Wall imprisons, personifies West Bank's divisions
Posted June 19, 2015
BETHLEHEM, THE WEST BANK — Something there is that doesn't love a wall.
When Robert Frost wrote those eight words to open his epic poem "Mending Wall," the wall separating Israel from much of the West Bank had not been constructed. It wasn't even conceived. Many would say there was no reason to plan a wall in 1914. One hundred and one years ago, the region was not without tension. One hundred and one years ago, Israel, as we know it today did not exist. Palestine did. There's the rub.
Today a wall of concrete and barbed wire, sometimes as high as 26 feet, stretches 430 miles basically along boundaries set by the UN in 1949 after the new State of Israel was formed. The wall has several names: "The Israeli Security Fence," "The Fence to Stop Terrorism" and others.
To the thousands who live inside the barrier, it's a wall. At first glance as one drives through the region you see it. You can't miss it.
From a distance it reminded me of the sound barriers along the Raleigh Beltline. The major difference is two-fold. There are no houses nearby from which sound needs to be barred, and it's topped with barbed wire.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall.
Frost also wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." Here in the West Bank, you’re hard pressed to find anyone who believes that.
Loui Abu-mahameed drives a taxi in Bethlehem. He's 31 and a father of two young children, a son, 5, and a daughter who is 2. Loui has a degree in Computer Science and Engineering. Since his graduation nine years ago he cannot find a job because he's denied a daily work permit to travel to Jerusalem where the jobs are.
"It's a prison," he said. "The wall creates prison for all of us. It's been so long since I graduate (sic) I think I forget what I learn."
The great irony: Jerusalem is only a few miles away. Think Raleigh from Garner.
"So I drive taxi. I have to feed family. It not right, not right," Abu-mahameed says as his voice fades.
Eight miles away, I sit at a restaurant at Jerusalem's original train depot. Over Mediterranean fish and chips I learn there are plenty of people who, while maybe not loving the wall, definitely approve.
Suzanne Pomerantz has lived in Israel for almost 36 years. The Sanford, N.C., native was born of a Southern Baptist mom and Jewish dad. Israel is now her home. She is officially a citizen and deeply loves this country, its people and all it stands for. Her passion is at times intense.
"Don't believe what you read in the papers David. It's all lies," she says.
I press her on what she means. "We are a loving people," she says. "If they (the Palestinians, although she prefers to call Palestinians 'Arabs') would let us live in peace, we all could live in peace. But they don't."
Then the pivot.
"They want to kill us," Pomerantz says.
I ask, "Who? That person walking over there? This young woman walking here? That child?"
"Oh David," Pomerantz gently implores, "It's ingrained thinking. It's what their government wants."
My friends and colleagues will tell you that I have little tolerance for broad brushstrokes and repeated words without sources and attributions. It may drive my friends crazy, but this was and is an example of why I choose to live in a world of specifics.
"How do you know the hearts and minds of people you don't know," I ask Pomerantz.
"If you lived here you would know," she says.
I ask about power outages in Gaza and the West Bank, specifically at hospitals.
"They don't pay their bills," Pomerantz counters.
"What about children who suffer?"
"It's all lies, we don't cause that, they do!"
In Bethlehem, a young cab driver is aghast.
"Please bring your friend here. Let me show her our life," he says. "Let me show her how all we want is a chance to live. To make a living, feed family and smile."
When people speak of the complications of this region of the world, what I've described is a daily example. A microcosm? Of course. Yet very real.
There's no denying fewer terror attacks have happened since construction on the wall began a decade ago. Also noted, some Palestinians have dug extensive tunnels to find their way into Israel to cause death and destruction. The bombings of last summer killed over 2,200 people, mostly Palestinians. All the while many people who live behind the wall suffer.
Checkpoints can hold you up for hours. I walked through one, drove through two others. With an American passport, I'm all but waved through. Palestinians, sometimes with work permits, are held for hours. Missing a days of work. No work. No money. They need to pass through because there are so few jobs in parts of the West Bank.
This is not the case in all the region. Ramallah, six miles to the north of Jerusalem, is the financial capitol of and for Palestinians. There's more work, more money, and it's more expensive. I ask the young cabbie, "Why not move your family to Ramallah? Better opportunities seem to be there?" Through his tears, he softly says, "We can hardly afford to live here. The cost in Ramallah, very high. Too high."
His weren't the only tears I saw. Suzanne Pomerantz wipes tears from her eyes as she says, "You expect me to have sympathy for them? After all they have done? This is my land. my home. When someone wants to take it? No."
Impasse. Sometimes deadly. Always painful.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall.
Good fences can make good neighbors when the fence is good. Or the fence can become a wall and imprison people. Either way hearts and minds hurt. They're often broken.
Maybe Frost didn't know what would happen 101 years later. However, spending time in this land of ancient prophets can make you think, maybe he did.