Knight Errant 127
Saturday 11th April 2015
'Good fences make good neighbours'.
Do they really?
Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall certainly didn't think so. The poem describes the annual inspection of the wall which divides his property from his neighbour's. They walk the wall together, each on their own side, mending as they go. The neighbour insists that it is all in the interest of good neighbourliness. The poet isn't so sure. He asks, 'Why do they make good neighbours?' and adds, 'Isn't it where there are cows? But there are no cows here'.
There are no cows here, either, but we are not short of a fence or two. They come in all shapes and sizes - from concrete slabs, stacks of concrete-filled oil drums, razor wire and wire fences. None are very beautiful; all are reminders that this is a deeply divided city. And they come and go. One low concrete barrier, near the Mosque, and at one of the few places where Palestinians and Israeli settlers 'share' the same stretch of road - and which was clearly intended to separate the two communities - was first of all extended, and then, practically overnight, was removed completely. And as far as I know, the world has not come to an end as a result.
But waste not, want not. The concrete sections have been recycled and placed alongside the so-called Worshippers' Way (sometimes called Prayer Road) along which Israeli settlers from the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement make their way to synagogue on shabbat. But they have grown, and the 82 cm (precisely!) high concrete barrier is now surmounted with panels of steel mesh fencing. The idea is that Israelis use the metaled road, while Palestinians use a narrow, rock and rubbish-strewn, 'path' behind the fence. I have used the 'path' several times this week, not out of choice, but because one of our tasks is to escort five young Palestinians - they are about five years old - from their homes to their kindergarten just a few hundred yards away. They - and we - are not allowed to use the proper road. Our place is behind the fence, picking our way through the debris, slipping and sliding on the loose surface.
But the Israeli Defense Force has not reckoned with five-year old Palestinians. Led by the two girls they have twice this week made up their own minds which side of the fence they will take - and it wasn't the one they were supposed to take. There may be a day of reckoning, but the sight of children running free, smiling with delight, lifted the heart for a few minutes.
It's not too much to ask, is it? - that small children shouldn't be subjected to what can only be called a form of apartheid, and be taught to 'know their place'.
Yesterday we stood for three-quarters of an hour at a checkpoint on the route many men and some women use on their way to the mosque for Friday prayers. While we watched 61 men - all young - were detained while their IDs were checked by the so-called Border Police against a central computer. Each check took ten minutes or so - sometimes it takes much longer - but these were young men on their way to worship. So much for the right to freedom of worship, enshrined in international humanitarian law. Another wall - of resentment - erected.
A last word from Robert Frost:
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to cause offense...