by Hillel Schenker
There is an extraordinary photo of East and West Berliners standing on the remains of the Berlin Wall on November l0, 1989, carrying a banner which reads in English translation – "For a Berlin without walls, in a Germany without tanks, in a Europe without borders" – which can be seen in the Gallery section of www.flying-colors.de.
It was designed and placed there by Michael Steitzer, a German-American, who like many other Berliners rushed to climb on and over and break down the wall on those historic November days, 20 years ago.
I had the privilege of being in Berlin on November 9th, 2009, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the night that changed the world. Michael and others vividly described that historic evening, when East German government spokesperson Günter Schabowski, declared that all East German citizens were free to travel abroad, "effective immediately" he said in response to a journalist's question, despite the fact that Egon Frenz's transition government had only intended to open the border in organized fashion the next day. Jazz singer Eva described how she rushed to the Wall from the Berlin side, and was hoisted up onto the top by her friends. While the East German guards just stood by, watching. One of them even exclaimed: "Why was I standing here all these past 20 years?" I also heard Ambassador J.D. Bindenagel, who served as deputy mission head of the American Embassy in East Berlin in 1989, about the chaos and confusion of that unforgettable evening.
It's hard not to make comparisons with "our wall" that snakes along and into the border between the West Bank and Israel.
Of course, the Berlin Wall separated two sides of the same people, while ours separates between Palestinians and Israelis. Also, their wall was an inherent part of the Cold War, while ours was established as a security measure against Palestinian suicide bombers by an Israeli government which was incapable of dealing with its understandable security concerns via diplomatic means.
I was surprised to discover, when visiting the remnants of the Berlin Wall, how relatively low and thin it was, compared to our Wall which in some places is over 8 meters high, and quite thick. It reminds me of the shock that people have when they first see the Jordan River, which is supposedly "deep and wide" according to the old spiritual, but is actually just a narrow stream. Of course the Berlin Wall eventually became a double wall, with a no-man's land in the middle, tightly guarded by East German soldiers with orders to shoot to kill if anyone tried to climb over the wall. We've got IDF soldiers manning the checkpoints along our wall, and 250 Israeli women from 18 to 80 from Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch), who call themselves Women Against the Occupation and for Human Rights, monitoring the behavior of the Israeli soldiers.
With all the differences, a wall is a wall is a wall. And I'm convinced that our wall will come down as well, and it won't take 28 years.
In our case, the fall of the wall will not create a united Israel/Palestine, since we are two different peoples, each longing for their secure national self-determination. Our wall will not fall because of the collapse of the Israeli or Palestinian regime, but because a peace treaty will be signed between the Israeli and Palestinian governments, with the help of an engaged and concerned international community, sooner or later.
Meanwhile, our wall has significantly reduced, and for the time being virtually eliminated the number of suicide bombers striking at innocent Israeli civilians. However it also causes significant economic and social hardship for Palestinians and it serves as a tool for the expansion of Israeli settlement activity on Palestinian land, which undermines the prospects for movement towards a realistic and viable two state solution.
So what can be done now to tear down our wall?
The most fundamental activity is to promote and work towards an effective peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians.
On the day of the 20th anniversary, hundreds of Palestinians together with international supporters used a truck to symbolically pull down part of the Wall in the area east of the Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank.
Perhaps joint Palestinian-Israeli nonviolent activity against the wall could be an even more potent form of protest.
Pink Floyd soloist Roger Waters has said that he will do a performance of "The Wall" next to our wall, when the wall comes down, just as he did in Berlin in July, 1990. Why can't he appear opposite the wall, now, together with a group of Palestinian and Israeli singers?
Michael Steitzer, who runs a kite and balloon store in Berlin, proposes that we use one of the kite techniques created by Japanese kite-master Eiji Ohashi. A train of kites with slogans against the barrier, the occupation and for peace could be floated above the wall and held by Israelis and Palestinians on both sides.
And of course there is always graffiti.
As Bono and U-2 sang on November 9th, 2009 opposite the Brandenburg Gate, in the immortal words of Bob Marley, "Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights! Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!"