Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

    April Passover 2006 Edition            
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The Separation Fence Comes to Israel

By Mendel Weinberger

There is a wadi, a steep valley, on the edge of my neighborhood of Ramot Daled, that forms the northern border of Jerusalem. Often, if I have an hour free, I go walking in this wadi and in the hills around it. One Friday afternoon, I went down in the wadi before Shabbat prayers. There are few trees; the wadi is mainly filled with thorn bushes and stones. Alongside the Arab village of Beit Chanina an olive orchard grows, but to the north the hills are barren. Here and there Beduins have pitched their tents.

I hike down into the wadi and am engulfed in profound silence. The only sounds I hear are the wind whistling past my ears and my own footsteps as I carefully navigate between the thorns. I smell the wild rosemary that grows freely over the rocky landscape.

As I reach the bottom of the valley, I glance back at my neighborhood. The buildings are crowded close to one another, leaving hardly any open space. It's funny how we get used to living in such close quarters and consider it normal. I begin to ascend the next hill, gaining altitude and moving further away from "civilization." Soon I completely lose sight of Ramot and the silence deepens. A small flock of pigeons fly overhead. A Beduin tent sits on the hillside with a few sheep and goats outside. I hear a voice calling me and, startled, scan the horizon until I spot a small boy waving his arms and shouting. I am not worried because I am far enough away that I can run back to Ramot before he reaches me.

I sit on a rock and gaze at the green earth and the deep blue sky that hovers above it. There are certainly more beautiful places in the world: the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the deep wild jungles of Brazil, the African Plains--yet there is something special about the humble hills that surround Jerusalem. There is a Presence here. Beyond the sights and sounds of the city, beyond the calls of crow, dove and sparrow, one can sense something else. It is a sensing of the soul.

The sages say that the eyes of G-d are upon the land of Israel from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. If you become very still, you can feel it. I close my eyes and slow my breathing. I hear the wind howling over the hilltop. My mind and body become one with the rock beneath me. It is then that the Presence makes itself known. I sit with it and become one with it, letting it fill my being. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, there is only to be this – a Jew at home on his land.

I stay with this feeling for as long as I can. When I feel it is time to go, I open my eyes and look out at a world brand new, yet as old as the Patriarchs. I stand up and make my way back to the neighborhood – the Presence with me now at every step. I climb down into the wadi and then back up to the concrete city. I feel refreshed, invigorated, inspired…

People say I'm crazy to hike these hills. They warn me that I could be attacked. But for me to remain imprisoned within the bricks and stone with which we have barricaded ourselves is worse than death. After all, this is Eretz Yisrael, The Land of Israel, our homeland. And the sages teach that every step on its holy soil is a mitzvah. I choose to exercise my right as a Jew to walk this land in the wild places. It is a G-d-given right which I cherish.

But now all this is changing. On my last visit to the wadi, I encountered a metal fence under construction which will soon surround all of Ramot Daled, extend to the bottom of Ramot Aleph and enclose the entire north and east side of Ramot. In many parts of Israel, the government has decided that the best way to ensure security is to separate Jew from Arab by means of a concrete wall. Though this "wall" has not yet reached Ramot, our new fence has made it impossible for a Jew to go for a walk in the wadi.

The purpose of this fence may be to keep out thieves, terrorists and other undesirables. Whether this will be successful has yet to be seen. But at one thing it has already succeeded: It is preventing me from taking my pre-Shabbat journey into spiritual silence. This makes me both sad and angry. I am sad that I am being robbed of an important part of my life. I am angry that I and my neighbors are being fenced into a ghetto.

A fence is a symbol of danger. It means that on the other side there is something to be feared. Consciously or unconsciously, all of Ramot will now live in fear of invasion by hostile elements, while the Arabs will be challenged to penetrate the fence and wreak havoc.

When Moses sent spies to check out the land of Canaan, he asked them to assess the people living there. Were they strong or weak? The medieval commentator, Rashi, explains that Moses told them thus: If the cities are spread out and built without protective walls, then you can tell that the residents are strong and rely on their own power to defend themselves. But if they dwell in fortified cities, then you know that they are a weak people.

The message we are sending the Palestinians and the Arabs the world over is that we are too weak to defend ourselves and need a concrete wall to feel secure. Once the IDF was the pride of our nation and respected internationally as one of the greatest armies in the world. Now the IDF is demoralized from being used as political pawns in the unilateral evacuation of Jewish settlements.

Freedom to walk the land is a right due every citizen of Israel. It is incumbent upon every Jew to choose to express our right to walk in the length and breadth of the land of Israel, the land given to us as an eternal heritage.


from the April Passover 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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