This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Department of German Studies commemorated the occasion by erecting a replica of a wall segment on the Arts Quad, and observant students found their friends wearing shirts with the slogan: “Freedom Without Walls.”
I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think the plural “Walls” was chosen by mistake.
“It’s also a political symbol,” said a professor quoted by this paper. “There are other walls separating people in this world. I just want people to reflect on the political divisions.”
The subtext becomes explicit on The Sun’s website, where an anonymous comment complains that the news story does not even mention “Israel’s Apartheid Wall.”
The West Bank and Gaza are the new Eastern Germany. The Arab world, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the new Soviet bloc, and Jerusalem, at the intersection of East and West, is the new Berlin.
The similarities are very much geographic: East versus West, with the U.S. allies on the Western side. Berlin was buried at the center of East Germany. And, likewise, Jerusalem is not actually near the border of the Palestinian- dominated West Bank, but rather in the heart of the West Bank. The West made the mistake of allowing Berlin to be surrounded by Soviet-controlled Germany. But the Israelis knew better. Without Jerusalem, the West Bank would be an oval, squished against the Jordan River — a region of dense Arab population. But when the border was actually drawn, the oval was pulled in, creating a big funnel that comes to a point at the city. No supply train needed.
Like in the case of Berlin, the wall symbolizes far more than the divide of two cities or even two countries. The Palestinian wall marks the divide between the Western world and the Muslim world.
At a Sun-sponsored discussion last year, in the wake of the Battle of Gaza, an Arab student towards the back of the room mentioned this divide. A couple dozen Muslim students, mostly seated towards the back of the crowded auditorium, looked around at each other and nodded in agreement. But the panel, hand selected by the incredibly diverse Sun editorial board, unanimously dismissed this notion. Actually, to be fair, a student of Palestinian descent was a member of this editorial board, but I was not asked to participate in this selection process, presumably because my academic experience lay outside the relevant departments.
It’s something the West is almost completely unwilling to acknowledge. It’s the idea that this liberal, advanced democracy that brought us victory in Europe and the telephone could maybe, just maybe, be a partisan player in this conflict — a subconsciously bigoted outsider who may be unable to see eye-to-eye with the Muslim world.
And so the walls go up again.
There are also many differences between the two walls. In the Cold War, we were willing to acknowledge that what divided us was politics. The people in East Berlin were not painted as sword-wielding crazies out to destroy every man, woman and child of West Berlin. Just more white people, speaking German and eating German food, who happened to fall on the opposite side of a wall.
But Israel paints the folks on the opposite side of this wall a bit differently. They’re not just another batch of white people. They’re A-rabs. They believe in a different god, named “Allah,” who said it’s OK to have four wives. Their women often cover their heads in public. They look and speak like the Saudi oil barons, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Pretty soon Bush officials start to slip up, using words like “crusade” to describe these conflicts.
East Berlin was communist and West Berlin was capitalist, but they both belonged to superpowers who were deemed economic equals, if only by mistake. In contrast, East Jerusalem is Muslim, belongs to no nation and is an occupied territory subservient to West Jerusalem, which features tourism, museums, shopping malls and suburbs. This divide was created in the interest of only one side.
And unlike the Berlin Wall, where both East Germany and West Germany had everything to gain from reunification, Israel has everything to lose from reunification. Israel, while a democracy, was specifically designed to be a Jewish homeland. It is a place where Jews are the majority. But if the wall comes down and current population trends hold, within a few decades this majority would be lost. This inevitable fact drives the two-state solution. It is also why I find it so perplexing that Netanyahu does not crack down on settlers in the West Bank. To annex the West Bank is to destroy the Jewish homeland, short of explicit apartheid or forced migration of its Arab residents.
There are many worse atrocities in the world right now than those occurring in Palestine, including dozens of civil wars in Africa and a few political hotbeds in East Asia. But none of these conflicts seem to inflame such a large population of people the way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does. From Tehran to Washington, the conflict lurks in the subtext of discussion in the War on Terror. I won’t pretend for a minute that Israel is responsible for all anger in the Middle East. I won’t even claim that it lies at the epicenter of the conflict. But Jerusalem is the point of contact between the two worlds, and it thus carries tremendous symbolic weight.
Relations between Russia and America are still very complex. But the Cold War has ended and new challenges to American hegemony are on the horizon, including the inevitable economic eclipse by India and China.
The new challenge for America is the Muslim world, and this conflict will dwarf anything we’ve ever seen in Europe. Further complicating these matters is the fact that in 20 years China will have brought an end to U.S. hegemony. At best the Far East is apathetic to this conflict. But more likely, they will see the Middle East as a prime spot for economic growth, and their involvement in this conflict may be at odds with Western interests.
The smart move for the U.S., then, is to attempt to once again accomplish what no one else could: peace in the Middle East. It starts by tearing down that wall.
Munier Salem is a former Sun assistant design editor and founded the Science section. He is a senior in the College of Engineering. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Critical Mass appears alternate Mondays this semester.