Going to Hell in a Hand Basket[1]

by Sep Meyer*

(Let’s build bridges, not walls)


Road bridge - unknown origin

Israeli wall in construction


I doubt if there are people anywhere who would fail to claim that they sincerely desire to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours.  The main obstacle to be overcome in achieving that desire is inevitably differences in cultural beliefs and values, of which they may be objectively unaware.  No matter how reasonably they may claim to be behaving, their unconscious “cultural baggage” will be influencing their perceptions, their reactions and, ultimately, their behaviour.  This lack of awareness itself is a barrier to harmonious intercultural relationships. 

A second, though not secondary, obstacle is that of fear and the perceived or real threat to their right to survive.  In many cases this will be based on historical reality;  in other cases on historical legend and myth.  Neither reality nor myth is likely to make any difference to patterns of behaviour.

The most recent examples of this behaviour include Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan,  Iraq and Israel, and it is the Israeli situation that I will address in this article, and specifically the rationale behind the building of the wall dividing Israel from Palestine.

Noam Chomsky, in an article published in the New York Times[2], states: "It is a virtual reflex for governments to plead security concerns when they undertake any controversial action, often as a pretext for something else. Careful scrutiny is always in order."  So what do we discover when we scrutinise the reasons given for the construction of this fence (as the Israelis prefer to describe it) or wall (as it is usually called by the Arab media)?  Firstly, if the aim is really to ensure security and to protect Israeli citizens as far as possible from terrorist attacks, one has to ask why it was decided (and by whom) to construct the wall so far inside the Palestinian sector of the Green Line established after the end of the 1948-49 War as to claim "some of the most fertile lands of the West Bank".[2]

wall.gif (52056 bytes)

 [The Green Line and the Wall - click on thumbnail for full size picture]

The UN Resolution of 1947 allocated 45 per cent of British Mandate Palestine to a Palestinian State. In 1948 Israel occupied 78 per cent of the land, leaving just 22 per cent - the West Bank and Gaza - to the Palestinians.  Since when Israel has continuously encroached on what was left.  The Wall is the latest example.  It will be 8m high and between 600km and 1000km long.[3]   In places it will extend eastwards up to 20km beyond the Green Line boundary. [Historical and statistical data provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will be found in "Links" below]

"Even before construction of the barrier was under way, the United Nations estimated that Israeli barriers, infrastructure projects and settlements had created 50 disconnected Palestinian pockets in the West Bank. As the design of the wall was coming into view, the World Bank estimated that it might isolate 250,000 to 300,000 Palestinians, more than 10 percent of the population, and that it might effectively annex up to 10 percent of West Bank land. And when the government of Ariel Sharon finally published its proposed map, it became clear the the wall would cut the West Bank into 16 isolated enclaves, confined to just 42 percent of the West Bank land that Mr. Sharon had previously said could be ceded to a Palestinian state."[2]

No one with a grain of humanity can fail to be appalled at the deaths caused by Arab suicide bombers.  No one with an ounce of respect for the sanctity of human life can blame Israelis for wanting to ensure their security.  But building a barrier is not the answer when it is used as a  cynical opportunity to annex more land, more water, to dispossess more Palestinians, and to create a Palestine that is simply not viable.  This is not to ensure security; it is to guarantee that bitterness and the thirst for revenge will be perpetuated for further decades.

It is clear from the Israeli media that a majority of the country's Jewish population is against this blatant and cynical annexation of Palestinian land.  Unfortunately they are not the people in power, and much as they might want to build a bridge between both sides of the Green Line, it is almost certainly too late for that to be done.  In the meantime the bricks, the mortar and the barbed wire continues to be put in place.

Ninety years ago the American poet Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled Mending Wall.  

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall . . .

I have asked for the entire poem to be reproduced in the Verse section of this issue of Nurturing Potential and you can reach it here.

Good fences make good neighbours, the old adage has it, and this sentiment is repeated by Frost, somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  By the same token, bad fences make bad enemies.  

"This was meant to be a wall not a cage!" [4]

I end with a final quotation from Chomsky.  You may believe him or not, but to my mind what is important is not how factual the statement is, but the mere fact that he could make it:

"It is misleading to call these Israeli policies. They are American-Israeli policies — made possible by unremitting United States military, economic and diplomatic support of Israel. This has been true since 1971 when, with American support, Israel rejected a full peace offer from Egypt, preferring expansion to security. In 1976, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a two-state settlement in accord with an overwhelming international consensus. The two-state proposal has the support of a majority of Americans today, and could be enacted immediately if Washington wanted to do so."[2]

horizontal rule


[1] Opinions are divided on the origin of this expression.  One definition from a website devoted to idioms suggests: that it dates from the early 1940s and means "going to seed, or going bad without effort".   Eric Partridge, however, in his "Dictionary of Catch Phrases," dates the term to the early 1920's.  Since hand baskets are "light and easily conveyed," the term "means going to hell easily and rapidly." That makes it particularly appropriate, I feel, in the context of this article, since it implies a devastation that is swift and sure.

[2] A Wall as a Weapon, Noam Chomsky, New York Times, February 23, 2004.

[3] The Berlin Wall, by comparison, was a mere 155km long and 3.5m high.

[4] Adapted from illustration by Yaron Livay in Peace of Mind is a Piece of Cake. [Crown House]


horizontal rule




horizontal rule


Biographical data

Sep Meyer is a graduate of the London School of Economics and, since his retirement from a commercial life, has been devoting his time to a totally non-commercial activity, writing poetry, magazine articles, book reviews and drama.