South Africa, Brazil and Palestine: Apartheid is a world-wide issue when it comes to the control of non-white populations, when it comes to interests in land. It is a fight over ethnic and territorial supremacy.
More than US$6.1 million have been spent on the 'Wall of Shame' built in 2009 by the City of Rio de Janeiro. The wall was built around the grouping of favelas called the Maré, located in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro. Maré is composed of 16 favelas with over 132 thousand inhabitants and is close to one of the main airports of the country, Tom Jobim Airport, known as Galeão. The airport is the main entry point for foreigners who come to know the city of Rio de Janeiro, known for the beautiful images on postcards.
Not only the Maré, other favelas in the southern part also received walls. The walls appeared when Rio de Janeiro became host for major sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics, among other mega events that have been held in the last ten years in Rio and throughout Brazil.
The Wall, called by the authorities an ‘'Acoustic Barrier', was renamed by the residents of the Maré a 'Wall of Shame'. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, protests, videos, interviews, articles, documentation and a letter to the authorities were made as a campaign against the construction of the Wall that separates the favela da Maré from the avenue called Red Line, the access road to the airport. But as usual, the protests have been ignored and, at the time, authorities reported that it would serve to "protect our ears from the noise of cars on the avenue".
One of the great questions that the residents asked at the time was whether it was really the noise of the cars that disturb the day to day of the residents, and not the noise of the shooting coming from the caveirões, armored cars used by the military police, that the authorities themselves use to invade the streets of the favela and kill more poor, more black and more people from the favela.
I remember that at that time the authorities even held a drawing contest within the public schools to use these drawings made by the children of the Maré on the Wall of Shame – it is outraging how children have been used in an attempt to build a false sense of belonging to that wall putting their drawings on there. The construction of the wall instead undermined the circulation of their parents, in particular street vendors who usually sell water and sweets on the avenue.
In 2016, just before the Olympics, another surprise: more spending for the 'Wall of Shame' at a time when Rio de Janeiro’s authorities decreed bankruptcy in all public services. They spent about US$230,000 to fortify the walls.
It has always been explicit that the construction of the wall would be another way of separating the city between the rich and the poor, between asphalt and favela, built in a city that does not include the favela as part of it, which does not recognize the impoverishment of the favela population, in its majority black. The construction of this wall represents another form of racism, apartheid and exclusion from a society that reproduces racist practices of segregation of a Brazilian society that claims to be democratic but which conceals, kills, divides, excludes and disrupts daily life of the city's poorest residents.
'Wall of Shame' in Palestine: Democracy for some, made over the segregation of many
In June of this year I went to Palestine at the invitation of the Israeli organizations Hamushim and the Women's Peace Coalition, as well as the Palestinian National Committee for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions in Israel (BNC) and the Stop the Wall campaign.
The apartheid Wall in Palestine is part of a project of land settlement and expulsion of the Palestinian population that has lived there for generations. These policies, which have been ongoing for 60 years, have already made more than half the Palestinian population refugees.
The forms of control of the Palestinian population are endless: they are checkpoints, watchtowers, apartheid roads and the ‘Wall of Shame' that fragment the entire West Bank into small enclaves where Palestinian communities are concentrated.
The land and the water are beyond the wall, they are in the part that is colonized by Israel expanding and strengthening their illegal settlements in that territory. These Israeli settlements have all the services: water and free access to everything, since Israel also built roads on which only settlers can pass.
As soon as I saw the 'Wall of Shame' in Palestine, I remembered the 'Wall of Shame' of the Maré, as well as the Bantustans, the enclaves created by the apartheid regime in South Africa that segregated and barred the black population from movement in their own land.
As I traversed the West Bank, I met families that had their roots separated by the Wall of Shame, called by Israel 'Security Barrier'. I saw cities cut apart by a wall, fences, railings and razor wire along more than 650 kilometers within the occupied territories, sometimes many miles away from the Green Line [the 1948 armistice line that defines the borders of the West Bank]. With the Wall’s path, Israel seized more than 12% of the territory of the West Bank.
There are many lives and many live stories that have been and are being segregated because of the interests of the Israeli settlers. The Wall, beyond its symbolism of forbidding the free movement of the Palestinians, has the aim of disrupting the day to day life: the commerce in several places has become impossible because many of the main streets of commerce were closed by the walls; movement of public transport no longer exists as Palestinian buses and cars are segregated for Israeli vehicles and all Palestinian cars are forbidden to circulate in spaces outside the wall.
Many Palestinians had to leave their homes near the walls because local life was unsustainable after the Wall cut off the main roads; the transfer to hospitals and schools has turned a risk for life or of imprisonment; the movement of Palestinians outside the walls has become fully controlled as well with the presence of the walls and towers, as well as the presence of checkpoints at the entrance and exit.
It is also important to speak of who is constructing the Wall and profiting from all this infrastructure of repression that Israel is building. Only the Apartheid Wall itself has cost more than US$ 2.6 billion to date, and spending is growing every day. Elbit Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries, as well as the US Hewlett Packard and Mexican Cemex are just some of the big multinationals that are earning money and gain expertise that they use later on across the globe to get contracts from our governments. One such case is the Israeli security company ISDS that promoted its experience and origin in Israel to obtain contracts for the Olympics and cooperation with the military police in Rio de Janeiro. As a result, according to the director of ISDS, Rio police now use 'the same methods we use in Gaza'.
The walls, here and there, as was apartheid in South Africa, aim to show that there is no place for the impoverished population. They segregate, tear apart and divide. It is an ideological struggle, a matter of ethnic supremacy, it is a form of migratory control, militarization and gentrification. In addition to violating the right to come and go of a certain population, they create real open-air prisons.
Gizele Martins lives in the favela Maré, is journalist, community communicator, She is part of the favela movement in Rio de Janeiro and studies urban peripheries.