Big Walls

Big men build big walls. Walls to separate nations. Walls to make people feel safe. Walls to exclude the other. Walls to make sure we never mix with them or get to know them. Walls to prevent empathy from flowing freely.

Donald Trump is a big man, and if he becomes president, he has vowed to build his own big wall. Apologies Donald –  “a great, great wall” along the US – Mexico border in order to stop illegal entrants once and for all. We can almost imagine the moment that he came up with the idea: sitting on his Chesterfield, cigar in hand, he informs a gaggle of sycophantic associates who would never dare to disagree with him, that the time for talk, for diplomacy and soft solutions is over – none of it has done a damn thing, and (his indignation growing) the drug dealers and rapists continue to flood over the border! But it’s ok, because he will do what all those bleeding hearts will never have the nerve to do: like the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, he will build a great wall, a wall to end all walls! It doesn’t matter if he alienates the entire Latino vote in the process because he is filthy rich, and in the land of opportunity, money buys votes and elections.

Palestine 2009. Israel's Wall in Bethlehem, West Bank.

Palestine 2009. Israel’s Wall in Bethlehem, West Bank. Copyright Montecruz Foto 2011.

The big men in Israel continue to build their big wall. Upon completion, it will be 700km in length. It was supposed to follow the armistice line established in the 1949 UN agreement, but in reality, it often ventures into the West Bank and has resulted in the Palestinians losing another 10% of their territory. It has drastically limited their ability to move freely through their own land. The following is from a UN Paper published in March 2005:

… it is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the Barrier. The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities.

But the Israelis don’t care. They will continue to make Swiss cheese of the West Bank in their slow, but sure act of theft. Sections of the wall yet to be built will go deep into Palestine in order to surround Jewish settlements.

The West Bank barrier has worked to some extent. It had reduced the incidents of terrorist attacks. It has worked so they don’t care about the lives it has made more difficult. Israeli empathy now laps up against the wall; it has found its limit.

It also limits the empathy of Palestinians. Every time a women dies in childbirth because she can’t get to hospital in time or a man gets fired for being late because he gets held up at a checkpoint for the tenth time in a month, the enmity grows. The wall is helping to perpetuate the conflict.

Looking through the US-Mexico Fence.

Looking through the US-Mexico Fence. Copyright Garik Asplund 2008.

There is evidence to suggest that the existing fence along the US – Mexico border has made the crossing extremely perilous and that it has had a negative effect on the ecosystem. We can imagine what the effects of even greater barrier would be. Moreover, even if a wall is built, the investment made by the cartels and people smugglers in the US market is too great for them to simply turn their backs on it. They will continue to get drugs and people across the border.

On a more philosophical level, walls are a childish solution to our problems; in fact, they are not a solution at all. When we build a wall, we effectively turn our backs to the problem, we say to the other, ‘we are not going to deal with you, we are just going to exclude you, isolate you. We put the problem on the other side of the wall so we can’t see it anymore. But the wall remains, there to reflect our fears, every time we see it.