City of Brass

Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. Today will see many hagiographic pieces about Reagan from the right, but there’s real value in learning about the complex historical context, and not enough credit I think given to Gorbachev. For great reading on this momentous day’s history, see this excellent piece (and photo gallery) at NPR’s Morning Edition, and this introspective piece at the New York Times which really explores how the event serves as a blank slate.

Rather than engage in historical revisionism and the “credit” game, however, I am more intrigued by the lessons we can apply from the fall of the Wall going forward. I think that it teaches us that a people can not be severed by false boundaries, and that containing a group of people inside a giant fortress to restrict them as much from dangerous ideas as from physical movement is a fool’s errand; ultimately, the more you constrain the human spirit, the higher the pressure builds for it to explode outwards.

The lessons apply quite well to the middle east, where walls and checkpoints enervate the West Bank and utterly isolate the Gaza Strip. The situation there is impossible to sustain indefinitely, but may persist for decades yet before ultimately boiling over. There’s great cause for cynicism, especially if you value the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland (and count me among the ranks of those who do believe Israel’s existence is necessary). As I’ve argued before, Israel faces a dilemma (essentially, Democracy, Jewishness, and Greater Israel – pick two), but the walls which Israel has created to contain the Palestinians (both their physical mass as well as their own, equally legitimate aspirations towards statehood) are rapidly constraining Israel as well. Ultimately, Israel won’t have the luxury of a choice, as the window for a two-state solution closes inexorably. The walls around (and within) Palestine may ultimately doom the idea of a Jewish homeland.

Until now, US policy towards Israeli settlements has been impotent. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may well resign, leaving Israel without a partner for peace. If there is no meaningful progress, the frustration and disappointment may well boil over into a third intifada, which would be a disaster for everyone on both sides of the Green Line. It’s time for President Obama to follow in Reagan’s footsteps, and demand that these walls, too, fall.

Related reading – executive summary of the United Nations’ Goldstone Report (PDF) and also this excellent lengthy article in the New Yorker about the Gaza war and the abduction of Gilad Shalit.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus