When I first set eyes on the barrier wall being constructed by the Israeli government, my engineer mind started calculating the construction costs of such a large project. In my mind, the “hard” costs (concrete, steel, gates, security cameras, road realignments, utilities, etc.) will run into the hundreds of millions when the estimated 700 km of wall is completed. Many civil type projects also come with “soft” costs in the form of property acquisition costs, compensation for lost land/homes/businesses/income, legal costs and engineering. These types of costs are generally difficult to estimate. However, for this project it has become apparent that the soft costs are quite easy to determine. The majority of these costs can safely be estimated at or near zero – the impacted Palestinians have been forced to absorb them.
So, we have a project with monetary costs that will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Can you imagine what could be possible with this amount of money? How about schools, hospitals, basic infrastructure, lacking social programs, alternative energy programs, water supply, sewage treatment, diversification of the economy, tourism development and so on – for both Palestinians and Israelis.
The Israeli government would suggest that the monetary cost of this wall is offset by the “benefit” of a reduction in the number of “terrorist” acts. While this statement may appear logical to some on first take, one has to consider a few additional facts. The initial sections of the wall were built near the end of the Second Intifada (during which violent acts were undertaken by all sides) had ended and was accompanied by a major increase in ground security measures and weary combatants. So, was the reduction in these violent acts a result of the wall or, as a result of conditions not related to the physical wall itself?
The international community has been quite clear on the construction of the wall. The International Court of Justice in 2004 ruled “Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defense or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall”. It further asserted that “the construction of the wall and it’s associated regime are contrary to international law.”
A 2005 United Nations report stated “It is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the barrier. The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In addition, plans for the barrier’s exact route and crossing points through it are often not fully revealed until days before construction commences. This has led to considerable anxiety amongst Palestinians about how their future will be impacted…… the land between the barrier and the Green Line constitutes some of the most fertile in the West Bank. It is currently home for 49,000 West Bank Palestinians living in 38 villages and towns.” Some 10 years later, the negative impacts related to the continued construction of the wall have grown dramatically.
The government of Canada does recognize the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) to be “occupied territory” and considers the wall to be contrary to international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention. It officially opposes the barrier, the expropriations and demolition of houses and economic infrastructure preceding its construction. Unfortunately, the government of Canada is mostly silent when these positions are not respected. It is easy to take the “politically correct” position on paper but quite another thing to insist that they be respected on the ground by the government of Israel. Are Canadians seen in the international community as a nation who is comfortable “picking and choosing” which international laws should be respected and which ones can be dismissed? If so, this is heavy price to pay for which I am held accountable as well.