In the long and ancient history of Jerusalem, many walls have been constructed and many have been torn down. These walls have served many purposes: some were built to keep others out, some to provide a place to worship, and some to imprison. In only two days in Israel and Palestine, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time at two of Jerusalem’s most well recognized walls. During our first night in Jerusalem, a group of us wandered down the winding cobblestone streets of the Old City, slowly making our way to the Western Wall- one of the most sacred sites in the Jewish faith. Another delegate, Kori, and I had the opportunity to lay our hands on the wall and pray. As our foreheads touched the cold rock of the old temple, we were surrounded by Jewish women who were praying fervently, mumbling Hebrew from the Torah, and weeping. Everywhere I gazed, I saw thousands of slips of paper, scrawled with written prayers and tucked into the crevices in the rock, reminding me of all the unspoken litanies we recite to God. To say that our time in prayer was powerful is an understatement- I felt a connection to my ancestors in faith, and was very moved by the experience.
The opposite of a wall that is holy and sacred is a wall that divides and oppresses. In 2002, Israel began construction on a 430 mile wall to surround the West Bank for so-called security purposes. The eyesore of a barrier consists of many 26-foot tall concrete blocks that weave their way through the scenic countryside of the West Bank. During a comprehensive tour of Jerusalem, we stopped at a particular part of the wall in Jerusalem that cuts right across the historic road to Jericho, one of the oldest routes in human history. The wall also strategically segments Palestinian populations from other Palestinian populations, and makes it extremely difficult for Palestinians to travel to school and work, access health services and farmland, and stay connected with family and friends. Much of the wall is built illegally in Palestinian territory on the West Bank in order to protect illegal Jewish settlements and encroach upon Palestinian territory. In some instances, Palestinian villages are completely surrounded on all sides by the barrier, which serves as a modern-day form of ghettoization. To call this wall anything but an Apartheid wall, as it is known by Palestinians, would not fully capture the damage it is causing to society. My experience with this wall was very different. As I touched the cold, smooth, graffiti-covered surface, it felt empty. I could almost feel the hatred and fear within the wall, as I remembered the prayer I prayed the night before, standing in the Old City at the Western Wall: Lord, bring us peace. Lord, bring us justice. Lord, bring us peace with justice.
I hope that justice will come. I hope that the walls that divide and oppress this world will come down. And I hope that this delegation make an impact that helps to end this occupation.
For a map of the wall and more information about its humanitarian impacts, see here.