The impossible city

John Berger's latest books are Here is Where We Meet (Bloomsbury, 2005), Hold Everything Dear (Verso, 2007) and The Red Tenda of Bologna (Drawbridge Books, 2007).

The Red Tenda of Bologna is available to Drawbridge readers for the special price of £12.

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The wall

The West Bank town of Qalqilya is totally surrounded by 17 kilometres of Israel's eight metre-high concrete wall. With only one exit. The once-bustling main street now ends in the wall's wasteland. The town's meagre economy is consequently in ruins. A market gardener trundles a wheelbarrow of sand to distribute round some plants before the coming winter. Until the wall he employed twelve workers. Today he employs nobody. The sales of his plants - because the town has been cut off - have been reduced by nine-tenths. He throws away instead of collecting the seeds from a heap of lychnis flowers. His large hands are heavy with the admission that henceforth here they have nothing to do.

Difficult to convey the sight of the wall where it crosses the land where there is nobody. It is bureaucratic - carefully planned on electronic maps, prefabricated and pre-emptive. Its purpose is to prevent the creation of a Palestinian State. Since its construction began four years ago, there has been no significant reduction in the number of kamikaze attacks. Standing before it, you feel as short as a cigarette butt. (Except during Ramadan, most Palestinians smoke a lot.) Yet, oddly, it doesn't look final, only insurmountable.

When it's finished, it will be the 640 kilometres-long expressionless face of an inequality. The inequality is between those who have the full arsenal of the latest military technology to defend what they believe to be their interest (Apache helicopters, Merkava tanks, F16s, etc) and those who have nothing, save their names and a shared belief that justice is axiomatic.

It could be that the wall belongs to the same short-sighted repressive logic as the "sonic boom" bombing that the inhabitants of Gaza are being submitted to every night. Jet fighters dive very low at full speed to break the sound barrier and the nerves of those huddling sleepless below with their axiom. And it won't work.
Such a superiority of firepower discourages intelligent strategy; to think strategically one has to be able to imagine oneself in one's opponent's place, and a habitual sense of superiority precludes this.

The difficulty with prophets and their final prophesies is that they tend to ignore what immediately follows an action, ignore consequences. Actions for them, instead of being instrumental, become symbolic. It can happen that prophesies cause people not to see what time contains.

For example: the wall and the annexation of still further Palestinian land cannot promise security for the state of Israel; it recruits martyrs. And if kamikaze martyrs could see with their own eyes - before he or she died - the immediate consequences of their explosion, they might well reconsider the appropriateness of their steadfast decision.

It is the goddamned future of prophesies that ignores all but the final moment.

Climb one of the jabals and look down at the wall way below winding its geometric dividers' course towards the southern horizon. Did you see the hoopoe bird? In the long-term view the wall looks makeshift.



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