Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Walls I've Seen

There is a photo of me, taken while I was living in Jerusalem almost a decade ago now, which I sometimes find myself thinking about. I am praying at a wall -- not the wall that many people pray at in Jerusalem. A different wall. A wall, built by the state of Israel, which digs deep into the occupied Palestinian territories, separating farmers from their land, neighbors from neighbors, dividing communities.

This particular picture shows this wall as it snakes through a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. It's hard to tell from the photo, but here the wall is actually right in the middle of the street. People on one side used to be able to just walk across the street.

Now, there's a wall.

In my relatively short life, I've seen a wall or two.

Another photograph. Another memory. This from a few years later. The picture, taken by a good friend, is of me in front of another wall. This one is in the city of Nogales, in the Mexican state of Sonora. This wall, just like the first one, divides communities. It cuts relatives off from one another. On the side of the wall I'm sitting on, a local artist has created an installation, The figures in the installation represent a stream of migrants, sojourners, travelers. They carry their possessions on their backs. They carry the body of a fallen comrade.

They carry the weight of the wall.

These walls already exist. They already divide. And they were already built -- with purpose, with intention. They were built by people working for governments and private corporations -- Israeli corporations in both cases, as well as U.S.

They existed, and were funded and maintained, with U.S. taxpayer dollars, during the previous administration. And I just think we need to remember that.

Building walls is not a new, scandalous idea. It is what we have been doing in the world, with our money, our bulldozers, our weapons and security cameras protecting the sites of construction and destruction.

The controversial "Muslim registry" that the next president has been talking about -- which well-meaning friends and colleagues have pledged to protest by registering themselves, as well we all should -- is not new, either. It's based on a law that was in fact in place, starting shortly after September 11, 2001 but continuing to be utilized well until 2011. It remained on the books until just a few weeks ago. How many of got ourselves registered before then?

The targeting and punishing and killing of the families of those we deem "terrorists." The targeted deportations. The state violence against marginalized communities. The gutting of programs designed to protect the most vulnerable, the most hurting in our society. These are not new things. They did not spring into being with a particular demagogic individual. They are business as usual for the U.S.

This is what we do.

Do not hear me saying that these things are normal. They are not normal. They are horrific. But they are normalized. And they highlight the dangers of what happens when we allow -- when I allow -- such things to be normalized.

Walls that divide become normalized. The destruction of households, the targeting of civilians, the demonizing of migrants and refugees -- they become normalized, hidden behind the distant bureaucratic operations of the state. We can safely stop paying attention to them -- well, we few, we very very very few, can safely stop paying attention to them, all the while thinking we are normal, we are the majority, our experience is usual.

It is not. People live in fear of the normalized mechanisms of state violence, all the time.

The incoming administration represents an unveiling of this. Their rhetoric is more blatant. Their talk of walls and destruction and deportation louder, more vitriolic.

But the normalization of all of this?

That's on us.

These are some of the walls I've seen. And they are not new. And they are not normal.

But we have let them become normalized.

Of this, may we repent.


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