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The Great Divide

2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

The Great Divide
by Melliyal Annamalai, USA

In the United States, where I live, there is great pride that President Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall.  It is seen as the moment where a people were united and countries moved toward democracy.  It is seen as a hugely significant moment in history when barriers were broken down and the world moved towards oneness with common dreams of peace, prosperity, and happiness.  Economic globalization and increased movement of peoples has in recent times contributed to the feeling that the world is one, tightly connected.

In this world that is moving closer, while visiting Israel, I come across the Wall.  It feels like precisely the wrong thing to be there.  It feels like moving back in time, away from modern day goals of justice and fairness.  Of course I know about the conflict, the history of the region, the reason the Wall was built.  But to see the actual Wall is a jarring reminder of the deep divisions, the injustice, the creation of rifts instead of peaceable and just solutions.  The world should be moving towards co-existence and harmony.  Yet here is the starkly divisive line, dividing people, hampering livelihoods, unfair by its existence.  It feels like something that is going in the wrong direction.

Our guides are ever hopeful.  They fight peacefully for what they believe is rightfully theirs.  Without bitterness and despair, they steadfastly believe in their dream of having their homeland whole again.  Where people can move without going through barred entryways, X-rayed bag checks, turnstiles that hold people back, the barbed wire that separates families, the crafted rules to keep them out.    Without bitterness and despair, with calmness and logic, our guides show us the bullet holes, the havoc in some people’s lives, the challenges they face, and what they believe the boundary should be.

Then there is the intangible Wall.  A friend arranges for a taxi to take us Jerusalem to the airport.  A security guard stops us at one of the entrance gates to the airport.  An armed man walks up to the car and asks for the trunk to be opened.  He examines the suitcases, and asks my father where we are from and where we are going.  We had been warned by many friends that security questions and checks at the airport could be long, so to us this was the expected routine questioning.  After the trunk is closed the armed security guard asks the driver to go inside the office with him.  We are puzzled, because the security guard had seemed satisfied with my father’s answers.  What additional questions did he have? We wait in the car pulled to one side of the road while car after car whizzes by us through the gates.  Only our driver had been asked to go inside.  Why?  Then it dawns on us.  Because he was Muslim.   Our driver comes out after a while, and the expression on his face is a mixture of anger and helplessness.  He tells that we would have been asked to go inside also, if we had been Muslim.  He takes us the rest of the way to the airport in silence and gives us his card offering his services if he we need a taxi in the future.

In the airport, in the lounge, I notice that the all the newspapers are in Hebrew and English.  None in Arabic.  Yet another subtle reminder of the divide.

The tangible Wall has many poignant messages from people who yearn for it to come down like the Berlin Wall.  “This Wall may take care of the present but it has no future” says it all.