Words by Scottie Reeve
Volunteer & Founder of Stories Espresso Bar
Trump. Trump. Trump.
We love to decry his sexism, racism, misogyny and vitriol. If you’re like me, you’re starting to get a kick out of complaining about him. He arrived right on time as the perfect strawman to pour our progressive frustrations upon, celebrating our ideology by the light of his incineration. And perhaps nothing has received as much attention as his proposal for a 3,200 kilometre wall stretching from one side to the other of the US/Mexican border. It’s the stuff of madness. Yet a year ago I stood with my hands flat to the concrete of this kind of insanity realised: the 700km apartheid wall that separates Israel and Palestine.
A few days earlier we were staying with Christian Peacemaking Teams in Hebron. After catching a taxi from Jerusalem we arrived there just as the sun was going down. At a deserted intersection stun grenades and tear gas canisters littered the gutters. Hebron is a hotspot of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In 1994 Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler, walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque during Ramadan and gunned down 29 Palestinians. In the illegal settlement on Shohada Street there is a now a plaque celebrating Goldstein as a martyr for the cause of Israeli settlements. During our brief time in Hebron we would hear many more horrific stories like this one from Palestinians trying to etch out a living under the shadow of military occupation.
But beneath the stories of violent marginalisation lurked something even more sinister.
As we sat in a coffee shop one afternoon a group of 11 and 12 year-old Palestinian girls came to join us. They were perplexed that we had come to see their city - most travellers avoid the West Bank these days. Perhaps the most shocking realisation as we talked with them was how normalised this occupation had become to them. They were born after the wall went up. They accepted they may never visit Jerusalem, never leave the West Bank and that the places they lived now may be taken away. A generation had grown up under the shadow of occupation and now knew it as normal.
The normalisation of oppression, marginalisation, and subjugation is a revolting notion.
And while the walls of Palestine, Berlin and Trump are horrifying realities indeed, they are ultimately the physical manifestations of a culture that has normalised separation and segregation to begin with. A wall can’t go up without a foundation of contempt for the other. A wall can’t go up in a space where there is no division. A wall can’t go up where compassion and conversation take place.
Walls start in the heart and move to brick and mortar when we normalise our division.
Today I’m asking myself: What walls exist in my heart as a pakeha middle-class New Zealander? What marginalisation have I so deeply normalised that I fail to notice it's presence any longer? What forces have occupied my perspective to the point where I believe I know the stranger before a word even leaves their mouth? Perhaps it’s how I talk about the poor, the homeless, the mentally unwell, the addict and the beggar. Perhaps it’s the fact that I am reduced to unhelpful categories like the ones I’ve just used rather than names with stories, nuance and agency.
In reality there is little our frustration and social media crusading can do to impact upon the cause of Palestinian freedom or to defeat Trump’s absurd agenda.
What we can do is begin to recognise that every heart is fallow ground for the seeds of a wall - in our schools, in our neighbourhoods and in our communities.
I live in a shared home with ten others on Upper Cuba Street in downtown Wellington. Every fortnight some customers from The Free Store come to our dinner table. We eat together, play games, drink tea and hear stories. Some are heartbreaking and dramatic; but most are just about friends, family, life and work.
We are seeking to normalise something better. To build relationships with the stranger that move beyond charity and become community.
This is the power of counter-cultural movements like The Free Store. A loaf of bread passed between friends is no longer just yeast and flour. This small and round baked good is a wall-destroyer, a table-maker, a peace-keeper. This little loaf beats weapons into ploughs and hard hearts into fertile ground for a revolution of understanding, inclusion and equality. If you, like me, wonder what can be done to defeat a global tide of prejudice and subjugation aside from hitting the ‘like’ button, then perhaps it’s time to start at home.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that every revolution ever started at a dinner table.