-- Avraham Shalom, head of Israel’s Shin Bet from 1980 to 1986
--- Nasser Aruri, February 2002
--- Manuel Valenzuela
In many instances, however, walls have not had their desired effect and indeed have helped exacerbate a city or town’s eventual demise. History has proven that walled fortifications have withstood initial and subsequent assaults, even thwarting mighty armies, yet most cities inevitably succumbed to the pressures from outside. Through sieges by the invading force walls ensnarled a population, making captives of them in their own homes. Slowly but surely the people capitulated to the tight noose tied around their collective jugular that was made worse by their own internal caged suffocation. Hunger, thirst, common sense and the feeling of being trapped like lions for months led to a city’s surrender – if the invading army hadn’t destroyed the walls first. If history proves one thing about man and walls, it is that while psychologically useful, walls and the cities they protected eventually fell, they imprisoned those it designed to make free and they shielded the populace from the realities outside. Much like the French Maginot Line of World War II fame, defensive walls, and as an extension the cities they protect, are almost certainly doomed to fail and fall.
In modern times, walls have been erected to serve more sinister and ominous purposes than their historical antecedents. During the rise of the Nazis in Germany and their eventual blitzkrieg of Europe, different walls were erected, designed not to protect citizens but to encage and isolate Jews in city ghettos. Imprisoned in these pseudo-jails, Jews were separated from the non-Jewish population. Walls of segregation they became, on one side freedom and normalcy, on the other nightmares and hell. Ghettos became zones of squalor and suffering, decrepit cells of torment for millions of innocent European Jews, displaced from their homes and their possessions, sent to rot and wait until empty Nazi trains returned from the foggy clouds of gas and ash. Walled ghettos became areas of humiliation, ridicule, oppression, poverty, exploitation, hardship and dehumanization, where human beings were subjected to the worst evils known to man. Daily shootings of innocent men, women and children, treated worse than animals, their life made a living hell. From ghettos to concentration camps, walls and fences preserved Hitler’s answer to the Jewish question. Behind these apparatuses of clandestine terror, unspeakable horrors occurred that the world was made blind to. Walls designed to separate, imprison and annihilate millions also acted as catalysts for covering up and hiding ever-growing realities of inhumanity. Finally, the allies were victorious, and with that came the tearing down of ghettos and concentration camps. Walls were destroyed, making visible to the world the atrocities of the Nazis.
The end of World War II brought about the carving up of nations and peoples between the Allied victors, who, like a game of geopolitical chess, decided destinies and lives based on strategic interests and diplomatic posturing. Totalitarian winds of power brought to the world the Iron Curtain, the Gulag and the Berlin Wall, those odious symbols of Soviet communism and the Warsaw Pact that the shivering Cold War engendered. Walls and fences were designed and erected to contain the populations of Eastern Europe from escaping despotic regimes and fleeing to the greater freedoms of the West. Caged in their own lands, under autocratic and ruthless dictators acting as Soviet puppets, the populace suffered. They were confined to the shackles of Soviet communism, subjugated by the system with their freedoms taken away, unable to smell life beyond the extended cage of captivity. Millions disappeared in Gulags. The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall segregated and partitioned two forms of governance, two ways of living. Peoples from the same ethnicities, religion, culture and nation and, in the case of Berlin, the same city, were divided and separated, torn in two, told by competing ideologies that they had to belong to one or the other.
These walls, however, did not protect the population; rather, they protected those in power from the aspirations of their subjects. These instruments of division helped split the world apart, helped preserve for 45 years the illusion of ideology and the captivity of men by fear and propaganda. Freedom, however, cannot be abrogated forever. The end of the Soviet Union’s power saw the momentous tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, leaving years of bitterness and frustrations behind with each chip of concrete broken by man-powered hammers. In Germany, magnificent joy overcame a city and a nation, and perhaps even the world, at the sight of giant graffitied cement slabs disappearing from the mist of broken ideology on their way to the dark closets of history books. Ingrained in the faces of those who witnessed the Wall’s fall were tremendous moments of happiness and victory, of freedom and salvation, along with the rivers of tears made possible by the opening of clogged dams full of pent-up frustration of lives and dreams squandered. The Wall could not overcome the weight of the world’s peoples.
Years later, apartheid South Africa introduced to the world consciousness tracts of land called Bantustans, similar to but larger than ghettos, much like reservations, separating blacks from other ethnic blacks and of course from the white minority. Bantustans were filled with overcrowded shanty-towns made of cardboard and other discarded trash the white elite threw out. Blacks lived in squalor, treated like animals, denied adequate education, jobs and opportunity. Segregation of the races, one a majority yet impotent, the other a minority and powerful, split apart by tangible fences and invisible walls acting as the forces of the exploiter and the exploited, the oppressor and oppressed. The indigenous masses were made slave-like creatures of indigence, subservient and reliant on the white elite. Laws, rules, institutions and development were made separate for the two groups, always benefiting the few elite to the detriment of the black majority.
Separate and unequal, apartheid’s evils lurked in every indicator by which we measure society, in every dust-filled corner and gust of wind. Incessant poverty and despair swirled through every shanty-town, entire generations were deliberately allowed to decay into oblivion while the keys to a life worth living were thrown out into the deep expanse that is the Indian Ocean. Today, South Africa’s blacks have revolted and torn open the barbed-wire fences of apartheid, slowly reconstituting lives lost and happiness undone. All is not well, however, as years of misery and neglect have come at a steep price. Blacks are generations behind their white counterparts in terms of education, opportunity and wealth. Much like American slave descendants, they have been set back hundreds of years, now deeply entrenched in a caste structure the system will not willingly or expeditiously abandon. Progress will come slowly; the elite already have most of the wealth, resources and power, most having come at the callous filled hands of the exploited slaves of apartheid. Some walls, it seems, are sturdier than others.
More recently, in the United States, new walls have appeared on the southern borders to keep humans out, not in. Like sentinels overlooking into Mexico, these dark and tall iron walls menacingly guard against Latino immigrants wishing for a better life of work and happiness. Built on the border with Mexico, in major American cities and towns and designed to impede access into the home of the free and the land of the brave, these mutated and grotesque imitations of Iron Curtain dogma serve only to deter the next wave of American slaves from entering the country in only that particular city or town. Instead, thousands of eager exploitable workers circumvent the walls enveloping border cities and cross the much more dangerous, isolated and scorching deserts of the American southwest.
Thousands of migrants have died trying to cross to a better way of life, to a new beginning that the bright light of American opportunity has presented millions of immigrants past and present. So many deaths, in fact, that more people have died in just a few short years crossing the imaginary and tangible walls and fences that compose the border than the total number of people killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall. From Germany to Mexico, the human hunger for freedom and happiness is hard to defeat. Death, arrest and all other walls of disenfranchisement are no match for the triumph of the human spirit.
Walls and fences are all encompassing, a dark blotch scarring American society, from those visible southwestern behemoths altering the desert landscapes to the unseen barriers of separation that have made barren the lives of millions of American Indians through hellholes commonly called reservations to the omnipresent obstructions of racism and apathy that have shackled the arms of progress for minorities for over two-hundred years. The United States is not innocent, nor is it immune. A wall may fall but another takes its place.
Today the US is participating, both by its implicit and explicit military, financial and political support for Israel, in the spawning of a most portentous barrier of separation and misery: the Apartheid Wall being constructed in Israel under the auspices of Israeli security. This wall of concrete, steel and wire slithers hundreds of miles up the West Bank, with watchtowers every 200 meters, beyond the 1967 Green Line borders, annexing and usurping large tracts of Palestinian land – anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of the West Bank – that will effectively displace more than 700,000 people. It is much longer, taller and sophisticated than the Berlin Wall, designed, it is said by Sharon, to keep Palestinian suicide bombers away from Israel. In reality, however, it acts as a quiet "transfer" of peoples, a deterrent to peace, a tool to expropriate land and an impediment to a viable Palestinian state. The Wall represents the oppression and dehumanization of one people by another.
In essence, the Sharon Apartheid Wall is a political mirage that makes a prison of the West Bank, which is already divided into several Bantustan-style cages. The Gaza Strip, it must be noted, is already encircled by fences and soldiers, making the massive prison one of the densest population centers in the world. Palestinians in these two reservations cannot leave without Israeli permission, cannot use the extensive system of roads built for settlers, have their lands expropriated without restitution, – especially if they are fertile, on high ground or have access to water – have their crops and trees razed and their homes bulldozed. They are subjected to daily inequalities, injustices and humiliations imposed on them by settlers and the IDF. Small children are randomly shot by IDF forces as if they are animals; Palestinians going to work must wait long hours to pass the innumerable IDF checkpoints littered throughout the Occupied Territories while settlers pass unchecked and uninterrupted; relatives of suicide bombers are arrested, their homes destroyed; ambulances carrying emergencies are stopped at checkpoints, oftentimes for long waits that inevitably leads to the death and or the suffering of the injured. To be Palestinian today is to be treated worse than an animal in your own land. It is to be confined to your ghetto-like town or refugee camp, surrounded by razor-sharp wire or trigger-friendly soldiers, living in a deprived state of indigence, knowing that the land you love is systemically being swallowed and stolen by the great democracy in the Middle East. To be Palestinian is to have no freedoms and hopes, to be trapped in a tempest of perpetual ruination.
The Bantustan prison colonies that have been created in the Occupied Territories are being overrun by settlements. Their arable and strategic land is being converted to suit Israel’s purposes. Its peoples find themselves surrounded by IDF and settler-only apartheid roads that crisscross both the territories and ghetto-style towns and cities that make it almost impossible for Palestinians to commute to other towns, work, – in the remote case there is any – and to visit relatives. What is happening in the Occupied Territories today, as well as in Israel proper, is the most radical form of collective punishment, economic genocide and apartheid seen since the end of the South African racial dehumanization machine. The Wall being built is a symbol of this wrongful mechanism that is making miserable the lives of millions whose lives are methodically being eroded by an elected government that through its actions makes implicit its will to cleanse the Occupied Territories of Palestinians.
What the Wall assures is not the security of Israelis but the continued struggle for freedom of the Palestinian population, the continued vicious cycle of violence between two Semitic peoples vying for the same land and the impossibility of a solution to the Palestinian question. Action and reaction, cause and effect, violence will never stop, insecurity will only increase. The Wall is neither temporary nor reactionary, it will not halt those who have nothing to live for except revenge, payback and martyrdom. The desperation and hopelessness is too extensive, its causes too omnipotent.
The Sharon Wall’s real intent is to prevent a viable Palestinian state from ever coming into existence. It is designed to displace hundreds of thousands of people, to rob them of their livelihoods, their farms, houses, access to schools and dignity. In many circles, this is synonymous with ethnic cleansing and genocide, and, more and more, there is a growing realization that Israeli tactics are being implemented not for security purposes but for the desired effect of trying to exhaust and defeat by submission once and for all a people that will not let go of the little land and dreams they have left.
Sitting in the background, supporting Sharon’s government with up to $18 billion in grants and loans, is our government, complicit in this blossoming mechanism of human misery. The Wall’s funds come from us, as do those of IDF weapons and the razor-sharp wire enveloping Palestinian towns and camps. Settlements presently existing and those being built are financed by our tax money, some of which ends up in Israel as financial and military assistance from the US. Apartheid roads, Caterpillar bulldozers, Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people is all financed and politically supported by the citizens of the United States through the stealthy acquiescence of the Bush administration. Our government has vetoed over 30 United Nations resolutions concerning the Occupied Territories and the harsh treatment of Palestinians by Israel over the last few decades, and Israel itself has failed to comply with more than 65 UN resolutions imposed on it. Iraq, on the other hand, broke but a few and hell was unleashed upon its borders. Of course you will not hear a word from a one-sided corporate media that methodically omits and distorts the reality and truth that has become the Middle East.
As such, we are becoming a spitting image of the Sharon government and the IDF with our treatment of Iraqis and Afghanis in our present quagmire in the Middle East. We are bombing near civilian areas, killing innocent children, enveloping towns with razor-sharp wire, humiliating Iraqis, forcing civilians to have and show American-made ID cards, destroying crops, bulldozing houses, arresting relatives of suspected resistance fighters, censorship of journalists and media, arresting and shooting innocent civilians and subverting democracy by going against the will of the people in our appointment of government puppets. The Bush administration, in order to correct its mistakes before election time is imposing collective punishment on Iraqis, learning well from IDF tactics. Our government’s actions smear us all in complicity and in Iraqi, Afghani and Palestinian blood, making us defenders of American oppression and exploitation in Iraq/Afghanistan and supporters of Israeli terror, ethnic cleansing and apartheid in the Occupied Territories.
The road to Middle East peace leads not through Baghdad but through Jerusalem. The most important victory in the "war on terror" will come not in warfare but in peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The hatred being manifested throughout the world against us is directly proportional to our government’s support for Israel and its harsh policies against indigenous Palestinian people. The world sees our tax money going to Israel, and the assumption is made that what Israel does has our tacit consent and approval. Horrific images coming from the Occupied Territories are seen everywhere on the planet except in this country. The UN has recently voted overwhelmingly to allow the International Court of Justice to determine the legality of the Sharon Apartheid Wall. A number of Israeli soldiers, officers and pilots have spoken out against the occupation, refusing to fight Palestinians. The world knows exactly what is going on while we are made ignorant to those actions our wages help finance. World opinion concerning Israel – which at present continues its downward spiral – is directly linked to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, a plight whose realities are hard to escape and whose human feelings are hard to restrain.
Sharon’s Wall is but a small microcosm of a much larger picture that will not solve Israeli security. Whether bombs rain down from the sky or are strapped on young adults, the terror is the same. Stopping the vicious cycle of madness, the illegal occupation and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people will. Jews in Nazi ghettos fought as a resistance in search of freedom; today Palestinians are doing the same. It is human nature. It is human history. Just look at the Philippines, World War II France, Algeria, South Africa, Chechnya and Iraq.
Sharon can start the road to peace by realizing that historically, a united population’s brightly burning flame for independence and desire to escape from the claws of oppression has never been extinguished by occupiers and oppressors. The struggle for freedom is as strong as any weapon, as determined as any army. He must realize that walls divide people, creating hatred and animosity, that they do not serve their psychological and political intent and that in the end they inevitably all come tumbling down. Learn from history’s lessons, Mr. Sharon: Tear down your Wall. If you do not the weight of the world’s cries eventually will.
Manuel Valenzuela is an attorney, consultant, freelance writer and author of Echoes in the Wind, a novel that will be published in 2004. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin and can be reached at email@example.com.
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