For the past week, Germans have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of the memorable Nov. 9 evening when the gates of the Berlin Wall were opened and people long separated by concrete and checkpoints were able to travel freely between East Berlin, a part of the Soviet bloc, and West Berlin, an ally of the West.
After years of standing as a firm dividing line, most of the wall was quickly torn down. I remember seeing a part of it standing on display at the North Carolina State Fair. Family and friends were reunited after years apart, commercial opportunities blossomed, and the scent of freedom filled the air.
When I remember the excitement of those heady days, I can’t help but think of an even longer, even higher wall that the State of Israel continues to construct, confiscating Palestinian land to build a much longer barrier, twice the height of the Berlin Wall, between Israel and the West Bank. The primary excuse for the wall is security; the ultimate effect is the isolation and oppression of many Palestinian people who can no longer travel to work in Israel or even farm their own land.
There’s a Bible story about how the walls around Jericho came tumbling down for the Israelites. Today, longer walls and fierce fences are going back up.
Physical walls that imprison or isolate also remind me of the ideological walls that divide people of different religions and different political persuasions, as well as the pain-induced emotional walls that keep so many families and former friends apart.
Walls are fed by fear and mistrust, but they fade before open and willing hearts.
We may long for the day when all walls may come down, but that is not enough. Jesus did not say “blessed are the peace-longers,” but “blessed are the peace-makers.”
We have work to do.
[Top photo from http://www.destination360.com/europe/germany/berlin-wall-museum. Bottom photo is mine, taken from inside the wall that surrounds much of Bethlehem.]