Fencing Off the Jewish Canton

The reason a fence is needed between Israel and Palestine is that an independent state, based on one nation and aspiring to cultural hegemony - more or less - needs a border.

There is no reason for not building a fence between Israel and Palestine, to be beefed up with mines and a patrol road. Not because a fence will completely prevent terrorist attacks - after all, no one is trying to sell that delusion; moreover, it is even possible that, precisely because of the fence, more advanced methods will be devised to attack Israeli settlements.

The reason a fence is needed is that an independent state, based on one nation and aspiring to cultural hegemony - more or less - needs a border. It is of no importance right now whether the fence will pass a hundred meters or three kilometers inside the area of the West Bank, or whether it will exactly follow the route of the Green Line. In any event, any border to ever be agreed upon with some sort of Palestinian administration will be the line to be recognized by the same international institutions that recognized the Green Line as the valid political border.

The fence in question has important conceptual validity in a state that does not know how far it extends. A case in point is the demographic threat. We are being told that within seven or eight years the number of Arabs will equal the number of Jews. Where? In the territories that are under Israeli rule. Not in the State of Israel, but in Israel and Palestine. The demographers do not engage in this sort of calculation when they talk about the ratio between the population of Israel and the population of Syria, because the demographic problem "there" is not Israel's affair. A fence between Israel and Palestine may also have the effect of removing the "demographic threat."

Another example has to do with the settlers, or the Israeli branch that has penetrated the Palestinian national space. Mira Kedar, a poet from the West Bank settlement of Ofra, writes in the current issue of the settlers' periodical Nekuda, "What would have happened if the land had been empty and we would not have had to fight for it, only to build and be built; what would we have done without the existence of the Palestinian problem or the general Islamic resistance to the return to Zion?

"[We would have been] a state like any other state, a secular Western democracy without any Jewish distinctiveness or Jewish purpose, or at best espousing some sort of detached, fuzzy Jewishness that would not have endured for more than two or three generations. What is still forcing us occasionally to answer the question of why we are here, of all places, to contemplate our right of existence, to cope with the question of our particular national identity, is the war that has not had enough and has not moved anywhere else."

Let it be. Kedar's repulsion over the idea that the Jewish state would have become an ordinary secular Western democracy is no different from the loathing of extremist Islamic groups, which view secular Western democracy as the root of all evil. Just as Kedar sees the Palestinian enemy as a miracle given to us by God so that we can agonize over the question of our existence, so those organizations sometimes perceive the Zionist enemy as a unifying glue. Rhetoric does have a certain importance, but even according to Kedar's logic, aren't the threat and the war themselves enough to forge cohesive Jewish nationalism? Is it necessary also to maintain a Jewish diaspora of a quarter of a million people across the border in order to dispel Israelis' struggle with the question of their existence as a state?

Kedar is not alone in this line of thought. The settlers have always looked for a material raison d'etre, mainly of a security character, when they felt that the idea did not hold water. Until not long ago, they likened themselves to the pioneers of settlement in the Yishuv - the Jewish community in pre-1948 Palestine - those who wanted to establish a secular Western democracy and then adopted the "tower and stockade" form of settlement and then the frontier settlements, and so forth.

Kedar too does not cite divine right but invokes an instrumental reasoning: Without a war with the Palestinians, the struggle with the question over the right of existence will disappear. Pursuing this logic, Kedar could argue that without the settlers to serve as an important cause of the clash with the Palestinians, what lies in store for Israel is extinction as a run-of-the-mill democracy.

Yes, a fence is essential. It will at least determine the scope of the national-cultural container within which Israelis will want to live, and it will separate us from the Jewish canton whose residents view the State of Israel as a tiny, broken-down fraction of the divine promise.