We Need a Just Wall Theory

We Need a Just Wall Theory

“It does not make sense for us to go directly to the security wall; you have to understand the trigger,” our guide told us in Israel when speaking about the separation wall between Israel and Palestine.

In Jerusalem, we stood in front of Café Paris, formerly Café Moment, where he proceeded to speak to us about March 2002, during which 131 Israelis had been murdered in more than a dozen different terrorist attacks. “One of every 47,000 Israelis was killed,” he began, “And to put this in perspective, one of every 99,000 Americans was killed in 9/11. For us, March 2002 was like two September 11ths.”

On March 9, 2002, a car passed two police checkpoints. The person inside had an Israeli ID card and was a Hebrew-speaking Israeli resident. He was an Arab who had grown up having regular interactions with Israelis. And he committed a terrorist attack in the café, killing 11 young people in their 20s and 30s.

Palestinian terrorists committed such attacks almost daily on buses and in markets, hotels, schools, and cafes, with children and elderly civilians among the victims of Palestinian terror. Suicide bombers interrupted Passover dinners and detonated explosives while the Palestinian president refused to condemn the attacks and the Egyptian press went so far as to celebrate them.

Our guide said, “As an Israeli, I don’t think we have a monopoly on human suffering. I mean to tell you that, by this point, Israelis were insisting that they had had enough and were imploring their government to do something.”

Danny Tirza, chief architect of the security fence, likewise explained to us, “When terrorist attacks were happening daily all over the country, the people finally demanded, ‘Separate us from them!’” But in the early 2000s, the government did not want to build the 11-billion-shekel (roughly $2 billion) fence (five percent of which is concrete barrier and 95 percent of which is wire security fencing). Tirza is proud that, throughout the construction of the 451-mile fence, not a single Palestinian home was destroyed or evacuated.

Over the years, leaders of various churches have released statements condemning the separation wall. In 2003, the World Council of Churches released an ecumenical statement that said:

If the present Road Map for Peace is to bring positive results, we believe the Separation Wall constitutes a grave obstacle. For both nations the Wall will result in a feeling of isolation. Moreover, for many Palestinians it means the deprivation of land (some 10% more than that of the Occupation in 1967), livelihood, statehood, and family life. Occupation remains the root cause of the conflict and of the continuing suffering in the Holy Land.

The US Conference of Bishops released a Holy Land Coordination 2017 Communiqué titled “Fifty Years of Occupation Demands Action” in which they said:

We all have a responsibility to provide assistance for the people of Gaza, who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe. They have now spent a decade under blockade, compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.

We all have a responsibility to encourage non-violent resistance which, as Pope Francis reminds us, has achieved great changes across the world. This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land including the Cremisan Valley.

The Canadian bishops said:

Consistent with the Holy See’s position, Canada’s Catholic Bishops are aware of Israel’s need for security, and we fully support that right. Nevertheless, we believe the wall as planned will only deepen the wounds between Palestinians and Israelis. We are convinced, with our brother Bishops from around the world, that the extension of the wall will raise more scepticism from the international community. As it is, the security wall is already perceived by many as an illegal “land grab”.

And everyone is familiar with Pope Francis’ remarks that “Walls solve nothing” and “building walls is not Christian” as well as his appeal “not to create walls but to build bridges.” (Undoubtedly, those statements were alluding to a different wall in a different country, and similar to how not all wars are equally justified, not all walls are equally justified, either.)

How should people of faith respond to these statements, when we also recognize how much the reality of terrorism threatens our noble aspirations for peace and justice?

In addition to such statements, the Catholic Church also has a tradition of social teaching based on principles, including: legitimate defense, the duty to protect the innocent, the appropriateness of measures taken against those who threaten peace, an absolute condemnation of terrorism, and the doctrine of just war. How are these principles to be understood, grappled with, and applied in the light of the realities of international affairs and security?

According to Catholic social teaching:

To be licit, the use of force must correspond to certain strict conditions: “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good”…

The right to use force for purposes of legitimate defence is associated with the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression

The international community as a whole has the moral obligation to intervene on behalf of those groups whose very survival is threatened or whose basic human rights are seriously violated. As members of an international community, States cannot remain indifferent; on the contrary, if all other available means should prove ineffective, it is “legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor”.

I am also reminded of Pope Benedict XVI, who in his book Values in a Time of Upheaval discusses the justness of the war against the Nazis, saying:

The only way to shatter this cycle of crime and reestablish peace and the rule of law was an intervention by the whole world. In this hour, we express our thanks that this happened. This gratitude is felt not only by those countries that were occupied by German troops and thus handed over to Nazi terror. We Germans too are grateful that the committed action of the Allies restored our freedom and the rule of law. Here it is clear that the intervention of the Allies was a bellum iustum, a “just war,” that ultimately served the good of those against whose country the war was waged. This is perhaps the clearest example in all history of a just war.

It seems to me important to note this point, because a real event in history shows that an absolute pacifism is untenable. Naturally, this does not dispense us from the task of formulating with great care the question whether, and under what circumstances, something like a “just war” is possible today.

While it is right and good to hold Israel to the highest standard and to articulate the noblest vision for peace and justice in the world, a right response to reality demands a meeting of principles and politics among those interested in finding some kind of synthesis between ethics and policy. After all, does not a state have the right and even the obligation to defend the lives of its citizens?

Danny Tirza has reported that, between 2000-2006, there were 4,000 terrorist attacks in Israel, murdering 1,639 Israelis. But, since the creation of the fence, from 2007-2015, there have been 32-suicide bomb attacks and 20 Israeli deaths.

Since it seems reasonable to spend time at cafes, take public transportation, and go shopping without the constant threat of terrorist attacks, it also seems necessary to discern and articulate some principles of a “just wall theory.” What do you think these might be?

Amanda Achtman holds a BA in political science from the University of Calgary and an MA in philosophy from the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. She is an alumna of the Philos Leadership Institute, an initiative of the Philos Project.

Photo Credit: Separation Wall in Israel. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Sidney Graham

    A few preliminary thoughts on a fascinating article. This is an idea that is fertile with possibility and here are just a few possible venues for it.

    By evoking just war theory, there is also evoked the possibility that many walls are unjust. Bishop Barron has even suggested that, by the standards of just war theory, there has never been a just war in history–even WWII, with all concession to the fact that it may have been the most just*ified* war in history, was not always waged justly (Berlin, Hiroshima/Nagasaki etc.). This does not discredit just war theory but actually bolsters it, by holding our standards of morality higher than our common practice. In the same way, many walls *are* exclusionary in a malicious and sinful way; maybe most are. One thinks of the walls of Jericho. But the principle of a just wall must, like a literal boundary, stand all the same.

    It also makes me think of an idea I’ve had for a while now, of a “social mortgage on nationhood”. The Church’s idea of the social mortgage on property is that property is a good, even a sacred good, but one that exists for the sake of the community and for others; *ownership* may be private, but its *use* is with a public end. Private property should be defended *so that* it can be morally used to serve others. In an analogous way, nations are good, so far as they go (they *are* communities), but they also exist to serve universal human ends; thus their sovereignty should be protected *so that* they can serve the entire human race. A just wall theory would be conducive to thinking about this. (For more on this, see Ratzinger’s book on the unity of the nations in the thinking of the Church Fathers.)

    One could look at the year of Jubilee to build on this. Leviticus 25 says that if a house in a walled city is sold, it can be redeemed in one year, but after that it belongs to the new owner and his descendants forever. “But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee” (verse 31). Walls are linked to private property here, which are not better or worse but simply in a different situation from the open country. (Often in the Prophets we read about unprotected cities being “without walls”, literally or metaphorically.)

    Another place to start would be the Book of Nehemiah, where building a wall around Jerusalem after the Exile is a sacred and liturgical work, one which undoes the disgrace of the Jews (2:17), which the enemies of the Jews attempt to thwart (chapter 4), and which is liturgically dedicated to God (12:27). The word “wall” appears 30 times in Nehemiah, and understanding how walls can be sacred. That said, the Book of Nehemiah has to be read through the light of Ephesians 2:14, which says that Jesus has broken down the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles. All of these, though, relate to grace; what about natural law?

    The Biblical images are of walls that both exclude and unite. The Hebrew word for wall, *chomah*, seems to come from an etymological root that means “to join together”, whereas the English word wall comes from the Latin *vallum*, meaning a row of stakes or posts, which suggests something more protective. The idea that boundaries are a source of unity is, I think, too often neglected. But I think if we consider a wall a function of a home, we can get a bit closer to what this could look like.

    As much as libertarians will bristle at this paternalistic imagery, the natural law argument for patriotism and for government relates to the commandment to honour thy mother and father. (See the Catholic Catechism, 2234-2246.) The civic authorities *are* in a kind of parental role towards their nations, and parents have the duty of protecting and also of fostering their children. (This is relevant to the discussion of rights of gun ownership.) A *just* wall would serve to establish a community more so than to exclude people from the community; it would be a wall with a gate. But it also would serve to protect from danger.

    The Church herself has boundaries in the form of disciplinary measures and even excommunication, and I think there are ways we can understand civic citizenship through church membership. (For example, terrorism and treason should automatically incur a loss of citizenship for the same reason some sins incur an automatic excommunication; because choosing some things is necessarily incompatible with membership in this community.) It is probably important that the Bible closes with a lengthy description of the city of God and spends several verses describing its walls (Revelation 21): “And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

  • Jeff Brooklyn

    The Catholic Church, first to oppose Hitler, stand up for Jews, gays, and Romani. Oops, change that to last.