Fifty years ago, soldiers began to coil barbed wire and light fencing along a nearly 100 miles long border. Eventually, the barbed wire would be replaced with concrete divides up to 11 feet tall, fortified fences and heavily armed watchtowers. The border would be closed for 28 years, separating countrymen, neighbors and family from one another. Almost 150 people would die trying to breach the wall –” to find a better life or just to visit a loved one.
Sound familiar? The wall, of course, is the infamous Berlin Wall between East and West Germany, erected by the German Democratic Republic, ostensibly as an “anti-fascist” protection measure against West German domination. It took almost two decades for the wall to be torn down, for east and west Berlin to be reunited and for the wounds to begin to heal. Looking back, there is no doubt Germans who lived through World War II and who experienced the division of their country understand what it means to be separated by force, to not see a relative for years or be unable to reach places in your own country that were previously minutes away.
Fortunately for Germans, that period of their past is over. With much fanfare, the wall was torn down in 1989 and the two sectors of Berlin were united. But while the wall in Berlin was being torn down, the plan for another wall was being conceived, a scheme hatched in Israel’s highest echelons of power. Less than a decade after Berlin’s wall became history, Israel’s West Bank separation wall became a grim and ugly reality. This wall however, is hundreds of miles long, cuts off communities, families, farmland and livelihood for thousands of people and, by all standards, is Israel’s de facto border between itself and the Palestinians.
While it has not been 28 years since Israel began erecting its wall –”construction of the wall started in 2002 –” it does not look like it will come down any time soon. Not only because Israel has no intention of tearing down something it put so much effort into building, but because there are not enough voices calling for its destruction. Each year, people celebrate the wall’s demise and on this anniversary of its erection world leaders call for the memory of the wall to be a “reminder to stand up for freedom and democracy” so that atrocities such as these “never happen again.”
Are the Palestinians not considered citizens of the world? What about their freedom? It is not even a question of whether this will ever “happen again” but rather how to handle it “happening now.” The Palestinians have long called Israel out on the illegality of the wall, debunking Israel’s initial pretext for building it, which is keeping out potential suicide bombers. If this were true, the wall would not have cut deep into the West Bank for the purpose of protecting the Jewish settlements there but would have run along the Green Line, or the 1948 border.
Even the International Court of Justice agreed with the Palestinians in an advisory opinion given in July, 2004, deeming the sections of the wall built in the West Bank illegal and saying it should be dismantled.
This of course, did not happen. Israel has continued to build the wall with impunity. The concrete and barbed wire edifice has disrupted thousands of lives, cutting people off from their land and means of survival, from work places, schools, relatives and places of worship. The outcry against the wall has come mostly from grassroots groups around the world who work actively for justice and freedom for the Palestinians and for all people. It has not come actively from governments or from international bodies who purportedly stand for the values of justice and equality.
We Palestinians are happy that the Berlin wall came down and that people stand for freedom and democracy. We, unlike others, know what it is like to have a wall disrupt lives, keeping people separated and divided. We know how damaging it can be. But we also know that if those who call for freedom and democracy do not advocate these principles for all peoples, atrocities like the Berlin wall and the West Bank wall will continue to be erected and deny thousands of people the very things they claim to stand for.