At the Bottom of the Garden

John Aves
The wall at the end of my garden
Sunday, 14 December, 2003

There is something odd going at the bottom of my garden.  While other people may have gnomes and fairies or the odd compost heap, in my garden there’s a wall being built.  Nothing odd about that, you may think.  People need to mark boundaries to keep cats out and give the neighbours’ children something to climb over in order to fetch a ball.  But this wall is nothing like that.  It’s not your average 4 1/2-foot brick or chain link divider, with a top to lean on and chat to the next door neighbours as they cut the lawn. This wall is big, well over 24 feet high, with a swathe of open land, roads and, in some cases, electric fences accompanying it.  It snakes through the landscape, and every day the attendant cranes maneuvre the great concrete segments, of which it is comprised, so that it gets a bit longer.  And on the other side people get a bit more shut away from us.

Have you guessed by now where I am?  I’m living on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, a few minutes’ walk from the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.  Below my current residence, through the olive groves, I can see Israel’s so-called security fence/wall being built.  Israel is building this barrier illegally into the land it continues to occupy since 1967.  Begun in July 2002, it will extend some 500 miles down through the West Bank. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the purpose is to give Israel greater security from suicide bombers.  But others think it’s part of a new land grab, giving Israel between 25-45% of the remaining West Bank, a portion that would include some of the richest agricultural land.  It may also make it impossible for a real Palestinian state ever to be established. In the meantime, it creates havoc in the lives of ordinary Palestinians, dividing communities in half, encircling towns, cutting farmers off from their fields and irrigation systems and destroying acres of ancient olive groves and citrus orchards.

Palestinians say the barrier is also partly an agent of maintaining an artificial Jewish majority in Jerusalem, the city both parties to the conflict claim as their natural capital.  As I write today on the other side of the wall, the Palestinian community is cut off from its natural and spiritual centre while opportunities for work are severely limited by a permit system.  The actions of the Israeli government have drawn comparisons to the system of apartheid that was employed in South Africa.  It all seems strangely familiar to those of us who can remember how the white government tried to segregate the coloured populations into settlements.  It can be seen as an attempt to make people invisible so they needn’t be treated as human beings.

In reflecting back on the odd scene unfolding at the bottom of my garden, I am having second thoughts.  What’s being built at the bottom of my garden is not odd at all but obscene.

Canon John, the parish priest of St Giles in Norwich, is working as an Ecumenical Accompanier in the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).