Fear – the Israeli Perspective – the Separation Barrier

This reflection was written by Suella Henn

Israeli perspective on the Security Fence / Barrier Wall

It has been harder for me to credit the Israeli perspective both during and since our trip.  But I do take seriously the role that fear plays in understanding their motivation and actions.  Youval Ben Ami, our outstanding Israeli guide, emphasized this frequently.  Several times he brought friends along when we went to the West Bank, young people who had never dared to venture there.

Signs such as the following are posted at checkpoints into Area A, which is fully under Palestinian control and is forbidden to Israeli citizens.  As Youval so often said, it is difficult to begin to understand one another when normal contact between peoples is forbidden.

WestBankwarningsign

I have just finished reading Ari Shavit’s new book, “The Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” which begins with the sentence: “For as long as I can remember, I remember fear.  Existential Fear.”  Born in 1957 he remembers how he has felt during the wars involving Israel since then.  The Jewish history of pogroms, oppression and the Holocaust coupled with an understandable longing for a place where they belong, can be self-determining and flourish is masterfully drawn in Shavit’s book, as are the tragedy of their blindness to the people who were already on the land and the moral evils of the occupation.

Our day devoted to the Israeli perspective began when we met with Col Dany Tirza, an engineer and the IDF’s chief architect for the Security Fence.  He emphasized: The fence is needed for Israeli security.

 He took us to a road on the outskirts of West Jerusalem overlooking a valley to the south.  Behind us were attractive, substantial 3-4 story apartments with barred and bulletproof windows.  In the valley immediately below were olive groves and on the distant hills a large populated area.  An empty road snaked along the valley between the olive trees and the town.  Looking more closely we could see that there were fences along both sides of it.  The fences are electrified, topped by barbed wire, with frequent sensors and surveillance cameras placed along them.  There are wide cleared areas on either side of the road and outside the fence.  The barrier averages 200 ft. in width.

SecurityfencenearJerusalem

Its construction began in 2002 following numerous suicide bombings and terrorist attacks and was designed to restrict access of terrorists and to control the entry of Palestinians into Israel.  Numbers tell the story.  In 2002, before construction started, 457 Israelis were killed; in 2009, 8 were killed.  So the fence seems to have been effective in deterring the attacks.  It has also prevented easy movement of Palestinians into Israel, those seeking work, education, and medical care.

The fence is built more or less along the Green Line, though its placement has been disputed, especially when it separates Arab villagers from their farmlands and olive groves or cuts off access to other parts of the West Bank. Col. Tirza emphasized that in designing the barrier he tried to be sensitive to Arab concerns, trying to exclude Arab villages from the area within the fence, and to provide access for farmers to their trees and farmland through crossing points.  I could not help wondering about the olive groves visible here on the left and the populated area on the right.  I could spot no obvious crossing point and was given no opportunity to ask.

Such fences comprise 90% of the barrier.  The rest is a 26 ft. high concrete wall, usually through or around more populated areas.  Here the goal has been to deter sniper fire on roads or nearby settlements.  The wall, the fence and their effects on the Palestinians were painfully obvious during much of the remainder of our trip.

Suella Henn

Dec. 2, 2013

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