We continue our series on this week’s CJP mission to Israel. If you watch closely in the video below, you will see a scene comparable to the one above at about minute 2:00. It is a portion of the Jerusalem Security Fence constructed to separate the Palestinian sections of the city from the Israeli portion. While this portion of the structure is actually a wall, the vast preponderance is in fact a fence. It stretches over 700 kilometers and is bounded by a cleared out area several meters wide, with lots of electronic equipment designed to detect anyone seeking to cross it.
If I had any doubt about Israeli policy before our visit, it would relate to this fence. After all, it brings back memories of other fences and walls created for other purposes. For my generation, the Berlin Wall is the one most etched in our minds, and we associate it with a totalitarian regime.
But things are different in the Middle East. For several years, Israel found itself attacked by suicide bombers and others who were entering the country from the Palestinian areas. Their task was to kill civilians and to do so in a brutal and terrorizing fashion.
Here’s where you need to understand the real estate situation. Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey. East Jerusalem is literally across the street from Jerusalem. Other parts of the West Bank are closer than your daily commute to work. A terrorist, therefore, can easily walk or drive from one part of the country to another.
The Israeli government decided to construct a physical barrier to control and slow the passage of people from one area to the other. They closely screen people going through the gates between the two in an attempt to deter and catch possible terrorists. Clearly, this creates an inconvenience and, as you see, a visual and aesthetic barrier between sections of the city and sections of the country.
Lawsuits against the fence and against the particular location of many segments were brought to the Israeli Supreme Court. That there is an expectation of such a judicial review is a statement in itself about the legal rights of all people living in Israel and already distinguishes this structure from those like the Berlin Wall. The Court issued a decision allowing the structure, saying that the security needs of the population had to be weighed against the other concerns raised by the plaintiffs. However, the Court required the government to provide a substantive basis for the choice of the fence’s route. After reviewing many dozens of complaints, it found that only a few had to be configured to reflect local concerns.
On the overall merits of the issue: The fence has been successful in eliminating terrorist attacks against the Israelis where it has been in place. For those of us living elsewhere, it might remain an uncomfortable sight, but it is hard to argue with its success.