Walls have a been a popular tool at various times through history for excluding and dividing. They are a powerful visual and psychological symbol. Something politicians can point to and say “we did something.” A solution that allows nations to avoid the hard work of repairing relationships, passing mutually beneficial policies, and making difficult (-and potentially unpopular) compromises. Building a wall is certainly a hell of a lot easier than learning to love your neighbor.
In times of conflict, as Israel and Palestine have experienced for decades now, a wall such as the one built by the Israeli government says “we did something.”
Yesterday, Donald Trump went to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. There have been jokey memes and Tweets (and very clever ones) trying to take a stab at what might be going through his mind:
Now, that’s funny.
They play on the absurdity of the wall Trump campaigned on, the wall he promised us Mexico would pay for.Having lived in Jerusalem and witnessed life there first hand, I want to share what’s on my heart as I watched this spectacle. Not only do we Americans already have hundreds of miles of that very wall dividing California and Arizona from Mexico, but Israel has another wall just like it.
The Western Wall is a stunning archaeological and religious pilgrimage site with its own history through the empires (if walls could talk!). But just a few miles away, the wall that creates a cage around Palestine looks exactly like the wall Trump would build across Texas. It functions a similar way, to segregate human beings from their own communities and the land they’ve lived on for thousands of years. In the area of Bethlehem, for example, it dissects a region that used to be happily diverse, and replaces diversity with total segregation.
There is a pervasive narrative among Israelis and international visitors to the area that the wall actually gets credit for the decrease of suicide bomb attacks after the Second Intifada. People may derive a sense of security from seeing the wall firmly in place, but living in Jerusalem and volunteering in the Bethlehem area, I know firsthand that this is an alternative fact.
Just a short distance away from the thirty-foot high concrete barrier at the Bethlehem checkpoint, the “wall” is but a fence through a more rural area; illegal to pass but not impossible. The wall around the West Bank and Gaza only deters law-abiding people who hope to make a living, go to the hospital, visit family and celebrate religious holidays.
It is built almost entirely on land well within the Palestinian side of the 1949 Green Line which has delineated Israeli and Palestinian areas intended to form the basis for future independent states. The wall is not a border, nor is it a straight line.
Visitors who come close enough to witness its path are shocked to see that it cuts homes off from their adjacent farms and orchards, taking the most possible land for the Israeli side while excluding the population farming it. Land owners like the Cremisan Monastery, which finally lost its long battle last year to keep the wall out of its vineyards, have a motto: “for us, existence is resistance.”Every time I stood before the wall in Bethlehem on my way to the Palestinian Lutheran schools where I volunteered, I felt overwhelmingly discouraged. How does a conflict between two closely related communities get to this point, and the world just stands by, or worse, adds fuel to the fire?
I never had long to linger on my own feelings of guilt or anger before a bold sign of resistance appeared. Sometimes, it was the graffiti art defying the ugly violence of the wall with signs of peace and even humor.
Often, it was the students playing in the school yard, the friends ready to sit down for sweet tea at the end of a long day, or the raucous sounds of a wedding party. Existence is resistance.
The division is made possible by the Israeli military’s dehumanization of the “other” along lines of race and religion, and separate and inferior roads, education and health care systems, utilities, and even legal systems that remind Palestinians on a daily basis that they are not free, but indefinitely under military occupation.
It guarantees generations of ill will toward Israelis as well – when the only Israeli a Palestinian child might encounter is a soldier at the wall or an armed settler the wall is built to protect, relationship is virtually impossible. This wall is not a thing that makes for peace.
My visit to Nogales last fall, once a thriving border town in both Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona, US, was like déjà vu. Lives are lived across an intimidating and dangerous barrier that threads so close to homes and businesses, it is easy to forget that it has only been there for a couple of decades. This kind of wall is designed to twist our minds – on this side, we are meant to regard the people we see on the other side as criminals who must not be allowed to move freely.
On the other side, Mexicans and Central Americans are meant to believe that should they cross this line, they will deserve any consequence that befalls them.
As an American citizen, and as a Christian working for peace in interfaith circles, I am outraged that my tax dollars have already paid for both of these walls. And it won’t be Mexico paying for the next one, either. Our President is shopping around for good deals and Israeli security firms are at the top of his list.
The company that boasts a high-tech wall around Gaza experienced a 50% boost in the price of its shares since Trump’s election.
Israeli President Netanyahu on Twitter: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”
Trump’s inner monologue is a fair target of our snark.
He is the most extreme of fools. But the walls that divide us are no joke, and they are already tearing us in two.