The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago today was an epic event that literally changed the course of history. As many people in the international community celebrate what happened in Germany, today is also a painful reminder that walls still stand or continue to be built around the world. In the West Bank, the wall is twice the height and three times longer than the Berlin Wall.
Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip all suffer from the Israeli policy of “hafradah,” which means “separation” in English. The wall dissects—and in some cases demolishes—Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. The West Bank is continually being sliced and diced by Israeli settlements and the wall that surrounds them. Gaza is also surrounded, with walls on three sides and armed naval boats patrolling the sea. This blockade prevents Palestinians’ most basic human rights—like the rights to water and food—from being realized.
The wall separates Palestinians from one another in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Families and friends are divided. Work, education, healthcare, and social bonds are all greatly impacted by walls that delay and checkpoints that often prevent any free movement for Palestinians inside their own lands. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled Israel’s wall illegal. The Israeli High Court of Justice has also ruled that the route of the wall is illegal in several places. Even with both legal systems calling for the wall to be either dismantled or, minimally, rerouted, expansion continues unabated.
Despite the Israeli government’s professed security rationale for its construction, the wall may actually be intended to create the “facts on the ground” for a new border, which cuts into Palestinian territory—far east of the 1967 Green Line. When completed, it will de facto annex 50% of the West Bank, leaving Palestinian land broken up in little cantons. Similarly, in Gaza, the buffer zone constantly cuts deep into the richest agricultural land. The combination of these and other such “facts on the ground” makes real peace negotiations all but impossible.
Working with Grassroots International’s partner Stop the Wall Campaign, Palestinians are resisting the wall nonviolently all over Palestine in places like Bil’in—a West Bank village that lost more than 60% of its land because of the wall. Weekly protests in Bil’in are now emblematic of the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement. And this week Palestinians are commemorating the 7th Annual Week against the Wall. In Qalqiliya, activists tore down a small section of the wall to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which is German for “I am a Berliner” is etched in large letters on the wall in the West Bank close to the words “this wall must fall.” And it must.
“The wall will fall in Bil’in; the wall will fall like in Berlin,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu after visiting the village last August. At least 200 international activists joined in the last protest, in commemoration of what happened in Germany 20 years ago. Tutu’s words became their slogan, raising hope that someday a Palestine, and an Israel, without walls could be possible.