"We'll make a pastrami sandwich of them"

November 17, 1993

The Iron Wall
Directed by Mohammed Alatar
Benefit screening for Melbourne Palestine Solidarity Network
Art Auditorium of the Victorian College of the Arts
September 28, 7pm
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Ever had friends who say that they just can't understand why Israelis and Palestinians can't get along? Or who say that the problem is that there are extremists on both sides? Or that peace can only come through dialogue?

Then The Iron Wall is a film that you should really get them to see.

This is not a film about state or non-state terrorism. It's not about a peace process or a cycle of violence.

It is a one-hour documentary on the core issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict: the ongoing colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories by Israeli settlers, a process known in Israel as kibosh ha'adama - "conquest of the land".

Like all military campaigns the conquest has been planned in detail and systematically implemented. In 1973 the simplicity of the plan was succinctly described by Ariel Sharon when he was asked what would become of the Palestinians.

"We'll make a pastrami sandwich of them," he boasted to a British journalist at Israel's National Press Club. "Yes, we'll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years' time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart."

In fairness to the settlers themselves, the film's Palestinian director is careful to emphasise that the overwhelming majority of them are not fanatics but have been coopted into migrating to the West Bank by the massive tax breaks and housing subsidies that make life in the settlements so attractive.

By encouraging these settlers to live normal lives in the Occupied Territories, however, the Israeli government is using them to impoverish and isolate their Palestinian neighbours. Because every settlement needs room for "natural growth", Palestinians living in adjacent communities must have their land confiscated and their homes demolished. To keep the settlers' swimming pools full and their lawns green, water must be diverted from the Palestinians. For settlers to commute to work in Israel without having to see a Palestinian, a network of Israeli-only bypass roads must be built across the West Bank. Even the settlements' sewerage is channeled onto Palestinian land.

In this sense, every aspect of infrastructure associated with the settlements serves a dual purpose. Building new houses causes Palestinian overcrowding. Their water pipes cause water shortages. The bypass roads increase the distance between people. Their sewerage works force people to live next to stinking streams of filth.

In contrast to the economic settlers, the ideological settlers, who make up about 20% of the settler population, are fanatical and well-armed racists. The Iron Wall's footage of these settlers' attacks on Palestinian homes and interviews with the victims of these attacks, international human rights workers and disillusioned Israeli soldiers, clearly reveal their role as the shock troops of the conquest, whose purpose is to force people from their homes through a campaign of persistent terror, all the while operating under de facto immunity from Israeli law.

In late 2004 Israel launched the final phase of its conquest: the Disengagement Plan, the centrepiece of which is the wall or "security fence" that it is building through the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Iron Wall shows in heartbreaking detail how the wall is being built to separate the Palestinians from their farms, destroying the livelihoods of already impoverished families as ancient olive groves are destroyed, farms lost and entire neighbourhoods of Jerusalem find themselves cut off from their schools, medical centres and work opportunities.

Israel's strategy for dealing with criticism of its colonisation of Palestinian land is to keep the issue out of sight and off the agenda. The real issue, claim its diplomats, lobbyists and public relations consultants, is that Arafat/Hamas/terrorists/Islamo-fascists (choose one to fit the occasion) refuse to "renounce violence". International human-rights advocates who try to draw attention to the day-to-day violence of Palestinian dispossession, they insist, are merely peddling "left-wing anti-Semitism".

As the most succinct and up to date documentary on Israel's settlement program, The Iron Wall is essential viewing for anyone wanting to understand the underlying dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict and needs to be screened as widely as possible to help puncture the cone of silence surrounding what Israeli Political Science Professor Ilan Pappe describes as the "slow genocide" of Palestine's indigenous population.

[Michael Shaik is a member of Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine.]

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