The Fence, Revisited

Do our politicians have the courage to admit they made a mistake by building the security barrier?

Is it out of habit or mental lassitude that we continue to build the fence, which was begun many years ago? It continues on its weary way, meter by meter, costing billions, causing anguish to many, damaging private property, keeping the High Court of Justice occupied with the complaints it arouses, stirring demonstrations against it, and keeping the Israel Defense Forces busy. Does anyone still remember what the original purpose was of this physical obstacle, hundreds of kilometers long, stringing across the country? Who is taking a second look to see whether it really serves its intended purpose?

Many of us prefer to forget those terrible days when Palestinian suicide bombers were roaming through our cities and murdering Israeli citizens daily. It was in those stressful days that the cry went out: "Keep them out! Build a fence, no matter what it costs! The fence around the Gaza Strip works, and we need a fence like it around Judea and Samaria!"

Then-Shin Bet head Avi Dichter said we needed such a fence, and Haim Ramon accused those who opposed it of being dinosaurs prepared to endanger human lives for the sake of their outworn ideologies. No politician could withstand this pressure. A human life is worth everything, and if it took hundreds of kilometers of fence to save one, so be it. Besides, this fence was supposed to separate Israelis from Palestinians once and for all. So this humongous, unprecedented project began, and it has continued on its not-so-merry way, winding over hill and dale, ever since. Palestinian terrorism from Judea and Samaria has in the meantime been defeated, our streets and buses have become safe again, but the fence project seems to have assumed a life of its own.

Billions are still being spent, our beautiful country is being defaced, great anguish is being caused to tens of thousands living in the vicinity of the fence, and it is high time that we ask ourselves whether this fence serves any useful purpose. Is it the fence, far from completed, that is keeping terrorism out of our cities, or is it the presence of the IDF in Judea and Samaria? There is good reason to believe that it was the IDF's entry into Judea and Samaria, after the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya on the night of the 2002 seder, that largely ended the terror, and that the IDF's continued presence in Judea and Samaria is still Israel's primary defense. Without that presence, terrorism would be striking cities in central Israel. If that is the case, the fence is worse than useless. It is no more than the product of momentary hysteria and a Maginot-line mentality that seized some of our politicians, who deluded themselves into thinking that terrorism could be "fenced out."

But what happens when the IDF's presence in Judea and Samaria is no longer necessary? Will we need the fence then, and should we therefore continue building it for that eventuality? That hardly seems a reasonable course of action. The IDF will not withdraw from the area until the danger of Palestinian terror has passed, and then no fence will be necessary. Continuing to build the fence is a waste of time and money, and only breeds anger and hostility. In this case, the fence does not make for good neighbors.

But some will argue that the fence around the Gaza Strip works. Well, hardly. The terrorists have found ways of outwitting our politicians. Terror is coming over and under the fence. That fence did not stop the Qassam and Katyusha rockets from raining on Israel's citizens in the south. The fence did not keep the Olmert government from finally surrendering to this terror and agreeing to a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza. And the same thing will happen if the IDF withdraws from Judea and Samaria before the terrorists there finally have been uprooted. The fence will not keep terror away. If not controlled on the ground, it will return to Israel's cities - it will come over and under the fence.

Some of us want the fence not in order to keep terrorists out, but to keep Jews in. Or, in other words, in order to keep Jews out of Judea and Samaria ("the occupied territories"). But that will not work. The British tried to keep Jews out when they blockaded Mandate Palestine's shores and pursued the MacDonald White Paper policy to prevent Jews from purchasing land here. It didn't work. Nor will the fence.

The time has come to take a good look at this outlandish project. Does it make any sense to continue building it? And maybe we should begin considering dismantling what has already been built. Do our politicians have the courage to admit they made a mistake?