The Definition Fence

The fence is ruthless, there's no doubt about it. However, its ruthlessness is the kind of cruelty that no great historical process can do without.

True, there's something repulsive about this fence. It cuts through the country, slicing up the landscape and blocking off entire populations. It limits freedom of movement and denies right of access and prevents the movement of goods. Yes, Meron Benvenisti is right when he says the separation fence has something antigeographic, antihistorical and antihuman about it. After all, anyone who travels the length of the fence cannot escape the feeling that it is some monstrous engineering giant imposed on the hills by a super powerful entity. Anyone traveling its length cannot escape the association with East Germany.

The name is also terrible. The concept of a separation fence is indeed an apartheid concept. When one side, the stronger side, unilaterally separates itself from the other, weaker side, the connotations are indeed South African. When an armed, organized state stretches a barbed wire fence against pregnant women and hardworking people, it turns the stomach. The concrete wall that Israel is trying to place between it and the Palestinian misery is, of necessity, perceived as the brutal iron wall of mastery.

Nonetheless, the fence is vital. But, not for security reasons, nor for immediate political reasons. The fence is vital because it is not a separation fence. It is a definition fence, a fence that for the first time defines the extent of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. A fence that once and for all defines Israeli sovereignty.

Official Israel, of course, denies this. Official Israel wants to regard the fence as a security-engineering project of limited significance. However, precisely because of its oversized monstrous dimensions, it is clear the fence is a constitutional enterprise. Precisely because of its brutality in determining the facts on the ground, it is clear that it is impossible to retreat from it. The hard lines it draws in the landscape are going to be our borders. The new reality it is shaping will become the reality of our life in the coming generation.

That's no simple matter. For years, Zionism has been accused of being in constant ferment, internal and external chaos, refusing to define its limits, to say what belongs to it and what does not. The inability of the Jewish state to create for itself a defined geographic envelope doomed it to a state of perpetual disquiet in its identity. It was a situation in which it wasn't clear to citizens and neighbors, what Israelis were killing and dying for.

Now, thanks to the 600 violent kilometers of the definition fence, that matter has been decided. Israel knows its limits. For the route of the fence indeed defines Israel as a democratic Jewish nation state that covers some 80 percent of the western land of Israel. It defines it as a rational coastal country, pragmatic and life-seeking.

It is important to be precise in this. The route of the fence is not the route of peace. When there is peace, the border will more or less match the 1967 lines. However, for peace to be constituted here the Palestinians have to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. They have to give up the right of return. Therefore, the existential role of the fence is to create the geographic platform from which it is possible to narrow the occupation as much as possible before peace arrives. Its function is to start the lengthy, complicated surgery of defining the Siamese Israeli and Palestinian twins and separating them.

The fence is ruthless, there's no doubt about it. However, its ruthlessness is the kind of cruelty that no great historical process can do without. When the time comes, when on both sides of the new definition fence there will be clear and distinct dimensions of identity, maybe it will be possible to give up the fence, but even then it would be best not to smash it. It would be best to plant the flora of the land along it. Figs and dates, perhaps.