WALLS ARE A TOOL OF THE POWERFUL TO CONTROL THE POWERLESS: WALLS ARE CLASS WARFARE
Before I got involved with blogging I wrote and edited an online pamphlet called Agitate. I remember, back when George W. Bush was pushing for a border wall along the Mexican border, writing on the issue of walls and their use as a form of oppression. This topic is, unfortunately, relevant again, so I set myself to find these articles. It took a while. There’s been a lot of shuffling of files since 2007, but I finally found what I was looking for. Below is not one, but three articles on the topic of walls. The first is an overview of my point about walls and class warfare. The second, which was written as an addendum to the first. If we are to see free movement as a right, and I still believe that it is, then what does that mean for immigration policy?
The third essay takes a look at the wall policy in Israel to further reinforce my point about walls as a tool of oppression. Israel’s wall is often given as an example and justification for building the same structure along the Mexican border–for security purposes, of course.
Walls are for oppression, not protection
Agitate: Volume 1 Number 2a July 2007
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall, a forty-year-old symbol of oppression, and admonished Soviet Premier Mikail Gorbachev to, “tear down this wall.” This simple statement reverberated through the cheering crowd and has come to represent the American ideal of freedom; the freedom to pursue one’s best interests be it economic or political. In essence, President Reagan was promoting a basic, but unnoted freedom—the freedom of movement, to escape oppression and to live free. There he was, standing proud against a backdrop of the oppressive Berlin Wall, supporting this fundamental human right.
Today, the heirs of Ronald Reagan offer platitudes of their own, standing proud against the backdrop of an American flag. Only now they are demanding the construction of a wall…and high tech surveillance, and armed guards. This wall is being built along the border of Mexico in the interests of blocking the entry of “illegal immigrants” into the United States.
Illegal immigrants. That’s right! Illegal immigrants. According to the media, to the punditocracy, to the politicians on campaign, these aren’t poor and desperate people trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children. They are illegal immigrants. They are not courageous men and women who are willing to risk everything, including death, (Immigrant Graveyards of South Texas, alternet.org) for a chance at the pursuit of happiness. No! They are illegal immigrants, and such people must be restricted from entering the country without the appropriate paperwork.
It’s amazing how people must be restricted from crossing the muddy Rio Grande. Politicians wave their fingers and furrow their brows and say “No!” to poor people looking for work, people turning to America as their last and only hope. Of course, these same politicians bend over backward to ensure that money crosses the border without restriction, trade crosses the border without restriction, American jobs cross the border without restriction. This is called free trade. Economic activity can take place across borders, even those economic policies that cost Americans their jobs and security, but not people. Trade can be “free,” but not people.
Of course, there’s a rational argument for limiting these freedoms. There’s always a rational argument. First, illegal immigrants constitute a threat to America through crime and terrorism. Second, illegal immigrants are taking jobs from American workers. Finally, illegal immigrants constitute a financial drain on our resources because they get on our welfare and entitlement programs and send their children to our schools. Gasp! If you want to create animosity where it doesn’t exist naturally, the best way to do it is to convince one group of people that they are in danger from another group of people, without regard to the truth of the threat.
Is there a criminal element among illegal immigrants? Of course, there is. But here’s the rub. Any large category of people has a criminal element. Building a wall on the Mexican border to keep out the criminals makes as much sense as building a wall around Florida so Sunshine State criminals don’t cross into the rest of the nation.
There are those who state that those who cross the border illegally are, in and of themselves, the criminal element. They are breaking the law simply by crossing the border without going through the proper channels…that’s illegal, you know. True enough. Laws are made by human beings for their own interests. If forty-nine states passed laws making it illegal for people from Florida to cross the border without papers, then every Floridian who did so would be a criminal. Just because a law exists does not make it right. Law cannot and should not be confused with justice.
There are those who feel that Mexicans coming into the United States, legally or illegally, constitute an invasion. Mexicans are going to take over America with superior numbers and soon the American culture will be gone. Oh my gosh! This conjures up the image of Mexicans sitting around a table in a smoky cantina in Chihuahua planning the demise of the United States.
“OK. All we gotta do is cross this dangerous desert, sneak past the border patrol and the gun-wielding yahoos, find jobs cleaning houses or picking crops and soon…America will be ours! Yahahahahaha!” Please!
But Mexican labor is still taking jobs from Americans. Perhaps this is true, but it is not a significant economic drain on American labor. Immigration from Mexico has continued to rise yet the unemployment rate has decreased and increased and decreased again. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, publicagenda.org) The availability of jobs is not contingent upon immigrant labor. Employment is contingent on the decisions of corporate America to provide jobs. What is corporate America doing? Why they’re shipping jobs to other countries—freely, I might add. Downsizing and offshoring is the business climate of America. This is costing Americans their jobs.
And the cost of illegal immigrants isn’t as high as the politicians would like you to believe. An analysis from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an anti-immigrant think tank, estimates the cost of illegal immigrants at $10 billion dollars a year. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but compared to other things, like corporate crime, which costs the US literally hundreds of billions of dollars a year (Drutman: LA Times 11/4/03, andosciasociology.net), illegal immigration is really a drop in the bucket. And most of the cost of illegal immigration, according to the CIS, is due to a lack of education and training, not because they are filling up the welfare roles and emergency rooms. (CIS) Knowing this, doesn’t it make sense to provide educational opportunities for illegals rather than spend between 2-8 billion dollars on a wall that won’t work? (Hendries: San Francisco Chronicle 2/26/06, globalsecurity.org) (this estimate does not include the costs to maintain it or the local economic and environmental costs)
Note: I used this conservative, anti-immigration think tank to make a point from a worst-case scenario point of view. To put this in perspective, however, read this essay from the George W. Bush Institute in which the author notes, quite correctly, that “International migration is not much different than domestic migration, at least not in terms of economics.” Click Here.
Yet, we live in an age of terrorism. We simply must secure our borders! There’s an elephant in the living room with regard to securing our borders. I’ve been on the Mexican border. I’ve canoed the Rio Grande. I’ve also paddled through the mangrove forests of South Florida and backpacked through the mountains of Montana. The United States has an awful lot of border and most of it is wilderness or water. The reality is that it is impossible to secure our borders effectively. It will most likely cost American taxpayers much more than $10 Billion a year to build and maintain this wall along the border of Mexico, and it still won’t keep people out. It makes no sense economically.
It makes no sense from a law enforcement standpoint, either. All of the major terrorist attacks in the United States have been done by natural born citizens or legal immigrants. And no major terrorist has been linked to crossing the Mexican border illegally. (Still true) No major terrorist has been caught crossing the border despite claims that border patrol catches 25% of illegal crossers. (CIS, Dept of Homeland Security)
The Use of Walls
Walls are a political tool used to control populations. They are nothing more than an exercise of power and a visible indicator of oppressive policies. This was the case with the Berlin Wall. And when the Berlin Wall came down the cheering throngs of people on both sides celebrated their new found freedoms. I can envision a day when Americans and Mexicans tear down the Mexican Wall and demand the right to free movement.
Walls are also a prelude to militarism. A wall, by itself, is relatively easy to traverse. In order for a wall to be effective, it must be patrolled by men with guns. There must be barbed wire, spotlights, cameras, dogs, guard-towers with machine guns…are you starting to develop an image of Stalag 17 or the notorious Russia Gulag? You should. Walls are used to confine, hide and imprison. They are a tool of oppression, not of preserving freedom as so many politicians would like you to believe.
Economic exploitation is another motivator for building walls. Since money and trade can flow freely over the border the movement of working men and women must be controlled. If too many Mexicans leave the labor force in Mexico, then American businesses that have relocated to Mexico will face an increased demand for labor with a falling supply. Labor in Mexico will be able to demand higher pay and benefits. We can’t have that.
The wall also makes it easier for American businesses to exploit Mexican labor that does manage to cross the border. Many illegals crossed the border with help from up north. Since these people are in the country illegally and have an understandable fear of authority, they often find themselves serving in virtual slavery as domestic and agricultural labor and even pimped out in the sex trade. (US Dept. of State) Without legal status, these slaves have nowhere to go for help. Building a wall can only serve to reinforce this slave/master relationship.
Thinking differently about Immigration
Agitate: Volume 1 Number 2b July 2007
The Right of Free Movement
Though not enumerated in the Bill of Rights, the right of people to move freely is a foundational element to the pursuit of happiness. This tradition is understood within the boundaries of most nations that allow their citizens the right to travel. In the United States, citizens can cross state boundaries at whim, enter cities and communities without molestation (unless, of course, they are homeless citizens, but that’s another issue). We recognize that sometimes, pursuing opportunity may be a physical act of moving from one place to another.
But the right of free movement as practiced is yet another instance in which the wealthy have more rights than the poor. It is a small matter for people of means, even relatively modest means, to purchase the necessary credentials to travel across international borders. However, this is not the case among the poor. Destitute Mexicans do not have the resources to purchase such credentials and usually lack the bureaucratic know-how to detangle the red tape for getting a visa.
So walls are really only used to restrict the movement of the poor. Walls are a tool of class warfare, not a tool of security. The Mexican Wall (and guns) makes it more difficult for the poor in Mexico to pursue economic opportunity while at the same time making it easier for the poor in both countries to be exploited. It also becomes more difficult for poor people to resist oppression, for walls separate peoples from each other and interferes with their ability to pursue common interests.
A Radical Idea
“So, are you proposing that we just allow Mexicans to come and go freely into the United States?” I was asked. The answer is yes. When we recognize that rights, like the right to
speak and the right to move, exist then we must accept that they exist for all people, not just Americans…not just wealthy Americans. If trade can be free to follow its interests, why shouldn’t people?
“But then we’ll be inundated with the poor from all over the world?” Perhaps. But we will also be inundated with people who had courage and drive enough to cross deserts and rough seas with their families for the hopes of achieving a better life. I say America needs more such people, not less! Where people can move freely it would become difficult to maintain the systems of economic and political oppression that now exist.
It will mean, however, that our politicians, under constant pressure from free peoples, will be forced to face the real issues of immigration, not the symptoms. Immigration is the result of economic and political stratification. For instance, the average worker in Mexico makes 1/10th what his contemporary in the United States makes. (CIS) Immigration is a symptom of oppressive inequalities on a national and global scale. Perhaps our policies, energies, and money should be directed at leveling the playing field for all human beings, regardless of nationality. When people are content, they have no desire to move.
Currently, our policies are directed at maintaining and perpetuating class inequalities. International treaties like NAFTA, CAFTA, and GATT were sold to us as a way of bringing greater prosperity to all people of the Americas. Of course few really believed this; these treaties were opposed by the vast majority of the people of all affected nations. (globalexchange.org) Regardless, they were approved over our heads and, as expected, the poor remain poor, wealth disparities continue (en Breve: World Bank 1/05) and more and more people are displaced in desperation.
And why not? As it stands our power elite have walls and guns to protect their interests. Policies that promote the greater good of all people are off the table for discussion and will remain off the table so long as walls and guns are allowed to stand.
A New Paradigm
Why is the essay above so radical? Why is it that the contents of this issue of Agitate will, almost certainly, not be represented in the debate on immigration? Those who suggest such nonsense as throwing open the borders and respecting the right of individuals to travel freely are looked at as far-left wackos with no sense whatsoever.
Indeed, what is required to perpetuate this policy initiative is a dramatic paradigm change away from a core principle of almost all global cultures. What is proposed this month is a radical refutation of Nationalism, the establishment of personal identity based on national origin, and the belief that one’s nation has special, even superior characteristics that no other nation possesses.
It is Nationalism that makes us believe that established political boundaries have any legitimacy at all. It is Nationalism that brings us to revile and even fear those who don’t respect these boundaries. It is Nationalism that encourages us to spend billions of dollars and countless man-hours defending these boundaries.
It is easy to assume that human beings are, by nature, Nationalistic. The philosophy of Nationalism has been a virtually unchallenged truism in America for over a hundred years. But Nationalism is not a truism, it is a social construct created by institutions for the purpose of solidifying those institutions within a national spectrum.
Corporate America has long since turned its back on Nationalism. Major corporations are transnational in their agenda and infrastructure. Why shouldn’t everyone else be able to pursue their interests in the global market as freely as our largest corporations? What is proposed here is transnationalism for the common man. This essay proposes a recognition of the rights of all people, not based on nation of origin, but rather by the birthright of humanity.
The Israeli Apartheid Wall
Agitate: Volume 1 Number 3 August 2007
Last month this newsletter elaborated a theory that walls are a technology of exploitation and oppression rather than a means of protection. If there is ever an example to illustrate this theory it is what has become known as the apartheid wall being built by Israel in the West Bank. Israeli officials describe the wall as a security fence, necessary for defending the citizenry from hostile Palestinians. Upon examination, this ‘security fence’ is a tool of expansionism and exploitation. What is being sold to the world as necessary for securing the borders is actually a tool being used to redraw the borders. A wall that is intended to make Israel more secure has become a locus for resistance and a threat to Israeli security.
The history and position of Israel suggest that building a security fence along its border is a legitimate endeavor. Israel’s relationship with its neighbors in the Middle East is hostile with all sides spewing threatening rhetoric and even taking military action against each other. Extremist groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah, deny the right of Israel to exist and continue to use force of arms to empower themselves at the expense of Israel. Terrorists and suicide bombers target Israeli civilians. Middle Eastern politicians use anti-Semitism as effective political rhetoric. Surrounded by hostility, it’s easy to understand how Israel could adopt a fortress mentality.*
The Apartheid Wall, however, has a more sinister function than simple self-defense. In the name of security, the Israeli government is using the wall to further its imperialist aims. “It would seem that anything in Israel today is justified as long as it is labeled a ‘security matter.’ (Haley, Digital Journalist, 3/04) But the wall is not strictly a ‘security matter.’ It’s a technology used to dispossess, harass and oppress a subordinate group. As such, it has been condemned by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court as a violation of UN resolutions, international treaties, and the Geneva Conventions. (Carter, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid)
Perhaps Israel would have a better claim of security if…the wall was actually being built along the border. Israel’s border was established and defended in 1949 shortly after the British pulled out of the Palestine Mandate. After the 1967 war, the established border of Israel was affirmed by UN Resolution 242. Israel, however, occupied territory outside of its established border, known as the Green Line. According to the Geneva Conventions, lands cannot be acquired by conquest. (Carter) Accordingly, UN Resolution 242 mandates that Israel must withdraw from occupied territories outside of the pre-1967 borders. Israel must also remove any subsequent settlements within the occupied territories.
The wall being built in the West Bank, however, is clearly a breach of international law. Most of the wall itself is built as much as 6 km inside the territory of the West Bank. It meanders through Palestinian territory like a serpent displacing villages and homes. Along a 200 mile border, this wall is over 700 miles long! As construction of the wall approaches Palestinian settlements, the citizens are informed that for ‘security purposes’ their homes will be bulldozed to create an adequate perimeter along the wall.
The same does not hold true for Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Conspicuously, the wall winds around these settlements to place them on the ‘Israeli side’ of the security perimeter. Remember, Israeli settlements in the West Bank are against international law and a breach of international treaties. The same is true in East Jerusalem, where the wall isolates Palestinians and Christians from visiting holy places in what is intended to be an international city. At the same time, a special road system has been established, accessible only for Israelis and ethnic Jews. (Palestine Monitor: Chomsky, ZNet, 2/23/04)
Palestinians caught on the ‘wrong side of the wall’ or between the wall and the Green Line, are in a special bind. This area has been declared by Israel as a ‘closed military zone.’ Palestinians in this area must file for legal permission to remain in their own homes. Of course, the red tape involved in acquiring permission is daunting as applicants are suspect of terrorist ties. Israelis and ethnic Jews are not required to go through this process. (Haley, Carter, Chomsky, Palestine Monitor)
In many cases, Palestinian villages, towns, and neighborhoods are cut off from their fields, workplaces, schools, and even water supplies. The wall relegates some of the most productive agricultural land and artesian water systems on the ‘Israeli side.’ These resources are, by international law, the property of the people of the West Bank. (UN Res. 242) Instead, Palestinians must pass through numerous checkpoints and a handful of gates, all controlled by the Israeli military, just to nurture their own fields or educate their children. They sometimes wait for days for permission to pass. Often the gates are closed for ‘security purposes.’ Sometimes rules are enacted such as ‘males under thirty-five years old are not allowed to pass.’ Consequently, unemployment has increased while productivity and agricultural yields have dropped. (Haley)
Palestinian cities are often completely engulfed by the wall, like the city of Qalqilya, and cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Most notably this has blocked access to health care for thousands of Palestinians. Health care in the West Bank is disseminated through a network of providers in different cities. It was designed by the World Health Organization to provide cheap and easy access to health resources. The wall effectively severs this efficient network and blocks the Palestinian people from a vital resource. (HDIP “Health and Segregation”, 1/04)
As horrendous as the reality above is, this story gets even more repulsive. After all, what good is oppression without a little exploitation to go along with it? As if the destruction of Palestinian homes and harsh control of Palestinian movement isn’t bad enough, there’s always good, old fashioned greed. For greed, look under the World Bank; there you will see bureaucrats rewriting the very definition of avarice.
According to Project Censored the World Bank has a plan for the Apartheid Wall and use for all of the displaced and dispossessed Palestinians so victimized. The World Bank proposes the development of a Palestinian Middle East Free Trade Area. Among the projects proposed is the establishment of export-oriented industrial zones built on Palestinian land that runs along the wall. The industrial zones will be financed by the World Bank and controlled by the Israeli occupation.
And just where do you suppose the World Bank will find laborers to work this industrial zone? If you guessed, among the desperate Palestinians imprisoned by the wall you are correct. What a perfect set up. First, the wall is used to steal land and water resources, dispossess the Palestinians in the West Bank and destroy the region’s economy, leaving millions without land, education, health care or work. Then foreign businesses move in and offer the dispossessed an opportunity to work at slave wages. The products are then shipped out of the region while the profits are sent to the occupation forces and the World Bank. How very…well…Third Reich!
According to an article in the Nation, the technologies being used to man the Apartheid Wall also happen to be Israel’s greatest export. Israel in the post 9/11 security frenzy has sired some of the world’s most profitable security technology industries. These companies will bring in $1.2 billion dollars this year. Perhaps the Apartheid Wall and its Closed Military Zones also make the perfect testing grounds for Israel’s fastest growing exports. (Klein, The Nation 7/2/07)
In effect, the Sharon plan for the Apartheid Wall aims to destroy the viability of a free Palestinian state in the West Bank. Palestinian Gaza was set up to fail after Israel pulled its settlers from this territory then turned around and closed the borders in response to democratic elections in which Hamas won huge political gains. East Jerusalem, recognized as a multicultural hub of three major religions and the expected capital of an independent Palestinian state has been co-opted by Israel. Now Palestinians in the West Bank are being dispossessed and Israeli settlements are expanding. The Apartheid Wall divides the West Bank into isolated enclaves reminiscent of the Bantustans of South Africa. A viable Palestinian state in the West Bank cannot exist under these conditions.
In 2002 the Arab League developed a peace plan which would recognize the legitimacy of Israel contingent upon the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital. This plan is consistent with UN resolutions 242 and 338 as well as the much-vaunted Roadmap to Peace. All major Middle Eastern nations have accepted the Arab League Peace Plan. Israel’s clear response is the Apartheid Wall. So long as this wall stands, it is unlikely that Israel or the United States can negotiate a meaningful peace in the Middle East. That which is billed as a necessary security measure actually makes Israel less secure.
According to Thomas Haley, “one farmer angrily asks if the Israelis really believe that they will just sit back and let their families starve to death without taking any action. What would any normal human being do?” Every inch of the Apartheid Wall is a slap in the face of the Palestinian people and a locus for resistance against their enemy. The wall will only serve to further radicalize Palestinian politics and push more and more people to militaristic extremes.
Recognizing the destructive nature and illegality of the wall the international community, including the United Nations, and the International Criminal Court has demanded that the wall be dismantled. Even the militaristic Bush Administration recognizes the wall as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. So long as this wall stands and so long as Israel maintains hegemony over Palestinian lands a viable peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved. Any wall that stands in the way of justice, freedom and peace is a wall that must be torn down!
*This paragraph offers an Israeli perspective of the crisis in the Middle East. Certainly, much could be said about abuses committed by Israel against its neighbors and against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories.