By Maren Mantovani
November 9th marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately there is nothing to celebrate. We have entered a new era of walls with over 70 of them militarizing borders worldwide or annexing occupied land, such as Israel’s illegal wall in the West Bank. The phenomenon of the “politics of walls” is global and Israel plays a major role in it.
Until 2002, when Israel started building its apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank, walls were a de facto political taboo. Even the wall that incarcerates the entire Palestinian population of Gaza since 1995 was kept in silence. Initially, the outrage over Israel’s eight-meter-high construction deep within the West Bank was huge – partially because this one is built on occupied territory. But even though the International Court of Justice declared it to be illegal in 2004, the decision was put into the drawers of UN diplomacy, and instead walls got normalized and globalized.
Europe today has built over one thousand kilometers of walls – six times the length of the Berlin Wall. The U.S. started the past year with a president causing the longest government shutdown in history over a dispute with Congress on whether it would finance his “big, fat, beautiful wall” or rather go with the project proposed by Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats, to opt for a “technological wall”. From Kashmir to Saudi Arabia’s border, from Turkey’s border to Argentina, many more less talked about walls are continuing to grow.
For Stop the Wall the fact that walls are not only used against the Palestinian people but used to oppress, dispossess, exclude, and far too often, kill people across the globe has been long evident. However, it took until Donald Trump’s electoral promise of a wall and his infamous comment in a phone call with the Mexican president – “Bibi Netanyahu told me walls work” – to create the momentum for global action.
Shortly after Trump got into the White House, Palestinian and Mexican movements launched the call for a World without Walls, now endorsed by over 400 movements, networks and organizations from across the globe. Here is the good news: the structures built to segregate have started a process of coming together among movements. What was initially envisaged as a one time global day of action on November 9, 2017 has developed into a recurring action and, more importantly, an ongoing process of building and deepening connections and joint struggles across and against the walls.
A significant part of the years of conversations and actions for a World without Walls are collected in the reader Build Resistance not Walls, published by Stop the Wall. It presents essays, research, and interviews contributed by activists, intellectuals, and investigative journalists from Palestine, Israel, Mexico, the United States, Greece, Italy, the Spanish State, the Basque Country, Morocco, the Western Sahara, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Kashmir. Their insights are thought provoking and inspiring.
The globalization of walls is a response to the ongoing global economic, civilizational and environmental crisis that has revealed the inability of the current ruling élite to give effective responses to the needs of the people. Unable to credibly promise well-being, they adopt what Charles Derber and Yale R. Magrass call the “security story”. The narrative instills fear in our societies by inventing false threats and worsening real threats, and justifies the authority of the ruling élite as the only force that can guarantee at least security and survival. The inevitable result is the rise of racist, supremacist, and exclusionary forces, from India’s Narendra Modi to Brazil’s Bolsonaro, the European far right and Donald Trump.
The role of Israel and the influence of the Israeli political paradigms in this process are discussed by many of Build Resistance not Walls contributors. It is not by chance that these forces have adopted Israel as a role model and walls of various forms as a tool of sociopolitical and geopolitical dominance. Israel’s apartheid and colonial project offers tested methods and technology to implement such racist and supremacist policies.
For Israel, the globalization of walls, the rising far-right and the growth of the security story are an invaluable source of legitimization, and at the same time opens up ever growing markets. A summary of Mark Akkerman’s extensive study on the wall industry shows a global 8% rise annually, with a 15% rise in border militarization spending in Europe alone. Riya AlSanah and Hala Mashood show how Israel’s military and homeland security companies use their comparative advantage over others as they sell their border militarization and wall technology as ‘field tested’, including for the construction of the U.S. Wall at the border to Mexico.
Within the framework of an all pervasive security story, the flip side of the paradigm of walls, according to Jamal Juma’, is the creation of a surveillance society that creates a panopticon stripping people of all layers that could protect their rights and privacy. Once again, having Palestine as a full-time open-air laboratory, Israeli technology and methodology is leading in the market. The recent scandals with AnyVision or the NSO Group’s spyware are only two examples.
Still, walls are nothing new but rather an age old colonial tool, adapted by Israel for current day purposes. Khury Peterson-Smith, one of the organizers of the 2015 Black Solidarity with Palestine statement, describes in his contribution how the US itself is a “Nation of Walls”, having used walls historically to advance its colonial conquest. Widespread support in the U.S. for Israel’s version of contemporary walls seems only logical in this context.
The contributions in Build Resistance not Walls unearth the connections between the walls around the globe and make it clear that only together we can tear them down. Cutting the ties of complicity, of Israel’s support to militarization and racist policies across the globe, is a call repeated throughout the reader by grassroots activists and movements at the forefront of the struggle, whether in Mexico, Brazil’s favelas or at the shores of the Mediterranean where the EU has started to use Elbit System’s Hermes 900 killer drones, effectively substituting rescue missions with surveillance of migrants left to drown.
That it is imperative for movements to unite when “they globalize the way they kill us” is underlined eloquently by Gizele Martins, from the favela movements in Rio de Janeiro, who can draw on the experience of having recognized during her trip to Palestine the same tactics used by Rio’s military police, who were trained by the Israeli security company ISDS.
Other examples of joint actions that break down walls include Popular Tribunals and Popular Caravans, as well as boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) initiatives to tackle the architecture of impunity that shields corporations enabling, facilitating, and profiting from walls of injustice.
Instead of ceding to the temptation to become completely absorbed in the ever more dramatic and brutal crises and attacks on our movements, this is a moment to lift our heads, see beyond the walls, and make connections between our struggles in order to gain strength and confidence together. Friends of the Earth Brazil remind us: “The bigger the walls, the more cracks. If the walls surround us, we should hold on to the certitude of hope that one by one they will be taken down. While we the people continue standing, they will fall!”