This week German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, other world leaders and the people of Europe celebrated and commemorated the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. We were reminded of President Ronald Reagan’s insistent provocation to Gorbachev in 1987: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
In a sense, Reagan was preaching to the choir. Gorbachev, with his Glasnost and Perestroika policies, had signaled a new “openness” and freedom within the Warsaw Pact nations of the Soviet empire, thus heralding the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But while the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago this week, today there is another wall rising more than double its height, creating the impoverished, degrading, prison-like ghettos of Israeli-occupied Palestine: the 25-foot tall Israeli wall. Yet neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has spoken out against this wall.
People displaced, homes demolished
This wall, at times concrete, razor wire, and a no-man’s land, stretches over 400 miles (three times longer than the Berlin Wall) deep within West Bank cities, villages and neighborhoods, and zigzags throughout 10 out of the 11 West Bank districts. Several thousand Palestinian residents have been forced to leave their homes, several hundred houses and buildings have been demolished, and land has been stolen for the construction of this wall. On its path, the wall de facto annexes to Israel nearly 50 percent of the West Bank (the Palestinian state of the so called “two-state solution”) and destroys all continuity of life in the region.
As the Berlin Wall affected their Berliner counterparts, the Israeli wall splits Palestinian families but confines them to even greater abuses and indignities. Already suffering from land lost to massive Israeli settlements (housing as many as 500,000 Israelis), Israeli-only roads and military expansion, Palestinians are deprived of freedom of movement, work, agricultural land, hundreds of thousands of uprooted olive trees, water, roads, access to health facilities, educational institutions, markets, family connections and religious sites — all within the Palestinian territories. The Israeli military forces have established a complex, draconian permit system requiring Palestinians trapped by the wall to obtain and renew permits to remain in their homes, go to their jobs and other communities, obtain medical help, and gain access to their agricultural fields.
According to the recent Amnesty International report, “Israel Rations Palestinians to Trickle of Water,” the wall contributes to Palestinians being further deprived of water. Israel appropriates to its settlements and Israel proper large areas of the water-rich Palestinian land it occupies and bars Palestinians from accessing them. Palestinians must obtain permits from the Israeli military in order to carry out water-related projects in the territories. Applications for such permits are often rejected or subject to long delays.
Amounts to effective annexation
The Israeli wall, the Israeli-only settlements, and the occupation itself violate international law. A major United Nations Charter violation of the wall is the unilateral demarcation of a new border in the West Bank that amounts to effective annexation of occupied land. Furthermore, along with the settlements, the destruction for and building of the wall have amounted to numerous violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. And because the wall divides populations on the basis of race and ethnicity and discriminates against the residents of the West Bank to benefit illegal Israeli settlers, thus complying with the definition of apartheid, the wall constitutes a violation of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Hence, many of us refer to the barrier as the Israeli Apartheid Wall.
This wall can be viewed as an expansion of the American empire in that U.S. governments and corporations invest billions into Israel’s military institutions and arsenals, thus ensuring it as a military stronghold in the Middle East and using its might in subjugating the Palestinian people. We saw Israel’s military might in action last December and January in its 22-day war on the more than two-year and still besieged, blockaded, and imprisoned people of Gaza, a war that killed 1,400 Palestinians.
Now, here we are, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, being led by an African-American president who, during his days at Harvard, protested South African apartheid. Will we one day hear Obama say, “Mr. Netanyahu, tear down this wall!”?
Sanna Towns of St. Paul is a retired St. Paul school teacher; Joseph Towns of St. Louis Park is a former University of Minnesota graduate student. They are members of the Coalition for Palestinian Rights.