Yesterday and today I have been in Bethlehem and in the surrounding area getting a ground-level perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many hours of this seminar have been focused towards providing a comprehensive analysis of the conflict constructed for professors who already have some knowledge about it, so I won't bore you with the details of my academic journey and will rather try to give an account of some experiences that have been very interesting for me. One of these experiences which has been especially profound is the Separation Wall (security fence, anti-terrorism fence, apartheid wall) which exists between Israel and the West Bank.
Construction on the wall began in 1994 with the official purpose of preventing suicide attacks from occuring. I have heard a Jewish political activist, a right-wing settler, and a palestinian Christian all refute that purpose in just one day of conversations. Regardless of the purpose of the wall, the main issue is that the wall traps 12% of West Bank land on the Israeli side and does not allow access to Palestinians.
The interesting thing about this wall is its political ramifications. Just seeing the wall is an extremely depressing sight. Being somebody who wishes to see more cooperation and conversation between Israelis and Palestinians, it is hard to see such barriers in place. In human relations, when we talk about putting up walls in a metaphorical sense, it usually means that we are cutting ourselves off from others. This wall is a physical representation of that reality. Whether for security purposes or others, true, lasting peace between peoples cannot grow out of this political climate.
For Palestinians, the Separation Wall has become a blank canvass for political expression. All along the wall you find passionate artwork displaying, in a very visual way, the anger and frustration of the Palestinian people. Some Palestinians, such as a refugee camp Cultural and Theater Society center that we visited, view this expression as negative. They believe that the wall should remain untouched to remind the Palestinian people of the harsh realities that they are facing, rather than turn it into beautiful artwork. The center offers other means of expression, such as dance, theater, and dialogue, which it believes are more positive ways to alleviate frustrations.