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The Israeli Illusion That a Wall Can Stop Terrorism

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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The West Bank seperation barrier in November.
The West Bank separation barrier in November.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

Naftali Bennett launched a calm offensive last week. “We will replace the separation fence,” he thundered in interviews with Israeli TV news broadcasts, “with a wall.” Thus, in another moral eclipse, the prime minister replaces his predecessors’ fence of illusions with his own wall of delusions.

The fence, stretched out over some 720 kilometers (450 miles) of holes and breaches, and its cost (not including the cost of forces guarding it over the years and numerous other expenses) – which is estimated at 15 billion to 20 billion shekels ($4.65 billion to $6.2 billion) – are the rotting fruit of the terrible weakness that took hold of Israel’s governments and the security forces in the cursed decade following the Oslo Accords.

“Military experts” and stressed-out politicians formulated the idea, the result of their messianic delusions, after they were unable to put an end to the bloody events. The impassioned media stood alongside them, fanning the hysteria (remind you of anything from recent days?) and blindly following their deceptions.

Because of the spinelessness that took hold of them, the heads of the security forces – led by the head of the Shin Bet security service – rushed to support the construction of the fence of illusions. In the end, it was not the fence that blocked the terrorism, which reached its peak Passover Eve 20 years ago.

After the Israel Defense Forces recovered, they struck the terror in the casbahs of Nablus and Hebron and in the alleys of Jenin and Ramallah. But they didn't stop the enormous waste of money expended after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, nor did they adhere to the policy of “the best defense is a good offense.” Instead, Ariel Sharon – the famous construction bulldozer – poured all his strength (with the support of his finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu) into efforts to complete the barrier; and not at all for security reasons. During the term of his predecessor, Ehud Barak, Sharon stood at the head of a group of vocal – and correct – opponents. Before my friends and I, he enumerated all the reasons why we must join the battle against the fence: “It’s a disaster for security and a political folly.”

A common Israeli mantra, often used by Bennett and by Benny Gantz, his defense minister, speaks of “learning lessons.” Replacing the fence with a wall is the complete opposite of learning lessons, it is just fleeing further from reality, from the only thing that has the power to uproot terrorism: the relentless pursuit of it, in every place and at any hour, until all of the terrorist organizations are crushed and every last terrorist is gone. This is what Sharon preached for as long as he remained Sharon – and it was Bennett’s calling card for as long as he remained Bennett.

But in these stormy times – and when the IDF, once again, stands opposed – Joseph’s Tomb was shattered and desecrated (twice), and old wounds were reopened. Gantz, who was the (failed) commander of the Judea and Samaria Division during the bitter days of October 2000, was supposed to extricate a few Border Policemen who had been attacked at the tomb. Instead of ordering the IDF to rescue them, Gantz trusted Jibril Rajoub that his forces would fight against their brothers. In doing so he proved – not for the first time and not only during that operation – total impotence. Madhat Yusuf, who became the symbol of the failures of the senior command in those days – bled to death. His death provoked an angry response from Israeli society as a whole, and not only in the Druze community, to which Yusuf belonged.

Gantz, who supported the separation barrier at the time, is now a partner to the idea of the wall. Bennett, who in the past fought and spoke out against the fence, is now upgrading it to a wall: a wall of deceit; a wall of despair, a wall of division, a border wall. He won’t succeed in this exit deal. The profound ideology that he internalized in a shallow manner and his unbridled ambition have cast him into an abyss. Despite his sins, Bennett will be welcomed with respect at any synagogue, including the one in Kedumim where Bezalel Smotrich worships.

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