a nation is
The construction of the Israeli barrier that isolates the West Bank from the outside world began almost a decade ago. It is now 450 miles long -- the distance from San Diego to San Francisco -- and stands 26 feet tall, more than twice as high as the Berlin Wall. It has been called both the anti-terrorist fence and the racial separation wall. No words come to mind, however, as you walk on the streets of Bethlehem, Palestine. You do not need to delve deep; the wall's impact is visible in people's faces, faces that still smile at you as they pass by and go on with their lives.
Contemplating the soul-numbing injustices with which these people live, an urge to commit your life to the cause of Palestinian independence dominates you. But most likely you will move on too. It is only the Wall that stays -- it has uprooted olive trees, thwarted access to health care, cut through farmlands and villages, separated brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren. It has been built to stay, to rise and stand tall, to cast its shadow on our humanity. Ironically, it is also on the streets of Bethlehem where a more just world is most imaginable. It is in Palestine that your heart dares to dream of peace, not in the long corridors of the United Nations headquarters where "peace" is a resolution yet to be passed.
The streets of Palestine are where free-spirited activists and artists have come to change the face of apartheid, to add the bright colors of their vision to the monochrome gray of the Wall. Through graffiti art and poetry, Palestine now owns the longest "living canvas of resistance and solidarity." The Persian-language verse of Ahmad Shamlu is found alongside Mahmoud Darwish's poignant poems in Arabic. "Nations United" written in English is right next to "This wall will fall, and I will return to claim my piece," in Spanish. Story after story of suffering is present, displaying the profound universality of the human condition. From a tombstone of the world imagined by the politics of "separate but equal," the Wall has been turned into a monument that summons, in every one of us, a sense of affinity and shared vulnerability, a monument that insists on the presence of lost lives.
Paul Ricoeur, the French philosopher, writes, "From the suffering Other, there comes a giving that is no longer drawn from the power of acting and existing, but precisely from weakness itself. What the suffering Other gives to he or she who shares this suffering is precisely the knowledge of shared vulnerability and the experience of the spontaneous benevolence required to bear that knowledge." The following selection includes work by Darwish, Palestine's most celebrated poet, as well as graffiti art and writing captured on the Wall. What do these latter expressions add to the discourse of Palestinian rights and suffering? They beautify a despised structure that some locals would prefer be left in its naked, repressive form. Where formal texts often distance us from the Palestinians' predicament and Israel's policies, graffiti art speaks to us with the same warmth and intensity one encounters in conversation with people on the streets of Hebron, Bethlehem, and Ramallah. Art may not change the reality on the ground in Palestine, but it is potent enough to turn an inhuman barrier into a living narrative that mirrors the best of a nation that still dares to dream.
***Selections from Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Fady Joudah
The soldiers measure the distance between being and nonbeing
with a tank's scope...
**Siege is the waiting
the waiting on a ladder leaning amid the storm
**(to poetry:) besiege your siege
**Do we harm anyone? Do we harm any
country, if we were stuck, even if from a distance,
just once, with the drizzle of joy?
the traveler sings to himself:
I return from Syria
but as clouds
that ease the butterfly's burden
from my fugitive soul
Selections from the Wall
For he himself is our
who has made the two one and
the dividing Wall
-- Ephesians 2:14