ability to walk endlessly without being stopped. For me this ability is physical and mental. I find that my ability as a thinking and moving human being is handicapped because my physical movements are continually hindered and restricted. 

The Wall is one of the most violent forms of psychological and physical aggression directed against the Palestinian collective and against the Palestinian individual. This is especially true for those whose daily existence requires them to cross or go around the Wall. 

The majority of people have to cross the Wall all the time. But it cannot be crossed without a permit issued by the Israeli government, so the Israelis control their movements. They decide who is able to move or not. 

In so doing, they control the lives of the Palestinians. They decide who is important or not; what is valuable or not; who can go to work or not. On a day-to-day basis, these decisions are up to soldiers who guard the gates. These soldiers on the ground make a lot of their own independent decisions. They can sexually harass the women if they want. They can choose to be easy, hostile, or violent. And when they have violated the rights and dignity of Palestinian people, they can always find an excuse and the government will cover up the violations. 

What are your sources of energy?

There is an English expression, the sky is the limit,” that means one’s imagination and ability to be an actor in the world should be far-reaching, limitless, unrestricted. But in the Palestinian context, the Wall is the limit.

As an individual, I cannot complain. If I compare myself to other people, I am a lucky person. I am able to travel abroad and meet interesting and creative people who I can think with and learn from. I regain my sense of balance when I experience other realities. Traveling shows me how this situation is abnormal and to not accept this way of life. My anger energizes me and allows me to help my colleagues and my children cope with our living situation. I think people need to be angry all the time about this situation. It’s a sign of living, a refusal to die. Through anger, you say no to a brutal situation. 

One should resist by showing anger to the soldier and by breaking the rules. Refusing to respond to instructions given in the Hebrew language is a form of resistance. Everybody has a chance to resist by any small way or means. It builds one’s strength. 

Resistance is not the same as survival. Survival is barely making it. Resistance is acting consciously, purposefully on your situation. Some people choose to survive because they are tired of resisting and fighting and I can’t blame them. I constantly hope that not all people in our society fall into that mode. And so far it looks like they are resisting.

I personally refuse to be killed emotionally or psychologically. I will not give up. I am a resister. I see people resisting as a profound, courageous expression of choosing life. I see it all around me. It may not be immediately tangible, but when people choose life, there is hope.

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Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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