This post is part of the MennoCon23 #BeTransformed series. MennoCon23 will be held in Kansas City, Missouri, July 3-6.
Anthony Khair is the international fellow at Mennonite Central Committee’s National Peace and Justice Ministries, a part of MCC’s international volunteer exchange program. Anthony is working on advocacy issues related to Palestine and Israel, Syria, Latin America, and migration. He is from Palestine but was born in Honduras, where he lived for 10 years before his family moved back to Palestine. Anthony has a two-year diploma of theology from Bethlehem Bible College. He was part of the model United Nations, a debate team for young adults, and attended conferences in Denmark and the Czech Republic. Anthony is fluent in Arabic, Spanish and English. He will facilitate the seminars “Both sides of the wall: the good side and the bad side” and “Palestine Land Exercise” at MennoCon23.
I have lived next to a wall for a lot of my life. Being from Palestine, I am often seen as being from “the other side of the wall.” While living under occupation, Palestinians, like me, have been deprived of their basic rights, such as freedom and mobility.
Studying theology at Bethlehem Bible College, I continued to develop a wall theology. Ephesians 2:14 (NIV) states: “For [God] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” This verse portrays a picture of how Jesus, our peace, destroys barriers between two groups. Yet, we, humans, make walls that cause destruction and suffering. The effect of a wall is not only physical. A wall can be built to separate, dehumanize, and neglect those on the other side. Walls are often constructed with two sides — a “good” side and a “bad” side. As a Palestinian in occupied Israeli-controlled territory, my side was judged the “bad” side of the wall.
A wall can be a symbol of division, showing the dominance of one group over another and encouraging fear toward a certain group.
During my time in Palestine, I was always the person who people on the “good” side of the wall feared. In January, I had the chance to see a different wall of separation — the U.S.-Mexico border wall. When crossing into Agua Prieta, Mexico, via car through Douglas, Arizona, I came to tears. I understood the feeling of separation the people on the “other side” of this wall felt.
For the first time, I experienced privilege as the one on the “good” side of the wall, crossing into Mexico and moving freely with no problems. I was unable to stop thinking that this is how privileged tourists feel when they come to visit Palestine. I realized that, on this side of the world, I was the privileged one. Seeing the change of scenario as I passed from the United States to Mexico reminded me of what it feels like to cross into Palestine from Israel — the relative wealth, cleanliness and even language change when crossing from one side to the other.
In Mexico, I had the chance to speak with people who are directly affected by the U.S. wall of separation. Although the circumstances are not identical, the fear, lack of mobility and frustration are similar.
Wherever walls are built, people on one side of the barrier suffer from neglect and oppression, simply because we were born on the other side of a wall.
At MennoCon23, I will present a seminar called, “Both sides of the wall: The good side and the bad side,” with my Mennonite Central Committee colleague Abraham Diaz Alonso, a Christian immigrant from Mexico who is now a U.S. citizen. We will explain how the division of life, culture and customs, as well as the physical and mental separation of border barriers, have influenced people living at the U.S.-Mexico border and in Palestine. We will give participants a brief overview of what walls do to our lives in the context of wall theology, whether it is in Palestine and Israel or at the U.S.-Mexico border. Further, participants will compare how walls are similar, yet different, in these two contexts.
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