Why learn history? The most common answer is: “So that history doesn’t repeat itself.” Those are pretty words that carry no more meaning than a speck of dust does. We all know about Apartheid, a segregated government in South Africa with foreign whites establishing power over the native African population, turning the native people into second class citizens. More than five million Palestinians live under a system very much like apartheid, with Israelis establishing laws so that Palestinians are second class citizens. There are certain roads for Israelis only, with signs that say “No Palestinian license plates allowed” - Jim Crow laws anyone? Even though the Israeli government controls the lives of Palestinians, the Palestinians are not allowed to vote in elections - just like Apartheid in South Africa. There are numerous checkpoints that the Palestinians are subject to, stretching a ten minute commute so that it lasts for hours. Israel’s military and police force continually attack peaceful protesters and commonly arrest people without a legitimate reason. Those arrested do not have a right to a trial. Once in jail, you can kiss your human rights goodbye and brace yourself for torture and human degradation.
Ever hear of the Berlin wall? It divided Berlin into Eastern and Western sections for more than 25 years, with Eastern Germany enduring the suffering of separation, starvation, and subhuman treatment; under communist rule, neither people nor items were allowed in or out. The Israeli West Bank barrier and the Gaza strip blockade feature some of those qualities. The West Bank barrier separates the West Bank from the territory of Israel, cutting off Palestinians from the rest of the region. It looks very similar to the Berlin wall, made of concrete slabs and barbed wire. What’s worse is that this wall cuts and dips into Palestinian territory. See, in the past there were borders that were agreed upon, land that was supposed to be set aside for Israel, and land set aside for Palestine. Even though Israel received a huge majority of the land, they still cheat the established borders by building this wall into Palestinian territory, making it easier to take more land from the Palestinians. While it is true that Palestinians are allowed to come in and out (with great difficulty) the wall confiscated Palestinian land so that it could be built, much of it was farmland, the livelihood of many people. There are farmers who cannot reach their farms because the wall cuts right through their field. There are a few entrances so thousands of people are bottlenecked into one road. I can only imagine how unbearable life would be for a farmer to have to take hours to reach what was once a walk that lasted a few minutes.
Again, comparable to the Berlin Wall, the region of Gaza is under siege, blockaded from the outside world. Getting in or leaving is extremely difficult. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. That problem could be easily solved, if Israel allowed filtration devices to be imported to Gaza. But guess what, Israel doesn’t allow that, so 90% of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable. Israel also prevents sewage treatment equipment to enter Gaza, so there you go, 90 million liters of sewage in the Mediterranean Sea every day. These comparisons are besides the millions of Palestinian refugees that are scattered throughout the Middle East in desolate poverty, in refugee camps that are the lowest of ghettoes, with sewage in the street and several families cramped in one or two roomed houses. Refugees are the most repeated part of history, resulting from almost any war, and these Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and now exist in a state of barely living. The UN considers the barrier, the blockade, and the apartheid-like government illegal and an infringement of human rights. But no one puts any importance on the concerns of the United Nations; their words are smoke without the fire of action. Two stark events in history remembered in infamy, Apartheid in South Africa, and the years of the Berlin Wall in Germany, are echoed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The celebrated Nelson Mandela, the hero who fought Apartheid and broke the corrupt system, had this to say: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” It’s a tragedy that he died without witnessing complete freedom, for the Palestinians are anything but free.