Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On Nov. 9, 1989, after weeks of Intifada (civil unrest and uprising) the East German government capitulated and announced that its citizens could visit West Berlin and West Germany. Jubilant East Germans, joined by West Germans, crossed and climbed the wall in celebration. Within two years the wall was totally demolished.
Oppression failed: Freedom prevailed.
This month, too, on November 4th, marked the 19th anniversary of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s tragic and history-altering assassination by a right-wing Jewish extremist. As Sefi Rachlevsky wrote in Israel’s Ha’aretz, “The man who led the anti-Rabin demonstrations that preceded the assassination, protests at which there were slogans including ‘through blood and fire, we will drive Rabin out,’ was none other than Benjamin Netanyahu. He was elected prime minister seven months after Rabin’s murder. He was the same man whom former Shin Bet heads Karmi Gillon and Yuval Diskin were convinced that had it not been for his support for the wave of incitement, it’s possible the assassination never would have occurred. But instead of being shunned by the public, he took up residence in the home and the bed of the murdered Rabin.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, resident again as Israel’s Prime Minister, today continues to thrive and stay in power through a combination of a inter-Israeli political and religious conflict, anti-Palestinian incitement and anti-Muslim rhetoric. He leads a right-wing coalition that prefers building walls and illegal colonies to making peace with the Palestinians.
Israel’s Wall – concrete slabs, “buffer zones”, trenches, electrified fences, watchtowers, sniper towers, and military checkpoints – bifurcates Palestinian villages, keeps farmers from their fields and separates West Bankers from brothers and sisters in occupied East Jerusalem.
When complete it will be 709 kilometers long, more than twice the length of the 1948-1967 Green Line, which is considered to be the recognized border between Israel and the West Bank – the starting point from which negotiations should begin, according to UN Security Council resolutions, International Law and even the United States government.
In Palestine today oppression and occupation continue. Jerusalem’s streets are alight with rebellion and resistance and a new Intifada threatens peace and security.
There is neither peace nor justice: Israel’s Wall is irrelevant.
This week here at home, on Nov. 4, a right-wing coalition of Americans, of Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, Tea-partiers and others surged to power, expanding their control of the House and seizing control of the Senate.
These Republicans are perhaps an intellectual throwback to the 19th century Know-Nothings party which was an 1850s American political movement that ran on a platform to purify America by curbing immigration and naturalization.
Today’s Republicans, with a membership driven primarily by elderly white men beholden to other, more privileged white men, successfully ran on a similar nativist program based on inciting fear of the Other. The Republican agenda was successful: inflame the ignorant, dispossess the Other, and disenfranchise the poor and weak.
Such Republicans also clamor for their wall – a wall between Mexico and the United States – citing xenophobic concerns over disease-ridden children, Ebola-infected aliens and ISIS-inspired terrorists.
Again, as in Isaiah, “They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.”
Other walls are less visible. Walls between haves and have-nots, between white and non-white, between privileged and needy. Walls built on fear and ignorance of Africans, Islam, minimum wage, equal wage, marriage equality, evolution, climate change, kale and broccoli.
As I wrote on Portsmouth Herald online two weeks ago, “Ebolisis: Fear and Loathing in America” – there may be a silver lining to this, but I am fearful. Too much can go wrong. Supreme Court justices can retire. Congress, in alliance with Netanyahu, could conspire to obstruct nuclear negotiations with Iran and their mutual interest in confronting ISIS. Congress could try and repeal the increasingly successful Obamacare program and further cut the safety net for our weak and vulnerable.
However, I also found the recent election results liberating. No longer must I worry that I had misread the opposition, no longer must I worry that somehow they were simply trying to define a different aspirational path to achieve goals shared by all Americans – of Life,
Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – for all Americans.
I know now full well who they are.
No way do they share those interests. Parse carefully the words of those who have been elected, of those who want to elevate religious law above the Bill of Rights and the Constitution – of those who want to eliminate the rights for some while elevating others. When they speak of respect for rights of conscience they are speaking only of their rights and their conscience. Not mine. Not yours. Not America’s.
It’s so much easier to build walls and fences, to militarize and demarcate, to put boots on the ground than it is to negotiate and compromise. It’s so much easier to dehumanize and demonize the Other than to do the hard work of acknowledging the dignity and legitimacy of all.
This Tuesday America will solemnly observe Veteran’s Day. In 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Armistice Day, he said, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
In gratitude then, in sympathy with peace and justice, let us hope that we will continue to honor and protect all freedoms – not just for the rich and the powerful but for the occupied, the weak and vulnerable – to the extent that we do it for one we do it for the least of us.
Let there be an Intifada of conscience – for Liberty and Justice for all.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.