Waking Up To Walls And Death In The Palestinian Territories

By Michael Rowley

Wake up, roll over in bed and check the news on your phone: 55 protesters dead and approximately 2,000 wounded. The events today in Gaza prove that we as an international community need to “wake up” from more than just physical sleep.

Trump followed through on a promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He followed through on that promise irrespective of the wishes of all parties involved and with no formal agreements in place. He simply sided with Israel and pulled the trigger. For many Palestinians, a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is more than a symbolic move by America. The hope for a future Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem now seems like a near impossibility.

There has been more trigger pulling than just an embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We are seven weeks into “The Great March of Return,” organized by the residents of Gaza. It is a protest of squalid living conditions, a decade-long siege and the confiscation of land 70 years ago. It has been a movement of Palestinian residents marching to the Israeli separation barrier in an act of defiance and solidarity. On the first day of this demonstration, the Israeli army used live ammunition as a crowd-control measure and killed 17 Palestinians. The death toll has continued to rise as the protest has continued, including deaths of members of Palestinian press. Today, with the embassy move fueling more tension, another 55 are dead.

I spent the course of 2017 in Israel and the Palestinian Territories filming a documentary called Hurdle. I was investigating the human impact that comes from living in an environment where your movements are controlled and self-determination feels like a dream. I found young men who, though living under the stress and control of occupation, are able to transcend the metaphorical and physical walls surrounding them using non-violent action. I found that Palestinians are an inspiring people, more like you and I than you might have imagined. They often told me that they simply want to live a good life in peace with opportunities for themselves and their families. The fact is to attain that, they first need the basic rights of security, dignity and freedom. I saw the pain in their eyes, but the richness of their spirit. I was struck by the way Palestinians communities have an ability to smile and find beauty, despite the reality around them.

Currently, we are steeped in a global conversation about walls. Should we build more? Well, we have a decade-old example of what walls look like and the impact they have in the Israeli/Palestinian context. My summation is that walls do more than just mark borders. They have a profoundly negative impact on the people on either side of them. Walls are a tool used to dehumanize the “other” on the opposite side. They make a statement that those outside of the walls are something that should be controlled and contained. The result is that those “others” can seem like something less than human. So when we read about Palestinians in Gaza being killed as they march to the Israeli separation barrier, do we shrug? Are we less outraged simply because of what we’ve been conditioned to think of when we hear about Gaza or Palestinians? I hope not. I hope you mourn with those who mourn and wake up to the action required to see justice and freedom for all.

Michael Rowley is the Director of the upcoming documentary Hurdle about the liberating power of Parkour among Palestinian youth. 

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