Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Wall is a Wall

As I have gone about the process of slowly trying to make sense of the last two weeks of my life, I have had a great deal of difficulty. Everything happened so fast. Little time to sit with the emotions of it. No time to fall apart.

Now I'm back at work full time and trying to make sense of it for myself AND help the people around me understand what I saw. It is, frankly, exhausting.

But the thing I keep coming back to is the wall. The Separation Wall, or Apartheid Wall, is what Palestinians call it. The Israelis call it the Security Wall. This is more than semantics, as the argument about what one calls the wall has everything to do with what the wall is actually for.

I know that I skipped a lot of the history lesson in my haste to get into the details of my trip after the long delay in writing. I apologize for that, and I'll try to piece some of it together now.

In September of 2000, the 2nd Intifada ("shaking off") broke out in Palestine. This upsurge in Palestinian resistance was a result of the continuation of the conditions that Palestinians had been living in since the occupation by Israel in 1967. Some had hoped that after the Oslo Agreements of 1994, things would get better. They didn't.

Israel argued that the violence of the Intifada (there were several suicide bombings in Jerusalem) necessitated the construction of a wall between it and the West Bank. In truth, they had been planning on building this wall for nearly a decade prior. In some places, the barrier is a series of fences, in others, it is a concrete wall 3 meters thick and 8 meters tall.

It is ugly.

There is a lot to say about the wall, and I'll say more later, but for now, I want to leave with 3 things. The first two are arguments that were shared with me by Palestinians that I met who don't think much of this structure.

#1-->If the wall is there for security and safety only, then why is 80% of it inside the 1948 border that marks the territory the West Bank? These Palestinians that I talked to argued that it would be unfortunate, but ultimately perfectly acceptable, if Israel were to build a wall along the border. That would be their prerogative. But, if the overwhelming majority of the wall is INSIDE the border of the West Bank, then it ultimately functions to take land from Palestinians. If you check the following map, it's pretty clear. The dotted black line is the 1948 border. The red line is where the barrier is being built/has been built. Notice how it carves up the West Bank. Security?

#2--> If the wall is there for security and safety only, then why does it sometimes (as I witnessed myself) run right through the middle of a Palestinian community, splitting it in half and forcing one group of people into the West Bank, while their former neighbors live in East Jerusalem (and thus can't be visited)? Who is being kept safe by this? Israelis? No.

The last thing I'll say about the wall is this...where there is oppression, there is resistance. Almost everywhere I saw wall, I saw some of the most vibrant and beautiful graffiti that I have ever seen. Palestinians, and people from around the world it seems, have taken to painting this structure in an attempt to turn something ugly into something beautiful. Here is one photo that got me excited because it shows the power of this little thing called Hip-Hop, created in the South Bronx and gone global. More pictures to come.

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