Israel's Security Fences Testament to a Sad Reality

Article Summary
Knesset Member Nachman Shai writes that the story of Israel's security barriers tells its security and political history. As of summer 2012, all of Israel's land borders are fenced off. Ultimately, he writes, the fences are a monument to the never-realized Israeli dream of openness and peaceful coexistence with its neighbors.

Several days ago [June 6, 2012], Israel marked the 30th anniversary of the First Lebanon War. Upon the invasion of southern Lebanon by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on June 6 1982, the concept of the "Good Fence" that Israel sought to set up in its relations with Lebanon collapsed. Obviously, the term is an oxymoron, since a fence is by definition a barrier designed to separate and alienate. However, at the time Israel hoped to establish relations of co-existence with Lebanon via that fence. Following the IDF's hasty withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, a new fence was erected in place of the Good Fence — a security fence to all ends and purposes, and whoever dares approach it is summarily shot. A "good fence," it is certainly not.

For years, Israel has been mulling over the notion of the fence. Contrary to its own will, it has been encircling itself with ever higher, ever more fortified and ever more electronically sophisticated fences. There is nothing like the fence to testify to the decisionmaking processes in Israel and to the change in its approach to security — from offensive and proactive to defensive and reactive. The most prominent example is the new security fence under construction in southern Israel that is designed to stretch along 150 miles, cost about $400 million and block the passage of terrorists, migrants and smugglers.

In the early days of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, the settlement method of "Tower and Stockade" was conceived and put into extensive practice. However, the notion was discarded following the establishment of the State of Israel, and although it was surrounded by long borders with hostile neighboring countries, Israel deliberately refrained from entrenching itself behind fences and fortifications. It soon became apparent that that was an erroneous, illusory approach and that fences were a necessity. Furthermore, fences constitute a security and political statement. Thus, following its great victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel hurried to erect its first security barrier along its border with Jordan, to this very day is still considered a success story.

The need to forestall terror is also the motive behind the erection of another security barrier, the separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, built under the pressure of suicide terror attacks. Underlying the erection of the West Bank separation barrier is a new concept: The barrier outlines, in effect, Israel's eastern border — where the barrier runs, there the border between Israel and the Palestinians will eventually pass. Notwithstanding the bitter controversy over the barrier splitting Israeli society, the fact is that the separation barrier has to a very large extent reduced terror within Judea and Samaria and, on the whole, proven itself effective. Yet, so far only two-thirds of the barrier, planned to extend for some 491 miles, have been completed and typically, the all-too-familiar Israeli principle that "what is not urgent is not done" has come into play in this case too.

We are still left with a very long border, stretching along 150 miles between Israel and Egypt — a border of peace. Or that's what we hoped for. We thought that there was no need to fortify the border with fences. Alas, once again the volatile Mideast reality has forced Israel to erect a barrier. It is only a matter of time before Israel builds a similar barrier along its border with Jordan. Now that the Sinai axis has been blocked, the wave of work migrants is bound to be diverted toward Jordan. Israel has thus no choice but to start planning and even actually erecting a fence along its southern border with Jordan. 

In the summer of 2012, Israel's land borders, extending along more than 620 miles, are fenced off. With each new security barrier, we are getting ever more fortified and entrenched, while each new security barrier built is ever more sophisticated technologically and ever more costly. The story of Israel's security barriers is, in miniature, its security and political history. It aptly reflects the process it has been undergoing, of digging in behind walls and fences.

And with each such wall and fence, the high hopes once entertained of open borders and bustling, ongoing traffic passing through them between Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinians, have vanished into thin air. Ultimately, the fence is a monument to the never-realized dream and, as a matter of fact, to the new reality we will have to live with for years to come.

Found in: palestine, israel, isolation, fortification, fence

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