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Wednesday, December 29, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

Israel's circuitous wall puts chokehold on Palestinians

Here is a map that tells a story few Americans know.

Americans have seen photos of Israel's wall in the West Bank. It looks much like the old Berlin Wall, which was built to keep people in. Israel's wall is supposed to keep terrorists out. It is labeled a defensive wall.

Consider the map, a detail of the border along the West Bank. The border is the dotted line. Israel's wall is the black line.

Americans will recognize its shape: It is gerrymandering, the redrawing of boundaries for political gain. Israel drew this new line and, as you might expect, every square inch of the gain is Israel's. The wall does not loop into Israeli territory to favor Palestinian towns. Here it loops into Palestinian territory to favor two Israeli settlements, Zufin and Alfe Menashe. These land claims act as pincers, squeezing Qalqilya into a congested enclave.

I talked to several Seattle people who went to Qalqilya. Robert Becker, 39, a graphic designer, visited in 2003 as part of the pro-Palestine International Solidarity Movement.

"It's surreal," he said. At the Western edge of Qalqilya is a high concrete wall with a guard tower. Outside the town, it is a barrier of razor wire, ditches and a patrolled road. For the Palestinian farmers separated from their fields and water wells, Israel has provided two crossings at Qalqilya. Becker visited one that was open 4:30 to 4:45 a.m., 12:30 to 12:45 p.m. and 5 to 5:15 p.m. Imagine farming under such circumstances — and if the owners don't farm their property, they fear it will be declared abandoned, and confiscated.

Long-term, the problem is the settlements. The people there are making not only a property claim with their personal assets but a sovereignty claim for Israel. In effect, they are attempting to move Israel's frontiers at the expense of any future Palestinian state.

The appetite, Palestinians say, is for land. "I'm a Christian Palestinian," says Michael Tarazi, legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization. "They don't want me in their country. I'm a demographic threat. But they do want my land."

Israel's original land grant, made by the United Nations in 1947, was for 55 percent of Palestine. After the 1948 war, Israel held 78 percent. The wall is an attempt to annex some of the choicest bits of the other 22 percent.

All this time, Israel's friends have defined the wall as a barrier to terrorism and a bulwark of Israel's right to exist — that is, as defense.

It does that. And some other things, as this map illustrates.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is bramsey@seattletimes.com. Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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