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When Fences Make Good Neighbors

by Carl Pearlston

The fence snakes its way for miles over dry hills and valleys, imposing and forbidding in its 12-15-ft height. In some areas, there are two rows of this wall, separated by a patrol road, and at night there are brilliant lights to supplement the motion detectors and television cameras which monitor attempts to cross by those on the other side.

The construction of the fence has been widely and uniformly condemned by human rights groups, other governments, environmentalists, and religious organizations, who point out the hardship this wall inflicts on the excluded population. Undaunted by the criticism, the government plans to add another 260 miles to the existing 70 miles of such fencing, to more effectively seal its border, making it 2 ˝ times the length of the former Berlin Wall.

No, this fence is not the one in Israel; they are constructing a similar barrier to this which the US has on its Mexican border. The big difference is that the Israeli fence is designed to keep out people who want to kill them, while the US fence keeps out people who are illegally looking for jobs and a chance to better their lives.

If the US is justified by reasons of national security in building this wall against the population of a country with whom we are at peace, how can the US reasonably criticize Israel for doing the same against a population intent on its destruction? President Bush, who opposes the Israeli fence, said at a recent press conference that if the Palestinian terrorist organizations were dismantled, then "a fence would be irrelevant."

But we have a formidable security barrier at our Mexican border, even though there are no Mexican terrorist organizations intent on exploding bombs on buses in San Diego and Los Angeles. We want to control our borders, even in time of peace; Israel should be given every opportunity to do the same, especially in time of war. The history of the past 55 years does not inspire optimism for the dismantlement of Palestinian terrorist organizations.

The arguments against the Israeli fence are both practical and political. Any wall can be breached, climbed-over, undermined, tunneled-under, or flown-over. It will not deter enemies from firing rockets or mortars over the wall. In short, the wall may be ineffective in total deterrence of those determined to wage war on Israeli society. Critics point to France's Maginot Line as indicative of a failed strategy relying on a static defensive line for protection, but they draw the wrong historical lesson.

The Maginot line was very effective in deterring a direct German attack on France's eastern front, but the line was too short and left the northern Belgian border relatively undefended. That is where the Germans attacked, replaying their near-successful strategy of WWI. For Israel, having a defensive wall or security fence to prevent easy entry for those intent on homicidal mischief is certainly better than having no barrier to such entry, despite its practical limitations in total defense. The key is to recognize the fence as just one tool in border control, and not to fall under the illusion that the wall will provide total protection.

The more significant arguments are political, chief among them that the security fence will demark the future boundaries of the planned Palestinian state, which should not be unilaterally decided by Israel. Further, the Palestinian population is inconvenienced by the wall, which not only comes into what Palestinians believe is their territory, but also separates some areas of that territory from another. Finally, the wall protects many Jewish settlements in what Palestinians desire as an ethnic-cleansed area, free of Jews.

At some point, political reality should intrude on these arguments. Israel fought five unsought wars to preserve its existence against the massed attacking armies of the surrounding Arab nations. It magnanimously, if unwisely, acceded to Muslim control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem after the 1967 war. Bending to humanitarian concerns, and counter to the lessons of all the wars of the 20th century, it did not expel the Arab population from Israel proper in the 1948 war nor the Arab population of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 war. It did not engage in ethnic cleansing, though if it had, no doubt the present intractable population problems would not exist.

Israel has acceded to the view of a two-state solution, as it did in 1948 when the UN proposed it, even though wisdom would caution that a trusteeship or protectorate or mandate for the Palestinians would better fit the political realities than an irredentist nation, even one with limited sovereignty. It is not the right of the loser in war to dictate the terms of peace; neither the US nor any other country has adopted such a standard for itself, though there is a concerted campaign to do just that with regard to Israel. The views of Israel as to its secure borders should be of greater import than the views of those who have been determined to destroy it. The wait for a peaceful, cooperative, accommodating, co-existing, non-irredentist Palestinian polity will be very long.

Inconvenience to Palestinians can be minimized by access gates in the fence, but again the political reality is that the security fence is necessary because Palestinians will not police themselves to prevent the attacks that the fence is designed to deter. Until Palestinians undertake the dismantlement of their militants, they will be inconvenienced, just as are the Israelis who are blown up in discos and pizza parlors.

As for the settlements, the current fashionable view is that Arabs have the right to live anywhere in the old Palestine Mandate--Israel, West Bank, Jordan–but Jews have only the disputed right to live in Israel proper. The West Bank area is to be ethnically cleansed of Jews, and their settlements used for Arab refugees.

Logically, this should lead to another enforced population exchange, wherein the Arabs of Israel are relocated to the West Bank as the Jews there are expelled to Israel. If ethnic cleansing is to be practiced, it should be equitably applied. Jews should be free to live in any part of the Mandate area; that they are not is a symptom of the problem’s intractable nature. Not long ago, a poll of Israeli Arabs--citizens of Israel--showed 38% opining that peaceful coexistence between Jews and Palestinians was not possible.

The corollary to the old proverb "fences make good neighbors", is that bad neighbors require good fences.


from the September 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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