“And the walls came tumbling down”

Sonja Karkar, Women for Palestine -ZNet

April 27, 2007

And the walls should come tumbling down. Instead, governments are building them everywhere. Great monolithic structures cutting across our landscapes for all sorts of reasons. The benign ones muffle the noise of speeding cars for people living in homes too close to motorways. These are textured and coloured like some permanent art displays belying the concrete slabs they actually are. Others are much more sinister: concrete slabs that are used to control populations that we fear or do not like. We use the euphemism “security” to justify their “necessity” without any care for the human suffering going on behind them.

Whether for protection and security or to contain and imprison, walls are a symbol of failure – a failure to revel in freedom and embrace our common humanity: that is reason enough to bring them down. In 1989, the world watched in rapture as the Berlin Wall tumbled.

At 4 metres high and 166km long, it had stood for 28 years creating an Iron Curtain between East and Western Europe. However, for all its immensity, the wall – with its watch-towers, border patrols, barbed wire, guard dogs and searchlights – never worked. Centuries earlier, the Great Wall of China – 7.6 metres high, 9 metres wide and extending over 2,400 km – had failed to keep out the invading Mongols. No one could have imagined that a worse wall would be built in the 21st century of our “civilisation”. But, Israel’s Wall is worse beyond all imaginings, as if something higher, wider and more forbidding will ultimately succeed. And even as its effects are finally beginning to nudge a catatonic world into feeling some sort of incredulity – if not outrage – at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, we hear that the US is building a wall to divide Shiite and Sunni enclaves in Baghdad.

So far, the wall planned is only about 5 km long, which is nothing compared to the 700 km plus wall Israel is building around the Occupied West Bank. But already the coalition forces have erected more than 3,000 concrete slabs throughout Baghdad in just two months, many as high as 6 metres. The signs are not looking good and perhaps this is why Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki decided to call a halt to the wall going up around the Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiya. In the minds of the people, the connection has already been made between the US presence in Iraq and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. The wall is just another reminder of the humiliations being forced on Arab populations throughout the Middle East region as the West and Israel pursue their interests.

There is nothing temporary about Israel’s Wall

It began with a 350km projection in June 2002 and by the time it is completed, it will be more than double that with some 55 per cent of the West Bank ending up de facto annexed to Israel. Security is a cover for land theft and creating Israel’s permanent borders. In the process, it is creating a monstrous apartheid situation as some 400,000 Jewish settlers live inside the West Bank protected by the Wall, yet free to move on Israeli-only roads whilst 2.6 million Palestinians are imprisoned by that very same Wall which has fragmented, uprooted and divided their society. According to a World Bank report of 2003, “the wall is not just a wall . . . sections will comprise some (or all) of the following elements: 4 metre trenches on either side; a dirt path ‘to which access will be forbidden’ where potential infiltrators would be exposed to (Israeli Army) fire; a trace path to register footprints; an electronic warning or ‘smart’ fence; a concrete barrier topped with barbed wire; a concrete wall rising as high as 8 metres; a two-lane military patrol road; and fortified guard towers placed at regular intervals.” Is this what the US has in mind for the wretched people of Iraq?

Humankind has not learnt its lesson despite the costly failures of containment which dot our history. It seems that once in government, the mindset of politicians becomes focused on dreams of invincibility at all costs, even human ones. This filters down and insidiously contaminates the people they purport to lead creating an “us and them” mentality which erects real and invisible walls. Without knowing it, the concepts of freedom, democracy and peace slip silently away from the lives of those who erect the walls as much as from those the walls contain. We are all to blame. We cannot speak of symbols, or triumphantly clutch our piece of the Berlin Wall, or put our white arm around a black brother, or speak about Christian love, God’s people and Allah the all-Merciful unless we are prepared to raise our voices against the new walls being built before our eyes and bring them tumbling down.Sonja Karkar is the founder and President of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia. See



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