Archive for August, 2004

The Wall

August 12, 2004

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, August 12, 2004

“Good fences make good neighbors” is an old English saying. Unfortunately, the so-called “Security Fence” that Israel is building is neither good nor a fence. It is an evil barrier that will exacerbate the dehumanization of a whole population. Israel uses the word “security” because it has very skillfully put its security as a priority for the world’s conscience. This way Israel averts being challenged under the pretext of security.

Humans erect psychological and legal barriers between themselves simply on the basis of looks, religion, race, or social class. The separation wall might be the first physical barrier which Israel has erected, but in reality the process of putting up walls and barriers started with the establishment of the Sate of Israel in 1948, and continued with the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967.

The decision for the Israeli state to be a Jewish state, rather than a state of all of its citizens, was in itself a decision to establish a wall between the Jews of the new state and the non-Jewish population, the indigenous Palestinians. Those Palestinians who were dispossessed of their land and identity found themselves to be either stateless refugees or second-class citizens. Through “legal” legislation many more walls were erected within the State of Israel — laws that tightly restricted Palestinian access to land and that limited the possibilities of developing Palestinian cities and towns – turning Israel gradually into an apartheid state with two different sets of laws for Jews and Arabs. Using biblical texts to justify confiscation of more land after the 1967 conquest to build exclusively Jewish settlements spelled another chapter in the building of walls and barriers. The separation wall now being built is but the latest, and most obvious, of Israel’s discriminatory walls.

It is amazing how the world community can stand helpless against this new reality of the separation wall. Despite the fact that the European countries were critical of Israel for constructing the separation wall, they abstained when the UN voted to take the case to the International High Court of Justice at The Hague. How hypocritical! The UN resolution did pass, but its impact was watered down by those abstentions and by the usual American vote against any resolution condemning Israel.

Regarding the separation wall, I cannot help but recall the words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” For that is exactly the story of our dispossession as a people as well as the story of this wall. Good and responsible people can understand discriminatory realities, but are so often afraid to expose the truth for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. The truth of the wall has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and it is the duty of good people not to allow the triumph of evil. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).

Will the world community continue to be hostage of intimidation? Some refuse to be intimidated: think of the many activists, Israelis and Palestinians, as well as members of the international solidarity movement, who, with their relentless efforts, have been able to expose the truth regarding the separation wall. They have been putting themselves in places of danger to emphasize the gravity of building such a wall and its impact on the soul of the people on both sides of the wall.

Israel claims to want this “security fence” in order to separate the Palestinians from the Israelis, and to prevent the infiltration of Palestinians to Israel. This justification might have been acceptable if it were erected on the 1967 borderline in conjunction with a full withdrawal from the occupied territories in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. But as it is now, and with Israel defying all UN resolutions, the wall is actually separating Palestinians from Palestinians. It is also separating Palestinians from their land, work, hospitals, schools, churches and mosques; and from their families and the centre of their lives. The wall, in brief, makes normal life impossible for Palestinians.

I sincerely hope that Israel will realize that to guarantee its security, it has to see the other as a human being. It was the inclusive theology of Jesus and the face-to-face encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that pulled down the walls between Jew and Samaritan when Jesus asked for a drink of water.

Putting up a barrier and excluding the Other might provide temporary security for Israelis, but it does not solve the long-term problem, and it increases Palestinian insecurity. Healing and reconciliation will not be possible from behind walls and barriers, for each will only see a monster on the other side, and it will only exacerbate the animosity and create physical ghettos for Palestinians as well as psychological ghettos for Israelis. It is ironic that Israeli power is leading the Jewish people back to psychological ghettos, when there would be other options. The Israeli soldiers who are refusing to serve in an occupying force have certainly made their choice rather than compromise their humanity.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

How can the two peoples destined to live side by side in this Holy Land overcome the wall of hostility and live in peace? Certainly not through a reinforced concrete walls eight metres in height or through barbed wire and electrified fences. Nor will it be achieved by military occupation, oppression, and harassment at checkpoints and roadblocks.

If only we could reflect on The Golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12), a common ethical code amongst practically all faiths. If this code could be adopted as the principle for all human relationships, then no walls would be necessary and security and peace would prevail. Dare we hope! Or will power and greed continue to govern the actions of political leaders, losing all humanity in the process?

This article was originally published in the July-September 2004 issue of the Mennonite Central Committee’s “Peace Office Newsletter.” Republished with permission.