Monday, February 22, 2010

The logic of the Empire

"I haven't been across that wall in 12 years," said the owner of a small Palestinian restaurant in Bethlehem where we had lunch.
"I will come over to visit you in Jerusalem. I have a permit for this week," said a retired Palestinian teacher I spoke with on the phone to make arrangements for us to meet.

"My family (husband, originally from Austria, and two kids born in Austria) are visiting the Dead Sea, but I couldn't go with them as I have not been given a permit. We are scheduled to leave for Austria in a couple of weeks, and if I don't get my permit I will need to go through Jordan, which will cost 800 Euros more... I have an Austrian passport, but that doesn't matter. To the occupying forces, I am a Palestinian and nothing else matters" said a woman during coffee hour after church at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.

I can see "the wall" from the back porch of the apartment where we are staying at Tantur Ecumenical Institute. The institute is just a block form the Bethlehem "gate" or "check point." References to the wall and the way it shapes peoples' lives are inescapable in just about every conversation with people from Palestine.

The graffiti on the Palestinian side of the wall connects it to atrocities of the past--the Berlin wall, walls that hemmed Jews into ghettos. On the Israeli side, a large picture of the fortress wall around the Old City of Jerusalem (posted right by the Bethlehem gate)wordlessly connects the wall to a history of protection, even to the biblical references picked up by Luther's "A Mighty Fortress."

Connecting or drawing parallels between the situation here and situations elsewhere and at other times in history is fraught with complexities and pitfalls. Yet, in the morning when I go running and see men who have crossed the wall and are standing in the corner right outside Tantur waiting to be picked up by someone who will hire them for the day, I can't help but think of Hispanic laborers standing in the corners of cities throughout the U.S. I can't help but wonder about the similarities and connections of those around the world and throughout history who have designed, funded, and built dividing walls.

Dealing for months with the consequences on individuals of an immigration policy visually represented by the U.S./Mexico wall, I can't help but wonder about "the logic of empire." What is the logic that destroys a small town in Northeast Iowa or threatens the future of a community in rural Washington State; the logic that assigns a permit for a week to a retiree to cross a border, but denies it the following...

Today I went on a guided study tour of the Old City. Layer after layer of rock and debris attest to one empire after another, making a claim on this land--a claim that in time would prove to be tenuous. Each empire has seen its own logic and advocated its own well being. Each has claimed its own right and divine revelation... how might we speak today to the walls that surround us? Are they our "mighty fortresses"? Are they the walls against which Jesus, as the writer of Ephesians puts it, throws his own body (Eph 2:14)?

No comments:

Post a Comment