Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Separation Fence

This post is going to be controversial. Some of you are probably not going to like it. Just for the record, I am a Zionist. I support Israel's right to self-defense. I live in Israel and have done for 15 years now. I am raising 4 children here with a love of the land, its heritage, its people and its language. I live in Gush Etzion. If you don't know where that is, it is in the West Bank, 15 minutes from Jerusalem, 8 minutes from the southern suburbs of Beit Lechem - Bethlehem. And I guess that makes me a "settler." I also believe that Palestinians are people, and that they should be able to live in dignity. OK now!.

Every day, I drive to Jerusalem and pass the extensive work that is being done in constructing the security wall. Yes. I am aware there is controversy about the very name: a fence, a barrier, a wall. And then there is the adjective that describes the fence, wall or barrier. It ranges from the term: security, to "defense," "separation," "apartheid," and probably there are others. For some perspective from the Israeli Government Here is the official take on the Fence.

Here are some pictures, scenes I shot on my way to work a week or two ago.

Let me tell you. The construction and mainly preparation work (levelling the earth and preparing the route of the wall) has been going on for six months now. Many trucks and tractors daily toil all day changing the contours of the countryside in order to construct this barrier. By the looks of it, it will be a monstrous thing. Apparently much of the barrier is a fence, but in places in which there are concerns that the road may be a target for shooting, it becomes a concrete wall.

Well, in short, I hate this wall. I think it is a bad idea, and it will have even worse effects in the future. This post is to explain why.

1. I don't think it is effective in stopping terror. In Gush Katif/Gaza underground tunnels that avoid the border fence stretch for many hundreds of metres. The tunnel used in the operation to capture Gilad Shalit was almost a kilometer long. Even in the West Bank where the soil is not sandy, terrorists will be able to circumvent the wall.

In addition. Thank God, we have had very few suicide attacks lately, even though we know that the terrorists are trying all the time. Many of those who DO get through are transported by Israeli's ferrying illegal Palestinian labour; Israelis who make a quick buck on the black market. Will the fence stop this? And if Tzahal have been successful thus far, without a fence, then will a physical barrier make a considerable difference?

2. Until the summer, there were thoughts and plans of a disengagement – a Hitkansut – in the West Bank. Even though no one would admit it, the separation fence was supposed to be a quasi-border. But now that for everyone the withdrawal on the West Bank is far off the horizon, does this border fence make any sense?

3. This issue relates also to the route of the Fence. For legal reasons, in many places the fence must follow pretty much the Green Line. Now take, for example the northern Jordan Valley. One travels through the Jordan Valley and there is little hityashvut, but most of it is Jewish. By erecting the Fence on the Green Line, they have excluded a heroic halutzic settlement like Shadmot Mehola and placed in on the "Palestinian" side! Why? There are no Palestinians there! It is not security! It is politics. We are effectively withdrawing from land voluntarily and setting our own pioneers apart from the Israeli "mainland". What an insult to these people who have battled for years to establish their farms and communities!

And for those on the Right Wing, are they really interested in effectively creating a wider exclusively Palestinian region? Effectively we are creating far larger areas which are "de facto" Palestine. Why?

4. From the Palestinian perspective, I do have to say that if I was a Palestinian and they built that wall in my back yard, I would sign up with Hamas tomorrow. It is so imposing, so grey, so immense, so restricting. It feels like a big prison. I feel that way as I pass the construction on the way to Jerusalem and also on the way to Beit Shemesh. Gush Etzion will be a walled enclave, and I feel like they are walling me in! Think about what a Palestinian kid feels like. It is not a ghetto – people and trade can get through - but it looks too much like one. I cannot but feel that this wall is creating problems, big problems rather than solving them. Moreover, we hear about the suffering and inconvenience it is causing the Palestinian population. For many, this is genuine hardship.

5. And then there is the hills and valleys themselves - nature. I have to say that the strenth of my feelings on this startled even me! I am far from being a child of the '70's flower power. And yet, the ripping apart of hills, the destruction of fertile land, the obstruction of views, the ruining of natural beautiful countryside is something which has disturbed me in a very deep place. It seems like we are violating the landscape itself! And in Gush Etzion we used to see deer running freely through the hills. Will they be able to run, or will they also be trapped by the separation wall? We are scarring the landscape, making a permanent indelible mark on wide tracts of our historic beautiful land. Have we considered this aspect?

6. And there is the expense. Such enormous resources are being piled into this project! Just the half mile stretch that I witness being constructed daily has taken at least ten trucks half year to work on and they are still not yet finished! Not millions, but billions! I shudder to think of the welfare programs the education, the charity, the health causes that could be funded by those monies!

I would even suggest that Israel's long-term security would be stronger if all those billions were invested in Zionist education programs for Israelis strengthening their understanding of our right to our land and the nature of our struggle with the Arabs and the Palestinians.

What a waste! Whoever came up with such a megalomaniac plan to build a Great Wall of China through the delicate countryside of our tiny land was not thinking straight. Maybe in Ramat Aviv and Herzlia it sounds sensible to build a wall to keep terrorists out. Maybe if you are certain that you are going to more or less '67 borders it mmakes sense. For me I don't get it. The negatives far outway the positives to me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

while the following article is slightly out of date (it was written in February of 2005), and does not address all of the issues raised here in regards to the security fence, I believe it offers the beginning of a dialog with this post.
it is in two parts -- the original article, and an addendum, responding to posters comments, both in agreement and disagreement.

There are several reasons many people oppose Israel’s security fence –
(1) it is an “Apartheid wall”, incorrectly referred to as a fence,
(2) it illegally crosses the Green Line into the West Bank and into disputed territory (and may constitute de facto annexation),
(3) it is a means of segregation,
(4) it prevents people from attaining proper medical care in a timely manner and cuts them off from their work (when located on the Israeli side of the Green Line),
(5) it divides private property and cuts people off from their farmland.

Despite all this, I believe that the security fence is an appropriate response to the terrorism Israel has been subjected to. There is an answer to each allegation brought against the fence, which not only justifies its’ existence but also proves that in addition to being perfectly legal Israel makes every possible effort to be humane while remaining effective.

1. The fence is indeed a fence and not a wall. Less than 8% of it is made of concrete, which means that the rest of it is very easily uprooted or rearranged. Much of the fence is constructed out of simple chain link, and has been rerouted after a Israeli Supreme Court ruling that the previously planned route of the fence inconvenienced the owners of the land through which it ran.

2. The next argument is the hardest to disprove, not because it is correct, but because it relies on first establishing several facts. One of the most debated, in its relation to the fence, among other issues, is whether or not the West Bank is occupied territory. In determining whether or not Israel occupies the West Bank one simultaneously determines Israel’s right to build the fence there. But there is a simple answer to both stances. If one believes that the West Bank is occupied territory, well, that’s fine – an occupying force is permitted, under the Geneva Convention, to take necessary military action; there is no instance in which military action might be considered more necessary than the situation Israel currently finds herself in. If one believes that Israel is not an occupying force –Article 51 of the UN Charter states that “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.” Israel has been the victim of repeated armed attack by suicide bombers, and the fence is her self-defense, which the UN bestows as an “inherent right.” The fence has been very effective in stopping suicide bombers before they can accomplish their goal, preventing as much as 90% of planned attacks coming out of the West Bank. Either way, the fence does not cross the Green Line illegally.
In response to those who despite all reason remain unconvinced as to the permissibility of the fence in its’ current position, I present the following argument: in accordance with its’ goal in existence, (to identify potential suicide bombers before they can cross into Israel and murder civilians) the fence cannot be on the green line; areas of it must extend into the West Bank. The only way the fence can be militarily effective is if it not only identifies potential suicide bombers, but also gives advance warning when one has been identified so that he may be stopped in time. This can not be done when the fence is situated on the Green Line. It takes away all chance of advance warning when the warning comes only as he crosses into Israel, and would in many cases also place hills or tall buildings outside the scope of the fence, thereby putting the IDF at a strategic disadvantage.
The fence does not in any way create a situation of de facto annexation, especially as Israel has already agreed to remove the settlements in that area. Without settlers there is no means of annexation. Additionally, the current route of the fence encompasses only 7% of the west bank.

3. It is true that the check points in the fence do target Palestinians. This is unfortunate, but in direct response to the actions taken by many Palestinians. They have asked to be treated uniquely by behaving uniquely and blowing themselves and others up. While I certainly do not allege that all Palestinians are suicide bombers, enough are that precaution and careful checking is warranted.
The United States took similar action after 9/11, specifically targeting Arabs in
airports and in cars. Other countries have also constructed fence similar to Israel’s. India has a fence to stop Pakistani terrorists. Saudi Arabia has a fence to stop weapons sales to, and Islamic insurgents from, Yemen. Morocco has a cement wall to protect against terrorists from Western Sahara. And lastly, there is a UN protected buffer zone and fence between the Turkish and Greek sides of Cyprus.
None of these barriers have ever been called into question. In fact, often the action is commended, as a realistic and appropriate response to irreconcilable differences between nations or ethnicities that often resort to violence when allowed free access to each other, or, as in the case of Cyprus, actually facilitated by the UN. Israel is being held to an unfair standard on actions only intended to (and succeeding in) protecting her own citizens, by countries that often have far worse human rights records than Israel.
This is another allegation that is sometimes true, yet more often blown completely
out of proportion. Stories of pregnant women who gave birth in the middle of a checkpoint, or children who bled to death after being injured by IDF soldiers because they were not permitted through by IDF soldiers run rampant, yet happen very infrequently. It is simply another example of individual unfortunate occurrences brought about by even more unfortunate circumstances. It cannot be repeated enough that Israel treats not only her own citizens, but the Palestinians as well, with a level of respect and care unrivalled by any other country in the region. Israel has an unparalleled human rights record that is needlessly tarnished through the promulgation of false horrors.
Israel has made every effort to reroute the fence wherever possible, to
accommodate both Israelis and Palestinians with whose lives and land it interferes. While The Hague ruled in 2004 that the fence is illegal according to international law, that ruling is advisory only and in no way binding. Israel’s Supreme Court, however, whose rulings are binding, ruled soon afterward that eighteen miles of the fence be rerouted so as not to “separate local inhabitants from their agricultural lands,” creating a precedent that has been faithfully followed. Israel has made every effort to preserve private lands in disallowing the seizure of private lands for the construction of the fence and requiring payment for the land that is used.
The most general, and most oft used, argument against the fence is a simple one: “the fence is illegal.” The people that claim this rely on the 2004 Hague ruling mentioned above, which ruled the fence illegal, completely dismissing all of Israel’s excellent reasons for constructing and maintaining the fence. It cannot be repeated enough – this ruling is non-binding, and based on international prejudice rather than international law.
I know that this has been very long. Yet it has barely even begun to touch upon the accusations levied against Israel, and all the supports in Israel’s defense. Israel is taking a firm stand in self-defense and being attacked for it on the world stage. There is nothing more important than the knowledge that allows you to defend what is right – in this case, Israel’s stance, the right of life, of self-defense, and of self-determination.

I would like to respond to the two most cited criticisms (in response to my original post)against the security fence -- the fence is costly and ineffective. of course the fence is costly. The fence runs 115 kilometers, and is manned by well-trained IDF soldiers carrying expensive equipment. Which leads into the second accusation, that the fence is ineffective. If you require 100% success to call something effective then, no, the fence is not effective. I believe that credit must certainly be given. The case here is not black and white. The fence has prevented over 90% of planned terrorists attacks out of the West Bank. i consider that effective in accomplishing its' set goal of preventing terrorism.
This is a delicate proportion. Israel must decide how much money they are willing to pay to save a single life. They have decided that the fence does not present too large a cost, and for that i am grateful. Countless lives have been saved. Additionally, were the fence made of solid concrete, rather than chainlink it would certainly be mnor eeffective. But it would also place far more restrictions on passage into and out of the West Bank. Israel is admirably trying to maintain her high level of human rights freedom by not taking the easy way out to ensure security and safety, and instead using checkpoints and soldiers, rather than concrete, to keep out terrorists.
The fence is not a solution to terrorism. It cannot keep all terrorists out. As Sara Hinding pointed out, there are always new ways to get in. Israel is simply doing the best she can, not to solve a much deeper seated issue between israel and the Pzlestinians, but to create a calmer atmosphere so that a real peace may be reached.
Dina -- I respect your position in opposition to the fence on the grounds of it leading to a two-state solution. allow me to point out, however, that the fence is temporary. it is not intended to permanently separate the West Bank from Israel.
Amy -- you say that Palestinian authorities would disagree with my argument that the fence cannot be moved back to the Green Line for security reasons. They would disagree, but they would be wrong. The fences' route is a military necessity.