The West Bank Wall Could be a World Heritage Site

April 15, 2017

The idea of the West Bank Wall being considered as a possible world heritage site is for many, ludicrous and needlessly provocative.

However, this notorious structure which controversially separates land and communities in Israel and Palestine has huge cultural significance, nationally and internationally. It could potentially meet the world heritage criteria for conservation status as a cultural significant building and merit some sort of protection.

 

The West Bank Wall is a structure with outstanding universal value if measured against  UNESCO’s assessment criteria [ii], [iii] and [iv], it also provides outstanding testimony to the current struggle between ideology and culture. The West Bank Wall doesn't just have historic, education and social values it also has ‘artistic value’ too. The structure has stood as a backdrop for cultural and political expression, from documentary and mainstream filmmakers, the media and politicians. A synergy, perhaps more obscurely demonstrated by the internationally celebrated graffiti artists “Banksy”. Artists like Banksy, have adopted its symbolism and used the cultural canvas to voice political expression in the form of graffiti. In fact, a scheme developed in collaboration between a Dutch Christian Organization (DCO) and members of the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Youth Forum, has evolved so that you can pay $40, to have an artist paint a part of the wall through the www.sendamessage.nl website. Proceeds supporting grassroots social and cultural projects in the West Bank.

 

The structure has become  an icon of middle eastern struggle, a physical manifestation of fear and desperation, resulting from years of bitter conflict, land ownership battles, territorial occupation and expansion.

 

This culturally corrosive construction (wall / fence / barrier/ or separation device), illustrates a significant stage in human history and has numerous connotations, embodied memories and emotions woven within the fabric of its existence.

 

Understandably the idea of preserving the wall is contentious, complicated, awkward and difficult to address. However, should that be a reason to overlook its status as a possible site of cultural significance which could afford some sort of protection and recognition outwith its current use? Would listing this structure and protecting its ‘Outstanding Universal Values’ be a valuable contribution in the world’s heritage.

 

“It’s a mistake to say that heritage has to be nice, I think the painful aspects of heritage can be quite important too because you need to confront those, in order to come to terms with your past. That’s why on the World Heritage List you’ve got places like Auswitch and Hiroshima ……very few heritage designation systems say that heritage needs to be pretty”

[Christopher Young English Heritage International Policy Director BBC4 Interview 19th May2009 2000hrs]

 

Like the ‘Berlin Wall’ and ‘Hadrian’s Wall,’ the West Bank Wall could be recognised as a valid heritage site steeped with cultural significance and although illegal, ugly, unpopular, controversial and in some respects embarrassing, should be given the same respect as a marker in history.

 

The Berlin Wall example is a poignant one, it highlights the vulnerability of cultural significant buildings if they aren’t suitable protected. The Berlin Wall failed to receive protection during its use, as a result, the wall fell victim to a free for all when the wall’s circumstances changed in 1989.  Many civilians like the mauerspechte (“wall-peckers”), gleefully smashed to pieces and dismantled key sections of wall. Leaving wall-shrapnel scattered by a cultural explosion, resurfacing in places ranging from, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, California, to the Polish village of Sosnovka, where a dentist dubbed by the German media as “The Wall Collector” has the largest collection of slabs outside Germany. Sadly however, most the slabs were brokendown and used for highway hard-core. In January 1990, the transitional East German government passed a bill allowing for the “commercial use of complete segments” of the wall. “In a delicious irony, the remaining pieces of the structure built by committed Marxist-Leninists to safeguard their socialist experiment from the ravages of capitalism are now considered prized commodities, with tiny chunks sold to tourists for as little as $3.50 and whole slabs selling at auction for tens of thousands of dollars” (J. Kirchick).

 

Finally, the West Bank Wall doesn't just have historic, education, cultural and social values, it also has ‘artistic value’ too. The structure has stood as a backdrop for cultural and political expression, from documentary and mainstream filmmakers, the media and politicians. A synergy, perhaps more obscurely demonstrated by the internationally celebrated graffiti artists “Banksy”. Artists like Banksy, have adopted its symbolism and used the cultural canvas to voice political expression in the form of graffiti. In fact, a scheme developed in collaboration between a Dutch Christian Organization (DCO) and members of the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Youth Forum, has evolved so that you can pay $40, to have an artist paint a part of the wall through the www.sendamessage.nl website. Proceeds supporting grassroots social and cultural projects in the West Bank. And recently  Banksy has opened a hotel called the 'Walled Off' on the Palestine side of the wall in Bethlehem

 

 

 

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