“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
“Mending Wall,” Robert Frost
Funny how Frost’s fallen boulders, the size of bread loaves and small balls, when placed back on the other rocks that form a separation line between pine trees and apple trees on a New England farm, a border two or three feet high, becomes a wall while another, constructed of cement forms 25 feet high augmented by chain link fence topped with rolled barbed wire, spiked by electric currents, and secured by Medieval guard towers, becomes, as it snakes its way over 400 miles of sand hills and green valleys, slips through towns and villages, and slithers through the debris left by bulldozed homes and uprooted olive groves, becomes a “fence,” a “separation barrier.” Remarkable what we do with words! Brutality masked as innocence. What lies we tell each other to hide our fears.
From Jericho to Jenin walls have played an ironic and paradoxical role in the lives of the Jewish people. Joshua led his people, at the Lord’s command, to circle the walls of Jericho, and he said to them “Shout: for the Lord hath given you the city,” and they shouted and the walls came tumbling down. “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.”(6:21). But victory, as complete and devastating as it was, turned to defeat as the spoils of war overcame love of the Lord and “the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel.”(7:1). What lessons might be learned from this passage from Joshua? First and most graphically, walls do not protect a people! Determination, the will of a people destroys walls. Secondly, the corrupt appetites that lay hidden in the bowels, especially greed and power, destroy the achievements of a people and corrupt its will. After 2500 years, these lessons have yet to be learned.
Frost taunts his neighbor, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/ What I was walling in or walling out,/ And to whom I was like to give offense.” I would suggest that Sharon’s “Wall of Fear” walls in both the Palestinians and the Jews, that it gives offense to those on both sides, and it offends the moral sensibilities of any civilized person anywhere in the world. Sharon prepared for the building of the wall by laying its foundation in the guts of his people, fear of four million terrorists and fear that the future offered no hope for peace. Having bulldozed the Palestinian Authority out of relevance, he removed the possibility of negotiations, and, by that act, left the Jews without hope for peace, leaving him free to force the erection of the “Wall.” But there are Jews who find the Wall odious, Jews who object to the US Congress’ Resolution 371 that supports Sharon’s walling in of human beings because that resolution shows no regard for human rights violations resulting from this wall to say nothing of its illegality as contrary to prohibitions against occupying forces confiscating land. Jews for Peace in Palestine, peace loving Jews in Israel, the TIKKUN community and others around the world understand that this Wall raises anger against the United States to new heights thus lowering, ironically, the barriers protecting our security. Why this Wall does not offend our representatives boggles the mind since it makes graphic how biased this administration is against the Palestinians and confronts the Arab world with a visible and ugly icon of its racist mentality. The simple answer to Frost’s question slithers over the Palestinian landscape offending in its moral depravity every human that has a soul.
Consider, as Frost suggested, how the Wall walls in the Israeli people: it looms on the horizon a daily reminder that they have failed to achieve their primary goal, a peaceful assimilation of Jews from around the world into a haven, given to them by a remorseful Europe and America, where all could live in dignity and respect, without rancor or fear of racism, hatred and oppression; a daily reminder that they have walled in a poor and deprived people behind barriers that isolate them from the community of nations, from their fields and shops, from relatives and families, not unlike the Pogroms suffered by the Jews in Poland, Austria, Russia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia; a daily and fearful reminder that someday, somewhere, someone will scale or circumnavigate the Wall as people have done from time immemorial – as the Huns did when they mocked the efforts of the Chinese to keep them at bay on their side of the Great Wall, or the Germans when they laughingly skirted the Maginot Line – to make absurd the efforts of one people to subdue the will of another; a daily reminder that their purported Democracy mocks itself as it seals off an entire population in full sight of the world community despite the vocal objection of that community, indeed, in complete and utter disbelief that the Jews of all peoples could undertake such a heinous act; a daily reminder that they have created a monstrous gray monument to the harm they have inflicted on another people, a monument that in time will have the same effect as the march around Jericho, “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of their sword”; a daily reminder that visible or no each and every name of an incarcerated Palestinian is carved into that cement just as the names of the fallen Jews, victims of Nazi atrocities, are carved into the marble slabs at the Holocaust Memorial in Florida; and, finally, a daily reminder that this Wall is but the beginning of a Wall that must stretch north and south along the Jordanian border, further north along the Syrian line, west along Lebanon’s southern coast, and south along the Sinai, thus completing the incarceration of the Jews once again.
Now consider how this Wall entombs the Palestinians: it becomes a daily reminder to the indigenous people that they can no longer hope to return to their land, indeed, they can’t even see their land, and their longing turns inward to wrestle with an absolute despair; it festers in the gut as a concrete reminder of villages lost in the 1948 battles, of the forced relocation of relatives and friends to refugee camps, of the theft of more land in 1967 and the complete defiance by Israel of UN resolutions to return their land, and of the world’s indifference to their plight; it looms a constant reminder to their children that they must grow up in the shadow of the Wall and watch the setting sun slide beneath the barbed wire and black silhouetted forms that become for them a stark and unnatural horizon lacking the magnificence of the receding sun and the hope it symbolizes for the coming day; it harbors in its very existence the seeds that grow terrorists even as it makes possible the manufacture of bombs undetected by Israeli forces unless they venture behind the Wall and become sitting targets for the deranged, similar to the situation facing American troops in Iraq, negating thereby the very reason for erecting it; it rises, an eyesore among eyesores, in a barren landscape, a fitting symbol of oppression and occupation that prevents the people from gaining employment, forcing them to leave their homes in desperation, an act much desired by the builder of the Wall; it stares down on the people like some dumb force that feeds the hatred of the fanatics and supplies them with an endless stream of recruits able and willing to wreck havoc on the innocent in Israel since Israel has inflicted this insidious presence on them; and, finally, it begs the Palestinians to carve their names on that Wall to remind them that they are the victims of an occupying government that has failed to respond to their legitimate rights as expressed in numerous UN resolutions, that has resorted to barbaric means to assure safety for its people even as it creates conditions that will result in deprivation and death for those oppressed.
What is this Wall but a fitting monument for Ariel Sharon, the final stone that will be his gravestone etched with the names of all the Palestinians he has ever slaughtered since he was 23 years of age and began his march of destruction into history. This is Sharon’s Vietnam Memorial, and, thank God, it is 400 miles long because he has far more than 58,000 names to carve on its hideous surface; no glowing black marble here, rather a gray, dull cement color appropriate to its purpose as a memorial for the enslaved that must live in its shadow and contemplate how a civilized world could allow the erection of such a tomb. How absolutely sadistic are the actions of this man who decimated the very buildings and infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority and declared their leaders irrelevant even as he demanded that they stop the terrorism in their midst. Having made the conditions of peace impossible of achievement, he resorts to the creation of the very symbol that gave credibility to the plight of the Jews in Europe, the walls of Auschwitz-Berkenau and turns that symbol inside out!
What is this Wall to the American whose government is complicit in its creation? Aside from its feeble entreaties to Sharon to stop construction and its shameful retreat when he tells our President to shove it, this government does nothing. Its cowardly behavior deserves nothing but our contempt. But it acts in our name and this is what it has done: my tax dollars and yours have paid for the factory that made the molds that have become the Wall; our tax dollars have paid for the architectural design of the Wall, paid the workers to pour the cement, paid for the bulldozers that were used to clear the land of olive groves and houses, paid the drivers of the bulldozers, hired the men who placed the cement forms in lock step fashion over hill and dale, erected the chain link fence and the barbed wire, constructed the guard towers that stand like pitiful replicas of ancient days when the only recourse to disputes was the destruction of the powerless, not reasoned deliberations based on fairness and justice, accepted the illegal acquisition of Palestinian land by encircling illegal Israeli settlements, accepted as well the theft of water in aquifers beneath Palestinian land, accepted the necessity of continued support of this monstrous insult to humanity that will cost the American taxpayer more and more millions as the years go by, and, finally, and most tellingly, paid the price of insecurity for Americans around the world as the deprived of the world resort to the only retaliation left to them, a hatred of America engendered by our blind support of the state that inflicts such suffering.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”; that something abhors what is not natural, and a wall is not natural, it is a man made structure the purpose of which is to exclude some for the alleged benefit of others. But when that purpose denies people freedom of movement, freedom of participation in the affairs of humankind, freedom of discourse with their fellows, freedom of fulfillment of individual initiative, freedom to raise a family, freedom to express opinions contrary to the power elite, freedom of self-expression, and freedom to believe according to their conscience, then the wall is destructive and anathema to human society. How distant the memory that offered UN Peacekeepers to stand between the Palestinians and the Israelis that they might resort to deliberations not oppression. Certainly, Sharon’s Wall of Fear strangles freedom both for the Palestinian and the Israeli. It erects a barrier to peace; it does not encourage peace. It emblazons fear; it does not elicit hope. It stands a monument to failure, to retaliation and to vengeance. It could be nothing else.
William Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His new book, Psalms for the 21st Century, was just published by Mellen Press. He can be reached at: cookb@ULV.EDU