Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
–Robert Frost, from “Mending Wall”
Last week’s meeting in Annapolis, Maryland—in which President Bush convened a host of interested parties to talk about peace between Israel and Palestine—got me thinking about walls.
Of course, given the ongoing construction of the Great West Bank Barrier—a combination of massive wall and fencing that, when finished, will appropriate for Israel an extra ten percent of what remains of Palestinian land—walls are a hard topic to avoid for anyone who is even remotely interested in what goes on in the land that Abrahams’ spiritual heirs call holy.
There are lots of reasons to find fault with the Great West Bank Barrier. It separates Palestinians from their best sources of water, it bisects Palestinian farms and villages, and, in some cases—most notably the little town of Bethlehem—it turns whole communities into Israeli prisons. The route of the wall is immoral, the reality of the wall is causing a humanitarian crisis, and I’m wondering if those who are supporting, financing and constructing the Great West Bank Barrier have ever read history.
Over the years, humans have built lots of walls with which they have attempted to separate themselves from real and imagined enemies, and the walls never work. Walls never improve the lives of those whose communities are separated. Walls stifle economic vitality, they foster suspicion and fear, they provide little in the way of real protection, and they never work, at least not for long.
If you doubt me, go to China. There you will find one very large wall, erected at great expense and over centuries to keep the Mongols from invading China. The Mongols invaded anyway, and ever since the days of Marco Polo, the Great Wall of China has been nothing more than a tourist attraction, and proof that the things we build need not be useful to be beautiful.
(Here are my wife, Anne and my daughter, Mimi on China’s Great Wall)
If China is too far away, go to Scotland and visit Hadrian’s Wall along that fine country’s southern border with England. Another brilliant tourist trap with, I’m told, some great views of the Borders and of Yorkshire, but the Italians didn’t last long on Albion’s shores.
(This is my mom on Hadrian’s Wall a few weeks ago.)
If you prefer bratwurst to haggis, visit Berlin and you will find yet another wall—torn down by Mr. Gorbachev—that now is a curious reminder of a bygone era.
Perhaps you’re an American who doesn’t like to fly. Fine. Visit the 2000 miles of border between the United States and Mexico. There you will find lots of walls and barriers, yet it won’t be long before my Mother’s home town in Iowa will have a majority Hispanic population.
If in human history there is an example of a security wall or barrier that has improved the long term wellbeing and safety of those on one side or another, I don’t know about it.
Apologists for Israel’s great West Bank Barrier will be quick to point out that since the beginning of the wall’s construction, there has been a significant drop in Palestinian suicide terror against Israeli civilians. I say thank God for that, but I wonder how much credit can be ascribed to the Great West Bank Barrier. After all, a similar structure has encircled the Gaza strip for years, and it hasn’t stopped those driven by an unfortunate desire to attack Israel. The Gaza barrier isn’t tall enough to block Quassam rockets, and it’s not deep enough to dissuade tunnel diggers.
The safety of the Israeli public matters to me. Truly I hope no militants decide to attack Israel from the far side of the Great West Bank Barrier, but the minute such an attack is planned and executed, the wall’s futility will be evident.
The fighting in Israel and Palestine has gone on long enough. Too many lives have been lost, too much good will has been wasted. The world is tired and the residents of the region are despondent. The time is long since past to abandon the Great West Bank Barrier in favor of more constructive, comprehensive and long lasting pathways to peace.
I hope the Great West Bank Barrier gets torn down, but not all of it. I’d like for some of it to remain as a testimony to the futility of such walls so that the next time someone decides to build a wall to divide people—along the entire US/Mexico border, for example—they can look to the late Great West Bank Barrier and see that walls are an immoral waste of time.