On 9th November 1989, the wall that had divided East and West Germany for more than 28 years was finally torn down. The creation of the Berlin Wall had a disastrous effect physically, mentally and symbolically on the lives of millions of Germans and countless others around the globe. It literally ripped the country in two. The fall of the wall was therefore celebrated around the world in 1989, not only because it symbolized the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War, but also because it brought back unity to a divided nation and an end to years of German suffering and pain.
Yesterday, in tribute to that historic event, world leaders including Hillary Clinton and Gordon Brown gathered in Germany to mark the twenty year anniversary of the toppling of the Berlin Wall. However, the irony seemed to be lost on them that while they were celebrating the historic fall of that one wall with concerts, firework displays and other pageantry, they are simultaneously aiding, both directly and indirectly, in the construction of another far more horrific wall. Had it really escaped their notice that not far from the European capital where they stood, expounding rhetoric about the fall of the monstrous dividing wall, that at that very same moment, in the ancient land of Palestine another far more evil, divisive and inhumane wall is currently still under construction. Or is it acceptable in the case of Palestine because it is their ally Israel that is the author of the atrocity and the victims merely Muslims?
Every appalling fact that there is to note about the Berlin Wall is only duplicated and amplified when considering the Israeli Apartheid or Separation Wall. The Apartheid Wall, is longer (the Berlin Wall was 165km long, the Apartheid wall is expected to reach 650km upon completion) it is higher (the Berlin Wall reached an average height 3.6 of metres, the Apartheid Wall reaches a maximum height of 8 metres) infinitely more expensive (an estimated 2.8 million US dollars per km) and is on a course to be far more destructive than the Berlin Wall ever was.
Reading a description of either wall, one would be hard pressed to identify which wall it is that is being described. Chris Bryant describes how the Berlin Wall’s “Watchtowers, barbed wire and armed guards, were symbols of division and death” (FT 9/11/09). Yet the same and worse is true of the Israeli Apartheid Wall. A haphazard amalgamation of mile upon mile of electric fences, razor wire, trenches, blockades, armed watchtowers and enormous concrete blocks together combine to form the Apartheid Wall. It cuts a deep and vicious trajectory literally through the middle of Palestinian homes, farms, villages and neighborhoods, mercilessly dividing communities and families from one another. Furthermore, it deviates substantially from Israel’s own internationally recognized borders. Israel has unilaterally carved out more land for itself from the Palestinian territories by extending the route of the wall and the land it covers by as much as three times its previous border length.
Despite the fact that the wall was declared as illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, Israel continues to construct the wall allowing it to eat away at stolen chunks of Palestinian land and Israel’s allies continue to let her do so unchecked. The Court’s advisory opinion did not only state that “the construction of the wall being built by Israel” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is “contrary to international law” but it also voted, by 14 to 1 that “Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and to “dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated”, but it also held that “Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem.”
Unsurprisingly however, Israel has shown its usual distain for international opinion and has refused to comply with the Court’s recommendations and further still it is of no surprise that Israel’s allies continue to allow her to breach international law unchallenged. The wall has been harshly condemned by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross and countless other reputable bodies and yet their pleas of mercy for the Palestinian people and their demand that Israel bring her actions into line with International law fall upon oblivious and deaf Israeli ears.
The effects of the wall have devastated Palestinian lives. It has had a catastrophic impact on the Palestinian economy, education system, social life, religious life and so on. The wall separates children from their schools, shopkeepers from their shops, farmers from their crops, families from their loved ones, parishioners from their churches, Muslim worshipers from their mosques and terminally ill patients from hospitals and any chance of treatment. Israel’s strategic planning of the route of the wall has ensured that their own citizens have access to the best and most fertile land, natural springs and rivers and other major sources of water that are then walled off from the Palestinian people, livestock and crops that are dying of thirst.
While Gordon Brown yesterday remembered the one to two hundred Germans who died trying to escape over the Berlin Wall did he not spare a thought for those who have been gunned down by the IDF for simply being near the wall? Or what of the thousands of Palestinian men, women and even children who are currently languishing in jail for, among other things, throwing stones at the wall. Does he not consider the absurdity that Israel has accorded the wall more rights and a more honoured status than it does to the human beings who live around it? Throwing a stone at the wall, an inanimate man-made structure, is punishable under Israeli law with a maximum penalty of twenty years in jail!
The mass imprisonment of entire sections of the Palestinian population behind the Apartheid Wall is nothing more than collective punishment. To site just one example of the horrific impact of the wall, one need only look to the city of Qalqilyah with its 45,000 or so inhabitants which has been entirely encircled and walled off from its neighboring towns and villages. There is only one access point which is a controlled checkpoint that the Israeli military are permanently stationed at, letting no one in or out without a permit, effectively strangling the city and its residents and entirely imprisoning them, cutting them off from the outside world. Similar indignities are currently being imposed upon other cities, villages and towns, including Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. “A monument of enslavement” is how John McCain referred to the Berlin Wall yesterday, but what more concrete example is there today of such enslavement than the Israeli Apartheid wall?
It must surely seem to be a confusing contradiction to Palestinians that while they are forcibly imprisoned behind an illegal wall which is growing every day, the rest of the world is ignoring their plight and busy patting themselves on the back for dismantling another smaller wall, twenty years ago. For America and Britain to publicly condemn one wall and decry it as an outrageous obstacle to human rights and then at the same time support the construction of an even worse affront to human dignity in the form of the Apartheid Wall is anathema. It is hypocritical and another example of the double standards that apply in the case of Israel.
The horrors that the Berlin wall inflicted upon generations of people around the world is being revisited on a daily basis on a vaster and more horrific scale in the form of the Israeli Apartheid Wall. It is as though no lessons were learnt. Leaders should not only be uniting to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall but they should also be gathering to commiserate on their failure to prevent history repeating itself on a more devastating scale on their watch. To truly honor those that lived through the Berlin Wall era, we should ensure that their suffering has not been in vain and we should seek to learn the lessons from their experiences. As Pope John Paul II expounded in 2003, “The Holy land does not need walls, but bridges.”
The wall is a product of Zionist racism, discriminating mercilessly against Palestinians and favoring the illegal Israeli settlers. It is a blatant violation of International Law. It is a tool of aggression and theft whereby the strong are using their military might to steal from the weak. It is a means by which to torture, starve, isolate and economically strangle the native civilian population of Palestine. It must be brought down!
Former US President Ronald Regan will always be remembered for telling Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.” If Obama, Brown or any other world leader today wants to leave a truly great legacy, one of the most meaningful and humanitarian stances they must take is to unashamedly align themselves on the side of the victim, not the oppressor, and they must tell Israel, in no uncertain terms, that they too must “tear down that wall.”
1Including the Geneva Convention the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economical, Social and Cultural Rights and many others.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.