Wall that casts a very long shadow

Anyone old enough to recall the 1967 war, whose 40th anniversary occurred last week, will surely remember the world-wide wave of sympathy for Israel.

Anyone old enough to recall the 1967 war, whose 40th anniversary occurred last week, will surely remember the world-wide wave of sympathy for Israel.

Front pages were full of pictures of the film star Topol, leaving his starring role in Fiddler on the Roof in London's West End, to go and save his tiny country from obliteration.

It was David versus Goliath and to everyone's amazement - and delight - David won.

Two hundred and fifty thousand Arab refugees fled the West Bank to find safety across the Jordan as the Israeli army marched to victory. But a conflict which had begun as one of defence turned into a war of acquisition.

Israel has never given back the territory it took, in spite of United Nations demands that it should. Instead Arab homes have been razed, settlements housing tens of thousands of Israelis have been established and the refugees are still huddled in the camps they established 40 years ago.

Children have been born there and, unless someone does something, will probably die there.

The unbelievably rich Arab states which surround them have not lifted a finger to help, preferring to keep the camps as a thorn in the world's side.

In 1967 Charles de Gaulle, then President of France, was a lone voice warning what would happen if Israel did not give back the occupied territories. "It cannot work without oppression, repression and expulsion.and if there appears resistance to it, it will in turn be called terrorism." No sane person condones the actions of suicide bombers, but tactics to prevent them seem to have amounted to pouring petrol on a fire and innocent Israelis have paid for it.

Now Israel is building a concrete wall up to 1,000km long. It is costing an estimated $1m per kilometre, is twice the height of the former Berlin Wall and will loop deep into Palestinian occupied territory, embracing clusters of illegal settlements.

Its effect has already been to separate families and bar farmers from fields where their crops are left to wither.

The effect of all this has been to make the establishment of a Palestinian State a virtual impossibility. But within and without Israel opposition is growing.

Recently architects from all over the world signed a petition. Many of the names on it were of Jewish origin and many signatories were based in Israel.

They called on fellow-architects to shun the project.

"Israeli architects and planners, knowingly or not, have become a part of this situation. Israeli settlements built after the 1967 War, considered illegal under international law, could not have been realized without their help."

It's easy for us to comfort ourselves with the fact that Israel is a long way away and not our business.

But the Israeli/Arab conflict fuels anger and provides wonderful propaganda which terrorist groups use to brainwash young militants.

If we really want to live tranquilly here in Britain, without events like 7/7 to terrify us, we need to take an interest in that wall being built so far away and yet casting its shadow over all our lives.

That's why it is all the more important that British academics do not boycott Israeli universities. Out of those universities wisdom will come. We need to keep every link, every line of communication, intact.

* Denise Robertson cannot enter into any personal correspondence.

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