Argila and the Wall: Oppression as seen from a Balcony

This afternoon my roommate and a friend from al-Khalil shared some argila on the patio at Akasha. The place is extremely swanky, and has an epic view from the balcony. Well, epic is one way of putting it, another is to say the view is super-depressing. You sit out on a balcony overlooking the outskirts of Ramallah, the wall, and Jerusalem. You see Arab neighborhoods, Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, you can almost see the old city but there is another building in the way.

The view doesn’t give me a good feeling. Sometimes when I look at the wall, especially from a distance so that the landscape is really laid out in front of you, I can’t help but want to ask in a serious way: is this what the Israelis really want? I mean, sure, I can understand wanting to steal more land, and I can understand the rhetoric of fear and isolationism, I can understand how they think that putting up this wall will prejudice the final settlement and, from their point of view, become the border of the bantustan-style Palestinian “state”.

But is that what they really want? Do they want to live side by side with an oppressed, impoverished, disposed, indigenous population? Do they want to live having stolen the Palestinians land, having to look out their windows at a wall that separates them from those from whom they stole it? The wall makes the theft so visible, makes the apartheid so visible – if I were Israeli I would want to do everything possible to disguise, to hide the fact that my state’s policies were set up to privilege my religious group from other people, especially from the land’s indigenous population.

So often people call for peace, call for the Israelis and Palestinians to live “side by side”. But the wall makes “side by side” as peaceful as a jail, a peace imposed by force, a peace which remains peace only so long as Palestinians learn to act like a defeated population. It’s no longer just a matter of a lack of equal rights; it’s a situation where unequal rights, unequal access and privilege on the same land, are as ocularly present as a big f*cking wall.

I don’t usually like to talk or write a lot about the wall because there are other issues here which seem more prominent to the lives and aspirations of Palestinians, but the wall is a very visible indication of the Zionist’s intentions. The wall is the most visible indication of Israel’s intention to be and maintain itself as an armed state, a masada state, one constantly ready for war and continually opposed to peaceful integration with the neighborhood.

Of course, integration in the context of Judaism is always a touchy subject, because of the traditional Jewish fear of assimilation and loss of cultural specificity. Maybe it’s within the logic of opposition to assimilation that we should interpret the wall. That question is complicated, as it involves questions like “what is a jew” and “what is the relation between cultural isolation and cultural ossification”. Franz Fanon believed cultural dynamism was robbed of cultures by colonization, and armed struggle was an important way to re-introduce dynamism into the culture of the colonized. It might be possible to read this logic in an altered form, seeing the Holocaust as a transformative event for Judaism and the establishment of the State of Israel as the Jews’ project of self-colonization. But there are problems with this thought, and working it out is beyond the scope of this blog post.

In any case, a strong emotion that comes over me here is a sense of “why would anyone want to be this kind of oppressor”? More importantly, why would anyone want to institutionalize the oppression, and live forever side by side with the expulsed? The perversions in this place run much deeper than simple acts of violence, and a “peace” that protects a pathological status quo may be more dangerous than the war that demands otherwise.

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