As the occupation forces build a five-kilometre sectarian wall in Baghdad, the notion of divide and rule becomes ever more real. Yet one wall in the Middle East dwarfs this latest Baghdad adventure. This is the 730- kilometre separation wall being built by the Israeli government to isolate the Palestinian people.
Eight metres high in most places, when it reaches completion it will de facto annex 47 per cent of the West Bank, cutting deep into Palestinian land, creating ghettos, and isolating people from their land and work. Diverging dramatically from the 1967 ‘green line’, when it is complete the wall will cut off some 12 per cent of the Palestinian population, including 200,000 in east Jerusalem, from the rest of the West Bank.
This colonial project, however, is not progressing without ardent local resistance. The key movement coordinating opposition within Palestine is the Grassroots Palestinian Anti- Apartheid Wall Campaign, or Stop the Wall for short. Founded in October 2002 as the first bulldozers started work, the campaign has been central to mobilising resistance to the wall both in and outside Palestine.
The campaign was initially started by Palestinian NGOs out of an urgent need to act, but then developed popular committees, which work on the ground to organise protests and collect information. This grassroots mobilisation has meant that despite the fact that the coalition included some quite conservative NGOs from the Palestinian Environmental NGOs network (Pengon), it has developed a radical tone and outlook. The stress on the word apartheid to describe the wall, for instance, now widely accepted in international Palestinian solidarity movements, was pioneered by Stop the Wall following research it conducted into similarities with the South African apartheid system.
It also recognises that although its formal aims are limited to stopping the wall, dismantling parts of it already built, returning confiscated Palestinian land and winning compensation for those affected by it, these goals are an integral part of the Palestinian liberation struggle against the occupation as a whole.
The campaign’s focus on a unified national framework for resistance has allowed it to tap into the networks of its member groups and mobilise successfully in a short period of time while rejecting sectarian party politics. This has led to a situation where large numbers of activists respond to its mobilisations without exclusively identifying themselves as part of the Stop the War campaign.
This sort of fluidity, which so characterises the international anti-globalisation movement, is a fundamental character of the way in which Stop the Wall operates, but it is not just on a practical level that the identification works. ‘We see ourselves as sharing the same visions and goals as the global justice movement,’ says one campaign worker at the campaign’s small office in Ramallah. Indeed, Stop the Wall sits on the international council of the World Social Forum, and seeks to bring Palestinian issues into the mainstream of the global movement at events like the WSF, linking it to discussions on trade, aid and conflict. Its work on the World Bank’s role in helping to construct the Israeli apartheid system is just one example of the connections it seeks to make.
The fact that Stop the Wall situates the Palestinian struggle in the context of the wider struggle against neoliberalism and empire sets it apart from other Palestinian organisations, which look at the occupation through a more myopic lens. It has also meant that the campaign has sought to prioritise certain tactics that work well for international solidarity, such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
In Palestine itself, mass mobilisations have not been limited to those along the wall’s path. They have also involved events such as the mass lobby of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in 2003 to persuade him to start raising the issue of the wall in the international arena.
At the same time the Palestinian Authority regularly consults the campaign for statistics about the wall, and a clear picture of the damage done to Palestinians’ livelihoods and lands. The reputation that Stop the Wall has gained as a reliable source of information and research on the wall has buffered it somewhat from criticism of its more radical politics.
The campaign aspires to fully democratic and non-hierarchical organisation, though it is well aware of the need to involve more women and younger people, especially at the grassroots level.
Yet this self-reflectiveness and lack of bombast, together with its grassroots approach and determination not to let Northern organisations dictate its tactics and terminology, make it one of the most inspiring things to come out of the desperate situation in occupied Palestine today.