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Friday, December 01, 2006

'Something There Is that Doesn't Love a Wall'

Here's an excellent reflection by Ralston Deffenbaugh, a participant in the conference and the president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

He raises an excellent point -- that although borders have a positive role in peaceful ordering of human affairs, physical barriers like walls can result in suspicion and even hostility.

Deffenbaugh writes:
"The contact zone, the border area, becomes unpleasant, even dangerous, further accentuating divisions and fears. The powerful and rich can cross over the barriers more easily; the costs of separation weigh more heavily on those who are poorer and less powerful."

He adds,
"What makes the U.S. wall with Mexico so offensive is that it has gone far beyond what is reasonable for combating drugs, smuggling and terrorism. It makes us look like a fearful people who no longer value liberty and peaceful interchange with our friendly neighbors. It is my hope that Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a safe and legal channel for family members and honest workers to come to this country, thereby obviating the need for this ugly wall."
Find out more about Lutheran efforts to work for just immigration and border policies at LIRS' Advocacy Update.

Walls must be torn down from within

Here's a letter from Hermann Sieben, one of the German participants in the conference:

Thank you for your reports of the conference in Berlin and Wittenberg. We enjoyed the conference and especially the week being together with Christians from Mexico, the USA, Palestine and Germany. We had good conversations and learned a lot, meeting interesting personalities.

If you allow me I would like to add something to the report of the conference. When during the conference comparisons of the Iron Wall between the two Germanys with the walls in Palestine and between Mexico and the USA were made I said that the only thing we can learn from the destruction of the German wall is that nowadays walls can only brought down from the side responsible for its construction, like the German wall was torn down from the East Germans. If West Germans had tried to do it, they would have provoked a new world-war. What West Germans could do in the time of the existing wall, was to build bridges between the two parts of Germany like writing letters, visiting friends in the East who were not allowed to come to the West, meeting them in Hungary or other countries of the Eastern bloc, praying together, etc. In Berlin we heard a lot about it. These actions and among others the West German TV and radio helped the Easterners to keep their desire to come to a Germany without a wall.

What I missed in our conversations [at the conference] was for instance a readiness to hear from efforts from the Israeli side -- Jews and Arabs -- to overcome the terrible wall the Israeli government has built and is continuing to construct in Palestine. I understood my invitation from Stephan Dorgerloh, the director of the Academy in Wittenberg, to share with you my experience in youth exchange with Israel and Palestine and of the conciliation work in Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam ["Oasis of Peace"], where Jews and Palestinians live together as good neighbors. More than 25 years of my professional life in German Youth exchange with Israel gave me the chance to see the falling down of walls between Germans and Jews, not visible walls but nevertheless very big ones. Nobody could imagine that after the holocaust Germans today could be considered by Israelis as ones of their best friends. It is not enough to complain the existence of walls you have to try to overcome them. When I mentioned bridges between Jews and Palestinians in Israel like the Oasis of Peace, Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, and the educational work done there for peace and understanding between the two peoples I could understand that for some Palestinians that disturbed the ugly picture they wanted to draw. I agree the wall for instance in Bethlehem is ugly and terrible. We have seen it last May. It should be torn down as soon as possible. But as I said that can be done only from the side it has built it. But should one wait till that will be done or would it not be better to help finding holes in the wall or building even small passes and ways over or through it?

The "Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland" (EMW) has just published Nr. 63 Studienheft "Sehnsucht nach Frieden -- Initiativen für Verständigung und Zusammenarbeit in Israel und Palästina." In this paper you can find a lot of examples of such initiatives for understanding and cooperation. It could be worthwhile to have it translated into English.

You can find more about the Village of Peace on this Web site www.nswas.com.

Our best wishes,

Hermann Sieben
Sankt Augustin, Germany