Building a Mighty Ghetto State:
"First of All This Wall Must Fall"
True, this is not the wall of Jericho that could be destroyed by the sounding of trumpets. The people who are building this obstacle want it to stand for eternity, much as "united" Jerusalem is the "eternal capital of Israel." The Israeli Right has no concept of a period of time less than eternity. But among Israeli Leftists there are also some who believe that the wall has created an "irreversible" situation.
Not me. Because I remember other "irreversible" situations. And other "eternities", too.
Our Wall is frequently being compared to the Berlin Wall. Visually and politically, this is a reasonable comparison. Also because the "Berlin Wall" was not only an urban monstrosity. It was part of the German section of the Iron Curtain, cutting all of Germany into two and extending from the Baltic Sea in the north to the border of Czechoslovakia in the south-almost a thousand km, approximately the same as the planned length of Sharon's monster.
In Germany, too, the Berlin Wall was a huge obstacle, a combination of walls and fences, watchtowers and firing positions, "death zones" and patrol paths. It divided the country, scarred the landscape and separated parents from children. An awesome monster, arousing fear and loathing, a symbol of power and finality.
Especially finality. Everyone who saw it felt that this was a point of no return in German history, that the separation was eternal, that there was no point fighting against it.
Indeed, serious politicians based their policy on the wall's permanency. Leftists and Rightists resigned themselves to the fact. No serious commentator questioned it. The situation was "irreversible."
And then, one day, like a completely unforeseen eruption of a volcano, it just happened. The terrible wall disappeared, as if by itself. A communist minister made a slip of the tongue, the police had a moment of indecision, a crowd gathered-and the "irreversible" became eminently "reversible." The situation had changed. Like the dinosaurs, the terrible monster disappeared from the earth.
(Some time before that I drove from West Germany to Berlin. I had to pass a DDR border station. Vopos (Volkspolizei) with hard faces and raw commands: "Your passport! Sit there! Wait!" No "please," "thank you" or "excuse me." Like the Nazis in Hollywood movies. Same uniform, same peaked caps. same behavior, same everything.
Some days after the fall of the wall I passed there again. The same policemen were still there, but they were unrecognizable. Smiles from ear to ear. Unbounded civility. Please, Sir. Thank you, Sir. Would you please, Sir. Just a moment, Sir. Obviously not only walls are reversible, people are reversible, too. There is, of course, an important distinction between the German and the Israeli wall. East Germany had a border fixed by international agreement (between the Soviet Union and the Western allies at the end of World War II). The wall was built entirely on this line. Its path was self-evident. But here there is no agreement, no border, no self-evident path. Everything is determined by anonymous planners.
It is easy to imagine them sitting in their air-conditioned offices, a map spread out before them. A very special map, because it shows only Jewish settlements and bypass roads. The Palestinian towns and villages do not appear on it at all. As if the ethnic cleansing, that so many in Israel (and in the Sharon government) are longing for, had already happened.
That is what's so special about this Wall: it is inhuman. The planners have completely ignored the existence of (non-Jewish) human beings. They took into account hills and valleys, settlements and bypass roads. But they totally ignored the Palestinian neighborhoods and villages, their inhabitants and their fields. As if they did not exist.
And so the Wall stands between children and their school, between students and their university, between patients and their doctor, between parents and their children, between villages and their wells, between peasants and their fields. Like a big armored bulldozer that crashes into a village and crushes and destroys everything in its path without faltering, the Wall cuts thousands of the thin threads that constitute the fabric of people's daily lives, as if they weren't there.
For the planners, these lives simply do not exist. The country is empty of non-Jews. At the beginning of the 21st century they act in accordance to the Zionist slogan that was current at the end of the 19th : "A land without a people for a people without a land."
Indeed, the idea of the wall is rooted deep in the Zionist consciousness and has accompanied it right from the beginning. In his book Der Judenstaat, which gave birth to the modern Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl was already writing: "In Palestine we shall constitute a part of the wall of Europe against Asian outposts of culture against barbarism." More than a hundred years later, Sharon's wall expresses exactly the same outlook.
Outsiders won't understand this. Yasser Arafat told me this week that Abu-Mazen, on his recent visit to the United States, showed President Bush a map of the Wall. Bush was shocked. He shook the map before the Vice President, Dick Cheney, and cried: "What's this? Where is the Palestinian State?"
By its very existence the wall seems to express power. It announces: "We are mighty. We can do whatever we want. We shall imprison the Palestinians in little enclaves and cut them off from the world." But that is make-believe. In reality, the Wall expresses ancient Jewish fears. In the Middle Ages, the Jews surrounded themselves with walls in order to feel safe, long before they were obliged to live in ghettoes.
A State that surrounds itself with a Wall is nothing but a ghetto-state. A strong ghetto, for sure, an armed ghetto, a ghetto that frightens everybody in the neighborhood-but a ghetto, nevertheless, that feels save only behind walls and barbed wire and watchtowers.
We shall not achieve peace unless we overcome this ghetto mentality. And first of all, we must get rid of the Wall.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with the peace group called Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. One of his essays is also included in Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair's forthcoming book: The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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This story was published on September 8, 2003.