US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A wall runs through it: Jerusalem and the West Bank

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Our guest blogger living in Israel has settled in, but the view of the wall separating Jerusalem and the West Bank unsettles her. 

By Guest Blogger Cathleen Chopra-McGowan 

There is a wall, and its the meanest wall of all,
A wall of fear: holds danger out, desire in.
A wall that bristles each time
The warden brings back tales,
Inside we're starving to buy the bricks
To build the cells,
To bury love, to bar the door, to ban the stranger...

Every time I walk up the beautiful, wide staircase at the Hebrew University, I pause for a few minutes on one of the landings to look out at the view. It is magnificent. Towards the right, the desert looms in the distance, a vast expanse of rolling dunes as far as the eye can see. Desert

But that view is not what makes me pause. Closer, houses and buildings cluster together, teeming with hundreds and hundreds of people. I pause to look at the wall that stretches from one end of the vista to the other, the wall that divides Jerusalem and the West Bank. In my mind, the view is accompanied by the lyrics to "The Wall," a song about the Berlin Wall by the folk singer Charlie King.

The wall in Jerusalem has been a reality for many years now, and people plan their travel carefully, budgeting the extra time it takes to go through security checkpoints. Some of my classmates live on the other side of it and it takes them longer to get to school even though they live closer to the university than students who live in Jerusalem center.

There is a sense of resignation among many of them, that this is the only way to ensure safety, and so they budget a couple extra hours every day to make sure they get to class on time. There is no doubt that this wall has helped reduce the number of suicide bombings in the region. But unfortunately, it does also reinforce fear and suspicion on both sides. People eye each other warily, and tensions erupt very quickly.

It hides the ovens, it hides
The settlements, the homelands,
Pink triangles, shackles, passbooks and tattoos...

When the wall was constructed, many people protested the geographical boundaries it followed. One group, however, protested that the wall was being built too close to a kindergarten. They argued that the constant presence of soldiers with rifles and machine guns was not a suitable environment for children. Having a school alongside the wall threatens the children's safety, because skirmishes frequently break out near the wall. The government ruled that the school's apprehensions were well justified and arrangements were made to carefully avoid building the wall next to the kindergarten.

But walking to and from school anywhere near the wall is difficult enough, no matter which side one's loyalties lie. Many children have to be accompanied to school by Christian peacekeepers because when students walk through neighborhoods different from their own, kids often throw pebbles and eggs at them. When I pause to look at the view from atop the university campus, that is what I think about. What are we doing to kids here? Why do they already have such visceral, knee jerk reactions?

Don't you want to live to see it fall,
When it comes around?
When that wall is gone
No matter which side you were on,
Can you say you took a piece of that wall down?

Guest Blogger Cathleen Chopra-McGowan is a Fulbright fellow in biblical studies and a recent graduate of Boston College. She will be blogging about her experience as a young adult Catholic studying in Israel for the My Generation blog. Her posts can be found at "A year in Israel."

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.