Walls

Jerusalem, 2013

Stuck in a metal cage, I felt like an animal.

I was passing through a security checkpoint in Palestine.

The loudspeaker screeched earsplitting noise, like metal scraping in a hollowed chamber. Instructions echoed, herding us onward.

As the rusted turnstiles clicked forward, I felt my heart beat faster. I was next in line to give my passport over to the Israeli soldier; a young woman who was probably even too young to legally drink in the USA would determine whether I would pass.

Through the glass barrier, I handed over my passport, its blue always granting me a familiar protection in unfamiliar lands.

One of my biggest fears is being detained and losing freedom, like how I was detained for three hours upon arrival at the Tel Aviv airport merely for being Muslim.

Interrogated repeatedly with the same questions by different people, I was made to feel like I did something wrong. That maybe my sheer existence was wrong.

It’s an experience I wouldn’t wish for anyone, but the start of this year saw Trump’s travel ban rolled out hastily, restricting and “sending back” Muslims and anyone else who seemed suspicious.

The guard motioned for me to pass through and exit the cage, and as I walked to the awaiting van, I exhaled in relief.

I just completed an experience that is a daily reality for millions of Palestinians.

Israel’s Apartheid Wall in the West Bank
Israel’s Apartheid Wall in the West Bank

Berlin, 2016

I walked into a bright yellow concrete panel building and felt suffocated.

The cube-shaped buildings were exact replicas of each other, dozens lined up together in great Socialist efficiency.

Flowers were placed in front of the building, forcing a false sense of beauty.

I was in East Berlin checking out a possible apartment to live in for the summer.

Disappointed by what I saw, I decided to take a long walk to the adjacent neighborhood in West Berlin for my next appointment.

I passed elderly white Germans, who viewed me with suspicion.

Maybe they thought I was a refugee. Maybe they thought I didn’t belong.

Life seemed to be sucked dry from these streets.

Just a mile west, passed where the Berlin Wall used to stand, the stark transition of the new neighborhood imbued relief within me.

All colors of people were walking around energetically. I saw women wearing hijab, black Africans speaking in indecipherable tongues.

Markets, shops, and restaurants were all stacked next to one another, as if the city planners here had foregone the intentional precision of the formerly Soviet East for a more organic urban sprawl.

It reminded me of my own neighborhood in Queens.

I felt at home.

Florida, 2017

As my mom and I watch TV news about an immigrant father of four being taken away by ICE agents – as his daughter sobs in the video she took of the arrest – my heart breaks for the kind of America Trump has green-lighted.

“Oh Allah…” my mom sighs fearfully over the kitchen counter, momentarily imagining the excruciating feeling of being ripped away from her own children.

Walls divide people and exacerbate latent divisions already present in society.

Walls suffocate. Walls suck.

Society’s search for security raises its own anxiety and tension.

You can’t fight terror. It just doesn’t work.

Trump’s call for a wall is not just about concrete slabs. It’s about visions of how we choose to live with our neighbors – and about how we choose to live with ourselves.

Trump has been boasting about getting the “really bad dudes” out of our country.

What kind of violence has this way of thinking unleashed?

Wall are not just physical. It’s a way of thinking, a way of being:

This is mine, that there is yours.

You stay on yours, I stay on mine.

I’m safe.

Is it really safe, though?

Thinking behind walls ignores the plight of anything outside of the cocoon you built for yourself.

Do we choose isolation, if we can get some sense of security that always seems beyond grasp?

Or do we choose to live in something different, something more welcoming?

Critics may call the latter naïve, but having witnessed the extremes which physical divides can cause society, I just cannot accept more walls.

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