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HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE WALL (006)

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  • Gerardo-Mario Laksman
    HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE WALL (006) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/18/opinion/18manji.html HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE WALL A Muslim s mixed feelings about
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 19, 2006
      HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE WALL (006)

      http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/18/opinion/18manji.html

      HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE WALL
      A Muslim's mixed feelings about Sharon's barrier.
      By IRSHAD MANJI
      Published: March 18, 2006

      New Haven
      ON March 28, Israelis will elect a new prime minister to replace the ailing
      Ariel Sharon. But I'd bet my last shekel that I'll continue to hear the
      phrase "Ariel Sharon's apartheid wall." It's a phrase spoken - make that
      spewed - on almost every university campus I visit in North America and
      Europe.

      Among a new generation of Muslims, this is what Mr. Sharon will be known for
      long after he leaves office: unilaterally erecting a barrier, most of it a
      fence, some of it a wall, that cuts Arab villages in half, chokes the
      movement of ordinary Palestinians, cripples local economies and, ultimately,
      separates human beings.

      The critics have a point - up to a point.

      They're right that Palestinians are virtually wailing at "the wall." When I
      went to see its towering cement slabs in the West Bank town of Abu Dis last
      year, an Arab man approached me to unload his sadness. "It's no good," he
      said. "It's hard."
      "Why do you think they built it?" I asked.

      The man shook his head and repeated, "It's hard." After some silence, he
      added, "We are not two people. We are one."

      "How do you explain that to suicide bombers?" I wondered aloud.
      The man smiled. "No understand," he replied. "No English. Thank you.
      Goodbye."

      Was it something I said? Maybe my impolite mention of Palestinian martyrs?
      Then again, how could I not mention them?

      After all, this barrier, although built by Mr. Sharon, was birthed by
      "shaheeds," suicide bombers whom Palestinian leaders have glorified as
      martyrs. Qassam missiles can kill two or three people at a time. Suicide
      bombers lay waste to many more. Since the barrier went up, suicide attacks
      have plunged, which means innocent Arab lives have been spared along with
      Jewish ones. Does a concrete effort to save civilian lives justify the
      hardship posed by this structure? The humanitarian in me bristles, but
      ultimately answers yes.

      That's not to deny or even diminish Arab pain. I had to twist myself like an
      amateur gymnast when I helped a Palestinian woman carry her grocery bags
      through a gap in the wall (such gaps, closely watched by Israeli soldiers,
      do exist). It made me wonder how much more difficult the obstacle course
      must be for people twice my age, who must travel to one of the wider
      official checkpoints nearby.

      I appreciate that Israel's intent is not to keep Palestinians "in" so much
      as to keep suicide bombers "out." But in the minds of many Palestinians,
      Ariel Sharon never adequately acknowledged the humiliation felt by a
      60-year-old Arab whose family has harvested the Holy Land for generations
      when she has to show her identity card to an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant
      in an Israeli Army uniform who's been in the country for eight months. In
      that context, fences and walls come off as cruelly gratuitous.
      For all the closings, however, Israel is open enough to tolerate lawsuits by
      civil society groups who despise every mile of the barrier. Mr. Sharon
      himself agreed to reroute sections of it when the Israel High Court ruled in
      favor of the complainants. Where else in the Middle East can Arabs and Jews
      work together so visibly to contest, and change, state policies?

      I reflected on this question as I observed an Israeli Army jeep patrol the
      gap in Abu Dis. The vehicle was crammed with soldiers who, in turn, observed
      me filming the anti-Israel graffiti scrawled by Western activists -
      "Scotland hates the blood-sucking Zionists!" I turned my video camera on the
      soldiers. Nobody ordered me to shut it off or show the tape. My Arab taxi
      driver stood by, unprotected by a diplomatic license plate or press banner.

      Like all Muslims, I look forward to the day when neither the jeep nor the
      wall is in Abu Dis. So will we tell the self-appointed martyrs of Islam that
      the people - not just Arabs, but Arabs and Jews - "are one"? That before the
      barrier, there was the bomber? And that the barrier can be dismantled, but
      the bomber's victims are gone forever?

      Young Muslims, especially those privileged with a good education, cannot
      walk away from these questions as my interlocutor in Abu Dis did. If we
      follow in his footsteps, we are only conspiring against ourselves. After
      all, once the election is over, we won't have Ariel Sharon to kick around
      anymore.

      Irshad Manji, a fellow at Yale, is the author of "The Trouble With Islam
      Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith."

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