Why Israel Needs the Wall

Don’t believe the settler fairy tales peddled by Dani Dayan that call for the 'humanitarian’ pulling down of the security barrier between Israelis and Palestinians. The real aim is reinforcing the occupation.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Eric H. Yoffie
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Palestinian drivers wait in their cars next to the separation barrier, ahead of crossing through the Qalandia checkpoint. February 9, 2014.
Palestinian drivers wait in their cars next to the separation barrier, ahead of crossing through the Qalandia checkpoint. February 9, 2014. Credit: AFP
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Eric H. Yoffie

Dani Dayan wants to dismantle the security barrier. I want to leave it in place.

Writing in The New York Times on June 9, Dayan, former chairman of the Yesha Council — the central body of the settlement movement — declares that the barrier must come down. Give the Palestinians' total access to pre-1967 Israel, he declares, so they can find jobs in Israel’s thriving economy.

Mr. Dayan wants the full integration of Israelis and Palestinians.

But what Israel needs is separation. And separation requires a wall — with Israelis on one side and Palestinians on the other.

The security barrier has gotten a lot of bad publicity of late. Pope Francis stopped at a graffiti-covered section of the barrier in Bethlehem during his recent visit to the Holy Land. The image of the pope reaching out to the wall was immediately flashed around the world. And while the pope said only a few words of prayer, his gesture was taken by many as a rebuke to Israel’s government, which had erected the barrier in the first place.

What followed was a diplomatic dance. Israeli officials expressed concern. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt obligated in his conversation with the pope to address the subject of the barrier, noting that the construction of the wall was a response to Palestinian terror; and while he was right, he came across sounding apologetic and defensive.

With his article, Dayan has cleverly seized on the sentiment of the moment. At first glance, his message appears to be admirable and caring: The barrier is a hardship that restricts Palestinian movement. It is an ugly symbol of division. Israel must allow Palestinians, as long as they reject terror, to mix freely with Israelis on both sides of the 1967 lines.

And Israelis, in turn, must be given the same right to mix freely and live where they choose among Palestinians. At the same time, Israel must radically improve Palestinian quality of life in the territories by providing the Palestinian masses with decent housing and infrastructure.

Who can disagree with that? I can.

Dayan may be a humanitarian, but he needs lesson in history — and in Zionism.

When it comes to the humanitarian issues that he addresses, I support him. The poverty and humiliation of the Palestinian population in the territories are a disgrace and should be dealt with immediately. Israel has a heavy responsibility here, as do the United States, the Arab world, and the European Union.

But economic rehabilitation does not require removing the barrier. And Dayan’s suggestion that with a revived economy the Palestinians will be prepared to maintain current political arrangements — which deprive individual Palestinians of civil equality in Israel while denying the Palestinian people a state of their own — is contrary to common sense.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, in his famous essay “The Iron Wall,” written in 1923, dismisses the view that if Zionists provide “material conveniences” to the Palestinian Arab population, it will agree to be ruled by the Jews. The Arabs are like other nations, Jabotinsky insists; they cannot be bought and sold with economic favors.

Jabotinsky’s conclusion is that the Jews must build their own state behind an “iron wall” that their enemies cannot breach, while assuring democratic rights to non-Jews in their state; and they must also accept that on the other side of the wall, the Palestinian Arabs will reject Jewish “bribes” and insist on a “fatherland” of their own.

But bribes are what Dayan proposes, and they will not work. Indeed, Dayan is treating the Palestinians with the contempt that Jabotinsky specifically warns against. (Don’t assume, he writes, that the Arabs of Palestine will be “willing to give up their fatherland for a good railway system.”)

Dayan’s real goal is simply the status quo — Israeli occupation and a modest measure of Palestinian autonomy. He said this openly in a previous article in the Times on July 25, 2012. Since then, he has apparently concluded that an international effort to alleviate Palestinian misery will make the status quo more palatable.

But it won’t. At this point in history, the separation barrier is Israel’s “iron wall” — even if the territory included falls short of what Jabotinsky envisioned. As such, the wall cannot be dismantled. And no Israeli leader should ever apologize for it.

And what the Jewish state should do now is what Jabotinsky advised more than 80 years ago: Pull back behind the wall, use whatever force is necessary to defend the Jewish state against her foes, remain fiercely committed to Israel’s democratic character, and recognize that the Palestinian people will want to “rid itself of the danger of being colonized.”

If these steps can be carried out in stages and by agreement with the Palestinians, fine; but if not, support from the United States for unilateral action by Israel would be sufficient. And in the meantime, a campaign to address Palestinian suffering would surely be welcome.

Will Netanyahu accept the wisdom of the wall and the virtues of separation? I don’t know. His government is currently paralyzed. But if he considers instead the proposals of Dayan and other supposed moderates of the settler camp, he should remember that what they are really offering is a settler fairy tale that goes like this: If only we take down the wall and are nice to the Palestinians, they will happily agree to be occupied forever.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie served as president of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012. He is now a writer, lecturer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey.



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