Sunday, July 30, 2006

Walls: Refuge or Prison?

We finished (more or less) building the house yesterday morning, just in time to join in a grand celebration to hand over the keys to its proud new owner. It isn't a mansion and won't even be big enough for the entire family to live in but it looks pretty spiffy to me. The (bare) bulbs glow and the (low) pressure taps flow. The walls have one (thin) coat of white paint and, outside, mountains of rubble remain on only two sides. Foundations, walls, roof -- all are strong enough, I would say, to keep out any who would seek to do harm. Unless they come riding a Caterpillar bulldozer.

One hundred twenty or so Palestinians were on hand to celebrate, along with the ICAHD building team (including moi), reps from various NGOs, town officials and a few sheep. Very rewarding but equally melancholy. Spreading out around the home are mounds of tangled rubble, tomb stones for other families whose homes and lives were destroyed, without notice, for lack of a building permit. You can get all the right signatures on all the right forms, but if your home is in Area C you'll likely encounter delay followed by bureaucratic delay, and to hear excuse followed by inscrutable, hollow excuse. Explore every legal option. Spend thousands of shekels. Still, it is only a matter of time before your permit is denied.

Our "direct-action" response to this remarkable state of affairs has, on one level, helped only one family. On another level, however, an entire town has been reminded that far away, in places like Ireland, Canada, Belgium and the U.S., and in Israel itself, many stand with them against injustice and human suffering. Reflecting yesterday on how an international presence gives Palestinians courage to persevere in resistance, one Palestinian said poignantly: "You are our back."

And so we clapped. Speeches multiplied. A Bedouin flute accompanied folk dance. We planted two trees in the "yard" and took lots of pictures. Drinks and fruit made their way around. Multitudes processed through the house, nodding in approval. Children darted in and out, drinking and spilling cans of sugary soda.

Funny thing about walls. Most walls serve to keep dangerous people out. Whether it's a house, a castle, a city or an empire (e.g., Imperial China), safety and security lie within. Such walls provide refuge.

Other walls work in reverse. I'm thinking of prison walls, the Berlin Wall, the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto. Such walls exists to contain, to constrain, to keep dangerous (however defined) people in. Such walls imprison.

Israel's "Separation Barrier" imprisons. Officially explained as a barrier to protect Israelis from terrorists, the wall's principal function is to establish a new, unilaterally imposed border between Israel and Palestine. Indeed, the wall is not primarily a security fence at all -- something the wall's engineer and the Israeli government know very well. Turns out kids can climb the wall by wedging fingers and toes between the giant vertical slabs. Those who can't climb over it can (and no doubt will) carve tunnels under it. Any who wish to wage war against Israel will just have to get more creative. The resistance may be slowed down but it will not be stopped.

Meanwhile, the wall causes untold hardship for average Palestinians -- Palestinians like my new friend Hani, our construction supervisor from Ramallah, who wanted to visit his infant daughter in a Jerusalem hospital but couldn't get permission. Hani smiled as he explained to me his plight. But I know a father's pain when I see it.

The irony. We just spent two weeks erecting "illegal" walls to afford Palestinian family refuge while another squad of workers labored not far away to erect a "legal" wall that is sentencing millions of non-combattant Palestinians to indefinite terms in prison. One thing is clear to me: this is no solution.

Ephesians 2:14. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

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