By now, you’ve no doubt seen the images of hundreds of thousands of Gazans pouring into Egypt after Palestinian militants blew the border fence in Rafah to pieces just a few days ago; or, more generally, in some places causing it to completely fall over while scores of people toppled it in what has become surely now a cliché reference to the images of the Berlin Wall’s historic smashing, setting loose a similar stampede of thousands of families from East to West Berlin.
I mean, there is such a fine line between walls that are meant to keep people 'in' and walls that are meant to keep people 'out', if you think about it. Despite any stated intention, either way, a border wall will produce both consequences. For instance, while the US-Mexico border fence’s formal purpose is to keep unwanted immigrants out, its ultimate effect is to keep them inside Mexico. This is made even more paradoxical when you think about the border fence’s impact on those undocumented immigrants who are already within the U.S. and now probably feel trapped there because the risk of exiting the country and not being able to return has become too great.
So, again, the wall achieves both inside and outside conditions.
Same with the Gaza wall – while it’s been built to keep “terrorists” out it’s final goal is keeping Gazans within their own territory, where they are essentially starved of any sort of national livelihood. No wall has a singular dimensional effect, in fact it goes far beyond both sides who share it. The walls impact entire regions of migrant and labor flow, hardly beginning or ending at the site of the border itself.
With this notion, it’s nearly impossible not to correlate the Gaza and Berlin walls this way -– if for the sheer visual potency of their images alone – and the legacy that walls have always continued to build through out history, that –- in this case -- forces one (at the very least) to consider the ironic connections between the Fall of Nazi Germany and the subsequent ignominious rise of Israel as a brutal occupier that must protect itself today behind miles and miles of resurrected barricade. Talk about a lineage of psycho-cultural impact. If the wounding the German psyche faces today as a result of its own heinous history is any indication, then the Israeli ego will have lots more to endure in generations to come. Or, as Daniel Levy asks, can Israelis ever recover from the self-inflicted damage of becoming a brutal occupier? I might add, can they ever recover from the damage that was done to them prior, because isn’t the current psychic identity of the Jewish state really just an extension of that wounding?
I make this connection not to pass judgment, but merely to suggest that a deeper language of political walls seems to be telling the story of global foreign policy, and what (if any) psycho-cultural morphology is revealing itself in the process. If the author of modern geopolitics were an architect then his narrative seems to unfold in the self-tortured pages of endlessly rising and crumbling walls. One can only wonder what the ripple effect of this latest un-walling in Palestine will bring to the future chapters of geopolitical space, and what new unborn references will eventually lead back to this one with similar wall-worn imagery.
Now that the world is embarked on such a border fence-building craze, I wonder, is it setting itself up for yet another day of wall reckoning with equally fervent domino effect where all the walls –- not just one this time –- will suddenly fall, wresting millions instead of thousands from de facto geographies of captivity? Will there be a spectacular moment of global un-walling? Is the nomadic fortress, that bombastic universal border wall I’ve described spanning multiple continents, destined for the greatest urban collapse ever known to man?
Today we have hundreds of thousands of Gazans to consider (just think about that number) breaching one of -- if not the most -- contentious political walls in history. It may not seem like a very significant number if you compare it to other disaster displacements around the world, but as Christian Lorentzen points out in his piece for Harpers, that’s roughly 13 percent of the territory’s entire population fleeing in a matter of moments, from the urban prison that is truly Gaza, surging past the brief and jagged openings of a nation not their own for dear life.
Having spent the last couple of days collecting tons of images of the whole thing it’s difficult actually to select just a few to post here (since I’d love to post them all!), and because over the last hundred hours or so the pictures themselves have woven a sort of equally twisted narrative of the whole event that is interesting to gage in the media’s own eyes. Yet, I can only imagine what it must feel like to be over there, in that sudden space of chaotic bliss and confusion—that epic fleeting pandemonium of momentary relief; the architectural pulse of facing a wall that has finally fallen.
You've heard the stories now about men stocking up on gallons of gas with hopes of sustaining their families for months to come, people lining up in Egyptian towns just to get bread, light bulbs, batteries, rice – uh...bare essentials, people.
Yet, aside from the swarms of analysis surrounding the situation, I am (as you surely have guessed by now) totally obsessed with the images themselves.
Last Thursday night an audience member asked me if I thought ‘walls’ could be positive in any way; if ‘walls’ always had to connote negativity, or something to that effect anyway.
It’s a question that comes up a lot (not because I do a lot of presentations since we all know that I don’t), but here on Subtopia and in conversations whenever talking about borders and fences and alternatives to the “practical necessities of immigration enforcement” (whatever that may mean). And I usually say, you know, walls are the building blocks of space – they are the currency of architecture (to some extent) – and so, it’s not that I find walls at their very essence inherently wrong or inhumane, it’s more so in the context the walls are used, for precise political purposes, at what human expense, etc.
Anyway, that conversation resonates for me viewing these gnarled almost Richard Serra-like whirls of scrap metal that have been made out of the Gaza-Egypt border fence. I mean, I don’t want to attribute any sensationalistic over-symbolism here (of course, I can't really help myself either!), but there is something utterly stunning in the contortions of twisted steel that lay under the feet of thousands of women and children and families trampling over it like some kind of ghettoized rusted-red carpet; no longer towering over them as a symbol of tyranny and strangulation but becoming now the very structure that leads them to -- at least for the moment -- some temporary freedom, some temporary breathing room; a combustible space of border subversion and hope.
Parts of it looked like a great wilted helix, or a mythological border staircase unfolding over the territories, delivering this entire population from the insidious prison of their own homeland, while other parts were suddenly made a kind of post-catastrophic playground.
The image of the fence turning into this new pedestrial route that literally bridged them with some tiny epoch of freedom is irresistibly beautiful, rather than being this obstinate architecture of their demise. And how it came to so instantaneously, I guess I just find epically poetic, in a way. The symbolic power of converting the fence into a vessel, or a kind of demolished yet adapted freeway, even; an avenue of exodus navigated over obliterated steel – that’s some triumphant shit, right there, if you ask me.
Be that as it may, I will try to say more in the future but this is obviously what you get when you apply the most extreme tactics of urban segregation through brutal military means, engineering perhaps one of the most pressurized conflict spaces this side of humanity has ever seen. The walls become the devices of their own demise, and a symbol of victory for the subjugated. On the frontlines of backlash, the walls become the burden of those who build them. At the very least, they expose the intolerable degrees of desperation that are raised by the isolationist politics of occupation.