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Walls Within

July 28, 2011

25 July, 2011 – Jerusalem

In Israel and the West Bank, walls are everywhere, standing in the way of open space and an incessant skyline. At every turn new ideas and thoughts run smack into concrete and invisible barriers that have been erected so as not to let brainstorming get too far.

It’s a pessimistic understanding of a world that likes to think it thrives on hope but really just rests in falsehood. People here wear masks, and no one is quite their true self.

Everyone’s ideas for how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be solved and saved from eternal repetition seem to be themselves repetitive in their creativity. One state, two states, no state, one state, two states, no state. It’s all the same, no change.

Perched like a devil on your shoulder is the thought that, “Maybe, one day…” But then that thought goes to waste when you come to terms with reality.

For me, I met that reality at Qalandiya when I saw a family of two parents and their three young children get turned away from entering Jerusalem. One of the young children began to cry in front of the metal barrier separating him from the Israeli border guards. When they turned their backs on Israel to walk from where they came, the mother grabbed the hands of her children and lowered her face, smiling in a manner of defeat.

I saw that same reality in Hebron, in its vacated streets and in the welded shut Arab souq located in the H2 Israeli controlled district of the city.

I heard it in the words of Sherine, a young Palestinian activist who lives on the outskirts of Bethlehem in a town facing demolition. When asked if Palestinians would treat Israelis with peace if any form of statehood were achieved she answered, “You cannot dehumanize people all their lives and ask them to [behave] at the end of the day…it doesn’t work like that.”

And I saw it once more in actions promoting a mirage of understanding and compromise. The young children of Al-Aqaba, a Palestinian village close to the city of Tubas, were invited by an Israeli school to experience the joy of the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in their lives, and quite possibly the only time. The village of 300 is slated for demolition and is under constant threat by the surrounding IDF training camps and bulldozers ready to tear away people’s existence.

All of the children were invited, but only some received permits by the Israeli government. For reasons unknown, the mayor of Al-Aqaba decided that only the boys who had received permits would join the trip, while the girls stayed at home.

Covered in sand and with their clothes still clinging to them because of the salty sea, the boys of the village hopped back onto the bus after a day filled with pleasure. Surrounded by smiling faces and joyful songs, it was the picture of happiness, all brought to them by this Israeli school that extended a hand of friendship.

As the bus began its journey from Jaffa to Al-Aqaba, I looked up into the distance where infrastructure as high as the heavens provided the barrier to my hopes and mirages of peace. I saw the buildings of Tel Aviv and I thought to myself that while this Israeli school was trying to spread a message of hope they were doing more harm than good. Because the children of Al-Aqaba will return home, to a world that is not supposed to exist in the eyes of too many.

And as the children began to clap their hands to a warlike rhythm, I felt the imminence of a never-ending story cast itself upon the place. I saw an invisible barrier hanging before us in the air. It was not the fictitious border, it was not demarcated by any wall. It was not a soldier or a tank and nor was it a politician. It was an ideology, unpourous and tethered to the memory of these children for the rest of their lives, because they were given a taste of something that is not meant to be theirs from the hands of those who won’t ever let go.

Walls can be torn down, a soldier’s life can be taken, politicians can be dismantled, but an ideology is the living dead. It needs neither air nor blood to pump existence into the thoughts that separate “them” from “you.”

And that is the barrier to peace: ideology. It prevents coexistence, understanding, and communication.

It’s easy to stand at the Qalandiya Checkpoint or in Bethlehem and look up at the colorfully, politically decorated wall and think to yourself, “What a messed up world.” But it’s harder to see past that wall and realize that the conflict is not founded in that concrete barrier, but is invisible and all around.

That wall that separates the West Bank from Israel is not the real wall. It garners so much attention and focus, but it’s not what prevents peace. The real walls are invisible, barriers all around that prevent freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of knowledge, freedom of life. You can’t see them, but they are there.

It’s stubborn ideology, that’s the true barrier. Its attached itself to the hearts of Israelis and Palestinians alike. It can hear the thoughts of resistance from miles away, and is constantly preparing to fight back.

The human being has to be powerful enough to overcome it, to fight the battle within before the battle throughout this land can ever be overcome.

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