In November of 2014 the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Across Europe and around the world celebrations occurred and tributes were given to the brave and passionate citizens who united to bring the wall down.
The Berlin Wall was representative of everything that the world was fighting against at that time; oppression, division, and conflict. For many it was the physical manifestation of the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union. A separation of worlds that drove friends and families apart and kept them divided for decades.
The tumbling of the Wall represented the dawn of a new era, or as Francis Fukuyuma prophecised, “the end of history”. It was hailed as the final, and permanent nail in the coffin of Communism. Neo-Liberal Democracy fuelled by its economic model of capitalism had triumphed as the reigning sole ideology in the world.
As the world’s media and political figures had their eyes trained on Berlin, so our gaze was directed to the same location. It is fitting that on such an anniversary we are reminded of the history of the bricks and mortar that created one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. And whilst the history of the wall was being dissected, and the politics of its construction were being attacked, there was very little on the topic of its modern day implications. (Aside from the glory of Western democratic values that is).
President Obama’s statement on the 25th anniversary praised the will of those Germans who dismantled the wall. He spoke of his pride at both the Berliners who pushed past the guards that night the Wall fell, and the relationship that USA and Germany share currently, believing that the German people are among their strongest allies.
Obama also stated that the fall of the Berlin Wall was “a reminder that walls of concrete and barbed wire are ultimately no match for the will of ordinary men and women who are determined to live free.”
If then we free ourselves from the blinkers our media and our politicians have placed upon us, then we can see that Obama’s words have wider applications than simply the fall of the Berlin Wall. Though the connection is obvious, it is one that we are discouraged from making. There are walls of concrete and barbed wire in this world still, restricting peoples freedom, despite the efforts of ordinary men and women.
Just one of these walls is the Apartheid Wall in Palestine.
The Berlin Wall stood at a height of 3.6 metres, had 302 watchtowers, and ran for a distance of 155 kilometres. The Israeli wall along the border of the West Bank dwarfs this. The Israeli West Bank barrier, or as it has come to be known, the Apartheid Wall, is still being constructed, and upon completion will be 8 metres high, with hundreds of watchtowers, and stretch for approximately 700 kilometres.
The image below has been widely used to show the disparity between the condemned Berlin Wall, and the ignored Apartheid Wall.
Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd fame has long been active on the issues surrounding the treatment of Palestinians and their rights. Due to his views and his activism he has received heavy criticism, but he continues to be one of the leading voices in the West who condemn Israeli action. His support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) call has made him a highly controversial figure within Israel.
In September 2013 Waters gave an interview to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, in which he defended his use of the word Apartheid when talking about the Israel-Palestine situation, and compared the Apartheid Wall to the Berlin Wall. Speaking with the Israeli journalist Waters stated: “Your wall is a hundred times more horrifying”.
In early 2010 Huffington Post reporter Ahmed Shihab-Eldin did what many media personnel have refused to do, and that is to explicitly make the connection between Berlin and Palestine. In an article entitled: “Celebrating Berlin While Enabling Israel’s Apartheid Wall” Shihab-Eldin spoke of the hypocrisy of the human condition. In a scathing attack on the silence of the Western leaders, he says that “if there is anything to be learned from Berlin, it would be that walls do not protect, they divide; they do not prevent, but incite.” Before going on to state that the most meaningful step towards peace would be to dismantle the illegal wall.
Recognising that very few people would use the 25th anniversary to speak out against the construction of the Apartheid Wall, Palestinian activists took it upon themselves to force recognition in the hope of raising awareness. Al Jazeera ran an article entitled “Palestinians remind world of their own wall” after activists made a cavity in the wall “as a symbolic gesture to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, the activists who organised the event stated: “It doesn’t matter how high the barriers will be, they will fall. Like the Berlin Wall fell – The Palestinian wall will fall.”
Unfortunately we do not hear such words from our political leaders, nor do we hear them from our mainstream media. The USA has long been Israel’s closest ally, largest funder, and arms supplier so it is unsurprising that Obama treads lightly when speaking of dismantling walls. The UK, being the USA’s sidekick, remains silent also.
Haaretz recently produced an article on a Congress report which discovered that Israel has “received more cumulative American aid than any other country since the end of World War II.” The article stated that: “since it began in 1962, American military aid to Israel has amounted to nearly $100 billion.” Business Insider states that current annual aid to Israel from the USA stands at $3.15 billion, or a quite astonishing figure of over $8.6 million a day.
On the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world got up close and personal, whereas in fact what we should have done is taken a step back. So deliberately narrow was the perspective of the stories, the statements and the events, that with one hand we condemned the building of barriers, whilst with the other we swept those exact same actions under the rug to be ignored.
Our Western voices rage with disapproval at the building of a segregation wall in Europe, whilst we are silently complicit in the building of a much bigger and more divisive wall in the Middle East. It is hypocrisy at the highest level.
I shall end with more words from Obama, and though he was speaking of East Berlin, I feel they are more appropriate for the West Bank.
“In Europe and beyond — wherever citizens seek to determine their own destiny — we will be guided by the lessons of Berlin. Walls and oppressive regimes may endure for a time, but in the end they cannot withstand the desire for liberty and human dignity that burns in every human heart.”
recommended further reading:
Blog post with brilliant photographic comparisons of the Berlin Wall and the Apartheid Wall.
An art photography project entitled Wall on Wall looking at walls are dividing people across the globe.
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