Call it what it is: Apartheid Walls in the West Bank and Mexico

 

wall front

The front of PCP/DREAM’s installation, “The Wall,” commenting on Israel’s “separation barrier” 

Standing in front of Frist by the North Lawn, I enjoy an unobstructed view of McCosh – the ground is blanketed in snow and McCosh Hall towers above. I like to stand at the top of the stairs, looking straight ahead at this scene, almost as part of a routine. But when I ascended the stairs to my regular vantage point on Monday morning—and every day thereafter this week—my line of sight was no longer unobstructed, my routine disturbed. A massive wall—8 feet by 20 feet, to be exact—stood on the lawn in front of McCosh. It was unsettling, but I could not fathom how unsettling the actual wall in the West Bank—25 feet by almost 400 miles—or the actual border fence between the US and Mexico—nearly 2000 miles in length—must be. The mock separation wall may only separate chunks of grass, but its real counterpart separates people on the basis of ethnicity. From the U.S,-Mexico to Israel-Palestine, these walls are apartheid walls.

 

Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” These acts include “murder, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest of members of a racial group; deliberate imposition on a racial group of living conditions calculated to cause its physical destruction; legislative measures that discriminate in the political, social, economic and cultural fields; measures that divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate residential areas for racial groups; the prohibition of interracial marriages; and the persecution of persons opposed to apartheid.” Race here refers more broadly to descent and/or belonging to an ethnic group than it does skin color.

 

Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land, restrictions on access and movement, arbitrary arrest and detention, limitations on economic activity and to economic and natural resources, creation of isolated Palestinian ghettos, obstruction of mixed marriages, and above all, settlements – are all directly classified as acts of apartheid, according to the standards set forth by the UN General Assembly.

 

As such, there should be no question of the appropriateness of using the term “apartheid.” In fact, the Hebrew word for separation, “hafrada,” refers to the Israeli government’s policy of separating the Palestinian population from the Israeli population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In light of this, we ought to question why angry objections pour out when the term “Apartheid Wall” is used to describe the separation barrier—and not just the one found in the West Bank.

The border fence between U.S. and Mexico is also de facto apartheid wall, similarly subjecting people to military occupation, inhumane treatment in detention and warrantless searches and arrests; denying basic rights and freedoms; restricting movement and maintaining insecure, economically and socially unviable living conditions fraught with violence; and isolating Latino communities.

wall 2

There are more parallels between the two systems of separation. In fact, Elbit Systems, one of the leading contractors of Israel’s “apartheid wall” that provides defense and surveillance technology, drones, fencing, and watchtowers, was awarded a contract by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide similar surveillance technology, such as watchtowers and drones, to the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

The direct, undeniable parallels between these barriers, systems of control through occupation—since 1967 for Palestinians and since 2006 for Latin-Americans—and consequent human rights violations must not be overlooked. It is the intersection of these two issues that “The Wall,” a collaborative art installment constructed by the Princeton Committee on Palestine and DREAM Team, seeks to highlight. Palestinians and both undocumented and documented Latinos are subjected to different laws and standards of treatment, solely on the basis of their race and ethnicity. These walls do not serve to solve conflict; they only serve to further the divide and perpetuate human rights abuses.

 

The goal of the wall installation is twofold: to serve as a physical and symbolic representation of the two borders to raise awareness of military occupation in both regions and the plight of immigrants crossing the border and Palestinians, and to lift Latino and Palestinian voices, above the conflict, through poetry, short stories, and art. At the very least, the wall compels passersby to stop and look at the wall, interrupting the predictability and routine of their day.

 

Proponents of either/both wall(s) justify the barriers as means of providing security, curbing immigration, and protecting lives. But that is the myth that uses “security” as the pretext for the tearing apart of families and shattering any hopes of a future for Palestinians.

 

These walls must come down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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