Thursday, June 17, 2010


for Arizona, Israel, and all the other wall builders...

The street is as filthy as it is abandoned. The clouds foretell rain. And the wind bristles, sending shivers along my spine.

If you walk the "peace walls" of Belfast you can smell the failure. The failure of community, of leadership, of religion, of humanity. It is all written beneath the grubby graffiti on the cold concrete that long ago replaced the simpler fences, and then began to climb higher. Because once you build a wall, you quickly discover that it cannot truly be high enough.

I have many times walked the seventeenth century's attempt to separate Catholics and Protestants along Protestantism's frontier on the River Foyle. Those walls are massive. Carved stone. Incredibly thick. Powerfully armed. You can walk along the top of these walls today, Europe's last truly walled city, and look down on what was once a Catholic ghetto and what was once a battlefield where the native soldiers of Ireland almost drove the English into the sea, but not quite.

These twentieth century dividers in Belfast are less picturesque, and when, someday, they are gone, they will be no more mourned than the Berlin Wall, but like that structure, perhaps we should preserve big sections so that future generations will know.

Walls do not work. Walls are proof only of the fact that you have run out of ideas. It does not matter if the intent is to keep people in (Berlin), keep people out (the US/Mexico Border), or keep people apart (the north of Ireland or Palestine). Behind every wall anger and frustration build and resentment festers and dangerous myths grow. Humans do not like boxes unless they are free to go in and out. Of this there is no doubt. And humans separated by walls simply will not learn to get along. This is also true.

The street is as filthy as it is abandoned. And now the clouds have started spitting cold water. I have walked from one rusting "peace gate" toward another, sticking to the Catholic side, since walls force that type of decision. Over there is grim poverty. Over here is the same.

copyright 2006-2010 by Ira Socol

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