Humanity’s fixation with walls can be traced back to the world’s first recorded civilization – the Sumerians, who built a border wall circa 2100 B.C. – and is seen repeatedly throughout history in examples such as the Great Wall of China, the Long Walls of Athens and the Berlin Wall.
Walls typically symbolize a power imbalance: Constructed by a dominant group, walls often block or suppress a weaker adversary, reinforce unjust policies and lead to human rights violations.
Today, the U.S.-built wall just north of the U.S.-Mexico border serves as a formidable “No Admittance” sign but fails to be a significant deterrence, as migrants are pushed to risk their lives on more dangerous routes through the desert wilderness. So far this year, the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project has recorded 217 deaths of migrants in the border region.
Meanwhile, the Israeli-built “separation barrier” curtails Palestinian freedom of movement in the West Bank and enables Israeli expansion onto Palestinian land. The wall isolates Palestinian communities, disrupts agricultural production and reduces Palestinian access to natural resources.
Additionally, Israel has built a wall around Gaza as part of their complete economic blockade. Since March 2018, protests against the Gaza blockade have resulted in the deaths of 309 Palestinians and the injury of 32,584 more at the hands of Israeli troops. During the same time period, six Israelis have died and 179 have been injured as a result of Palestinian actions.
Today’s walls have caused insult, injury and even death. Contrary to politicians’ lofty promises of security, walls have not had a promising success rate throughout history – the Sumerians fell to the Amorites and Elamites, the Mongols and Manchus toppled the Ming Dynasty, and the German people used hammers, picks and their bare hands to demolish the Berlin Wall.
When humans cannot break down these dividers, the power of God prevails to remove factors that separate people from one another. Paul writes, “In [Jesus’] flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14b). Following the example of Paul, who believed that God’s vision includes Jewish and Gentile communities, we can also strive to remove barriers that divide our world.
Just as the partitions of the past proved temporary, so too can we expect today’s walls to eventually crumble. However, we must not passively stand by as these walls cause injury, injustice and isolation.
It is critical to address the underlying reasons for division between people. In the case of Palestine and Israel, we must strive for a peaceful resolution to provide land, security and equal rights to both Palestinian and Israeli populations. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, we must address the violence and humanitarian crises that drive people from their homes.
Instead of permitting temporary walls to perpetuate division and injustice, we must work toward equality, understanding and peace.
Photo: A section of the Israeli separation barrier near Jerusalem, which has cut off a main road that used to be a major artery and severely affected the local economy. MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler