Not far from the Wall built by Israel on Palestinian land to humiliate the Palestinians are walls that Israel knocks down to turn homes into dust. Those walls that hold up roofs are shelters for a people who have been thrown off their axis, made to walk at a tilt, always afraid of a settler’s bullet or the soldier’s handcuffs. Prison walls are made of stone. Settlement walls are made of stone. But the walls of the homes of a Palestinian are made of that odd combination of fear and resistance. There is fear that the cannons of the colonizer will blast through them, but there is resistance that acknowledges that the walls of the home are not the real walls and that the real walls are the walls of fortitude and perseverance.
Wretched states are hollowed by their insensitivity and by their injustice. It is impossible to make their case, except by the arrogance of guns. When a bulldozer comes before a home, it is the bulldozer that will prevail, but it is the home that remains alive in hearts and in dreams. Bulldozers produce fear, but not utopia. A utopia cannot be built by fear. It has to be built by the enthusiasm of love. Wretched states – such as Israel – cannot build a utopia of love on land that has been scarred by brutal theft. Even after olive trees have been uprooted, their groves still smell of olives and haunt the settler with the eyes of the people who planted the trees.
One day, the Indian Prime Minister sends more troops to a part of the world that is perhaps the most heavily guarded on the planet. India’s troop deployment in Kashmir is the same size as the entire Pakistani army. He is eager to annex Kashmir fully to his control, not allowing the region to have any autonomy as it awaits some sort of finality to its sixty years of limbo. He detains all the political leaders, shuts down the press and the internet, and – effectively – arrests all the eight million people who live in the state. Even when an earthquake strikes, their phones remain silent. Families that want to reach each other no longer know how to send notes on pigeons.
Days go by as news of Kashmir does not come. Silence is not Kashmir’s way. The birds continue to sing, in small groups people come onto the streets to protest, the army stands with fingers on triggers – when the gunfire starts, both the people and the birds will scatter in fear, but the soldier knows that they will return. There is a wall around Kashmir, but the small walls of homes become a shelter, and it is from these small walls that the people will once more brave the streets.
Havana’s homes are most often apartments in buildings that carry history and mildew, evidence of the old Spanish inheritance and of the floods left behind by Hurricanes. On the outside of these walls paint tells a story that runs from the iconic starve of Che to the infinite declarations of independence. Venceremos, Viva Fidel, Hasta la Victoria Siempre…. These are the heartbeats of a Revolution. There are also whimsical drawings, humorous asides about the complexity of life on a small island that the Yanqui has tried to suffocate for sixty years.
A half hour walk from the Plaza de la Revolución, where the voice of Fidel echoes, to El Malecon, goes past these homes. At El Malecon, the Atlantic Ocean splashes onto Havana, where there has been for generations now an embargo against life. As soon as the bearded ones came into town, the Yanqui built a wall in the ocean. It went around the island, blocked its ports, tried to prevent it from breathing. But the island pushed the membrane of this blockade and pushed outwards till it could see the horizon of its socialism. The Yanqui still has the same plans, resentments that the island did not surrender. Its walls of water wash over El Malecon, the waves rising higher, the beauty of their endlessness laughter at the concept of walls.
Other oceans, rivers, and seas become walls to hold back migrants, to drag them down to their death. Between the Rio Grande and the Mediterranean lies a grave. It was here that millions of enslaved people died as they were taken to become workers. At the two ends of the Atlantic are two waters – a river and a sea – that do duty to hold back the onrush of desperate people who flee wars that they have not created. The border guards are tides and currents, a deadly use of nature to crush humanity.
Ships with weapons cross these waters, breach these walls, and deliver them to ugliness which fights its own wars. The Gaza perimeter is not a sea or a river or an ocean. It is not even a line in the earth. It is barbed wire and rictus grins. It is the sound of gunfire and of threats. It defines the West. It is a wall of hurt, a wall of shame, a wall that does not exist.
A wall only exists if you do not challenge it. If you stand up to it, the wall is merely earth which can crumble. If you resist, you are not standing behind a wall. It is those who are inhumane who are held by the wall. They are hiding behind the wall. It is their wall. It is not our wall. We live in a world without walls.