While the world was focused on celebrating twenty years without the Berlin wall, perhaps it should have used the occasion to call for the breaching of Israel's wall which is contributing to the misery millions.
Watching the twenty-year old footage of the beginning of the fall of the Berlin Wall it was not hard to feel very emotional about a truly historic moment for freedom, amongst countless other ideals. You would hope that twenty years after walling people in – or out – the so called free world would have learnt the ultimate futility of such reactions to different ideologies. But no, humanity seems to be destined to repeat its mistakes over and over and over again.
As we were all watching those extraordinary pictures, and noticing how the journalists who’d covered it then and went back to cover it now have aged, there was another wall attracting precious little attention from the world’s media – in the West at least. This is a wall that is still being built, and while illegal under international law, perpetuates the oppression of an already desperately struggling people.
It’s Israel’s “security wall”. It has been under construction for seven years and is widely condemned as one of the major obstacles to peace in the Middle East – whatever that is. Even George W. Bush – not exactly a peace dove – called on Israel to dismantle it, and while they were at it, stop construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories. Not unexpectedly the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan slammed it as counter-productive. And so it continues to prove.
It must have been a bitter moment for Palestinians to watch the coverage of the breaching in Berlin when their everyday lives are made more and more difficult due to being encircled by the massive concrete structure which in places is twice as high as that built in 1961 by the Communist regime of East Berlin.
This is a wall constructed by the region's only nuclear power, which justifies it on the grounds that it's necessary to keep Israelis safe. It is being built by a regime that has a stranglehold on the people it killed at a ratio of 100-1 in the brutal, one-sided Gaza war earlier this year. Israel’s strength is surely evidenced by the inability of Palestinians to interrupt or halt construction.
Yet no international statesperson are crying “Mr Netanyahu, tear down this wall”. That's despite the disruption to life caused by the ongoing crisis in Palestine/Israel relations, which is both indisputable and arguably worse than that which resulted from a divided Germany. Given Israel is home to thousands of Jews who escaped the evils of communist USSR you’d think they’d condemn the transplanting of such brutality.
But as with calls for Israel to stop illegal construction in the Palestinian homeland, it’s conscience proves as impervious as its wall.
Instead, Israel continues to build on its own victimhood – as Netanyahu did when he addressed the UN declaring Jews will not allow themselves to be slaughtered again.
The victim card is being overtly played in Israel’s response to the Goldstone report which condemned both Israel and Hamas for their conduct during the December/January war. The esteemed international judge accused both sides of flouting fundamental principles of keeping civilians protected from harm during war, and he asked both sides to conduct credible investigations into their ‘battlefield’ behaviour because hundreds of civilians died. That’s not to mention how many thousands of them will be going in to this winter still living in tents or in caves dug into the remains of the their former homes which they can’t repair because Israel refuses to allow building materials in to Gaza.
Goldstone’s brief – which he openly admitted accepting with hesitation because of the deeply politically charged nature of the task – was to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war and international human rights.
How prescient he was to hesitate.
Since his report, Palestinian President Abbas initially wanted to delay an inquiry because he was warned it would damage peace talks – i.e. Israel would not come to the table if Goldstone’s report was acted upon. Abbas has since initiated an inquiry. Netanyahu dissed the report and he’s been echoed by a barrage of pro-Israel commentators attacking Goldstone for daring to criticise. One example in Britain’s Sunday Times read “many Jews outside Israel ask how, Goldstone, himself a Jew, could lend himself to such an obviously biased mission mandated by the notorious United Nations human rights council, itself full of human rights violators”. How indeed? The perfect excuse to avoid looking in the mirror is to demonize your accusers even if as judges they are tasked with impartiality and enforcing the law.
Thomas Friedman in this week’s International Herald Tribune has hit the nail on the head. He reckons the whole peace process has left the building – or as he said “left the realm of diplomacy”, and we should leave it at that but keep the phone on so when the two parties decide they are serious and not just wasting the world’s time, they make the call.
Unfortunately for the Palestinians they need the call to be made now as they watch their homes being smashed and land disappearing before their eyes for a wall that deliberately cuts deep into their territory.
That’s why when the world was watching the jubilation or reunification in Berlin, it should also have taken note of the small group of Palestinians who marked the anniversary by tearing down some of the segments of Israel’s separation wall.
Palestinians have long seen the wall as a symbol of their humiliation. Protests against it have endured and now they want the attention the Berlin wall was afforded. The question is how long will they have to suffer the tear gas, rubber bullets and group punishment before the world wakes up to the lesson it professes to have taken from Berlin - that building bridges makes much more sense than building walls.