Responsible Citizens

Walls Work

My wife and I raised five children. In our home we appreciated the walls that surrounded us as well as those that created a degree of separation within. They made heat in the winters and cool in the summers possible, provided privacy and security, and communicated in an indirect way that our house was actually a home where a family resided. Within the walls of our home we all shared the same last name.

Last summer my wife and I, along with our youngest son, Elliott, toured Europe. We stayed in hotels with walls, crossed borders protected by security guards, and transported on public transportation that had systems ensuring that people were in the correct place. The systems worked beautifully.

We visited London where we saw Buckingham Palace surrounded by walls, gates, and guards. We saw the world-renowned Louvre museum in Paris, also surrounded by walls which were heavily guarded. And then we toured the most guarded of all the locations we visited, the Vatican in Rome.

As you might know, the Vatican is a city-state that typically has only one citizen, the Pope.

I’ve been to the Vatican many times, and each time, my experience regarding Vatican security and order was extensive.

Surrounding the Vatican are tall, thick walls to keep intruders out and provide security for the wealth that the global Catholic Church has accumulated throughout the centuries. Its well-ordered system includes an abundance of armed guards, security police, and electronic monitoring equipment to ensure that all Vatican visitors are in the right place at the right time.

Once in the Vatican, everyone is carefully instructed as to where they can be, how long they can stay there, and where the exits are located if they need to leave. Violations are dealt with immediately and effectively. Though I have never been an official guest of the Vatican, I am told that official guests are also strictly instructed as to where they are to be, when they are to be there, how they are to respond to the church officials present, and when they will be escorted off the premises. A certain protocol is expected and enforced within these walls.

St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square, overlooked by the Pope’s apartment and balcony, are always a highlight. When I was there many years ago, the courtyard was open to all. On more recent visits, I’ve discovered the addition of metal barriers, designating areas for tourists, parishioners, priests, bishops, and cardinals. Heads of state and guests of the Vatican are escorted with great precision through these barriers. Security is everywhere.

And this is on an average day.

Walls are morally neutral, neither good nor bad in themselves. It’s their purpose that can be hurtful or protective. When the Pope, who lives in a walled city, made the comment that we should “not raise walls, but instead build bridges,” he was emphasizing the importance of positive relations. However, a quick glance at his home and the security that surrounds him as he travels reveals the importance of systems that ensure safety.

The Bible says a lot about walls. Even in eternity there is a wall. Revelation 21:12 says, “The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels.” Then the Bible describes the walls and gates in details. The Bible speaks extensively about the walls around Jerusalem and Jericho, and the separation points between Abraham and Lot provide a few examples. Bottom line, walls work, whether we like them or not. So the debate need not be whether or not they work, but whether or not we want or need a wall.

I remember years ago, as a guest of the State of Israel, I stayed in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. I was there to participate in a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and some of his advisors. Sharon was interested in discussing whether or not giving Gaza to the Palestinians would bring peace, as the Palestinians promised it would, and whether or not he should continue building the wall that had been declared illegal by the world court in the Hague the day before.

The morning of  our meeting, a suicide bomber blew up a bus full of passengers near our hotel. I went out to see the aftermath. It was horrific. It deeply impacted me because I couldn’t help but notice that the dismembered body parts of Palestinian students looked the same as body parts of Jewish kids. The blood of old women looked the same as the blood of college students. The terrorists announced their intent was to stop our meeting. In response, the Prime Minister just moved the meeting time up. We were in his office within two hours.

We worked all afternoon and settled on several decisions that day. Immediately Israel started moving portions of the wall off of occupied territory onto Israeli land, which satisfied the Hague. Later the Prime Minister decided to give the Palestinians The Gaza Strip. The wall worked, Gaza didn’t.

The bombings stopped for years. Now when they happen, they are highly unusual. Rockets still fly from Gaza regularly, but they either miss their targets or are shot down. Partially because of that ugly, awful wall, peaceful Muslims, Jews, and Christians work together in Jerusalem every day, and some peaceful Palestinians are allowed to cross into Israel and work. Many people, both Palestinian and Jewish, are alive today because of the wall.

When my kids were younger, sometimes they would poke, tease, and fight with one another in the back seat of the car. My wife and I would try negotiating a peaceful settlement with them, but usually the best way to stop the fighting and any ensuing tears was to create barriers—invisible walls—between our children so we could drive down the road peacefully, arrive at our destination safely, and give all of us a future.

Now our kids are grown. We don’t have to create walls in our car any more. They are no longer necessary. Now, our grown children live in their own homes with . . . walls that keep them warm and safe.

Walls work.