Biking across West Texas along the Mexican border, I saw an Israeli flag. The owner of the flag was a cotton farmer whose land abutted the Mexican border. The owner of the farm and the flag was an evangelical Christian who believed that Israel would play a central role in the second coming, the rapture, and Armageddon.
The Israeli flag on the U.S. Mexican border was a startling sight, but in some other-than-theological ways it made sense. The blue and white banner, emblazoned with the Jewish Star flew along the infamous U.S./Mexico border wall. Thousands of miles away, another wall — this one between Israel and the West Bank — was resurrected for much the same purpose.
The two walls are, in many ways, distinct installations of one project. That they look alike, is not surprising. In 2014 the U.S. hired an Israeli company to install security technology along its wall.
Unlike the Berlin Wall which they are sometimes compared to, the Israeli and U.S. barriers do not separate populations completely. Instead they are physical representations of a host of policies that seek to criminalize and dehumanize those who cross. Like the gates that surround an elite housing development, these walls do not stop the flow of people. Like Sundown towns and migrant camps, these walls reserve, control, and demonize the targeted groups who pass in and out. Like reservations and colonies, they circumscribe those who are the victims of land theft.
The U.S. wall monitors the flow of workers into the United States, assuring U.S. access to cheap food and services. When children from Central America began crossing in large numbers recently, fleeing violence at home, their presence did not serve the needs of capital, and so, despite revealing the audacious cruelty of U.S. policy, they were detained in prison-like quarters and deported.
When the United States treats children on its border as a criminals, it announces to the world it is a nation without a moral compass. Such a nation might well see an Israeli administration that bombs schools and refugee camps as a worthy of aid. Immoral equivalents.
The process of dismantling these walls is complex but it certainly does not begin with Trump and his Mexican wall fixation. Nor does it begin with Hillary, as she made clear with her Passover message. Such ugly uses of religious stories to justify physical and metaphorical walls, are rife. Clinton is not the first one to find vindication for U.S. and Israeli policy in this old story. She is not the first to conflate Jews with the state of Israel. I have fled synagogues this time of year where such stories are told, and such allegiances required.
Bernie Sanders’ measured criticism of Israel, and his willingness to speak it in a space filled with Jewish voters, showed — not so much an ability to boldly lead — but a willingness to follow behind those more courageous and outspoken than he. It is those social movements he follows, on both borders, that give us hope.
This year when my group gathers for Passover we will exchange stories of overcoming adversity and oppression as we usually do in our untraditional way. This year we will also pause with more purpose as we pour that cup of wine and that plate of food for the empty chair, for the stranger who might knock — a reminder to tear down walls – not build them up – in the coming year.
Creating a world without walls may or may not be the way to rapture – but it is surely a requirement of a sustainable world in this globe-shrinking climate-crisis era. Let the walls come a tumbling down.