The Misleading Term 'Fence'

Israelis still use the convenient and misleading term "fence" to describe the system of fortifications that is currently being erected on Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Even "wall," the term more commonly used in foreign-language reports, is insufficient to describe what is really being built at this very moment.

Israelis still use the convenient and misleading term "fence" to describe the system of fortifications that is currently being erected on Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Even "wall," the term more commonly used in foreign-language reports, is insufficient to describe what is really being built at this very moment: A concrete wall eight meters high, wire fences and electronic sensors, ditches four meters deep on either side, a dirt path to reveal footprints, an area into which entry is forbidden, a two-lane road for army patrols, and watchtowers and firing posts every 200 meters along the entire length. These are the components of the "fence."

Israelis complain that the construction is going slowly. But that is small comfort to those directly injured by the project. The fortifications already separate thousands of people in towns and villages along the route from their lands, from the nearest city and from neighboring villages. Thousands of Palestinians have lost their lands, their livelihood and their savings, which had been invested in greenhouses or reservoirs or houses for their children, because of these fortifications. According to the World Bank, the number of Palestinians who will eventually be directly hurt by the fence is between 95,000 and 200,000.

The Palestinian leadership has dragged its feet on constructing a political and diplomatic position regarding the far-reaching consequences of these fortifications. These facts on the ground will define the borders of the "Palestinian state" that will be dictated to the Palestinians in the framework of the road map: three enclaves completely cut off from each other, without the Jordan Valley, without the fertile agricultural lands between Jenin and Qalqilyah, without "metropolitan Jerusalem," which includes the land between the settlements of Givat Ze'ev to the northwest, Betar to the southwest and Ma'aleh Adumim to the east. The Palestinian leadership is not even pretending to lead the opposition to this network of fortifications.

About two weeks ago, Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen boasted to the Palestinian Legislative Council that after he gave U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice all the information about the separation wall, she nearly had a fight with Ariel Sharon on the matter. But researchers funded by the Palestinian establishment, who have been working for more than a year on an analysis of Israel's intentions in constructing the fortifications, had trouble recruiting the Palestinian Authority's leadership for any action more significant than the standard declarations and threats.

The first to understand and warn about the dangers, a year ago already, were the representatives of the towns and villages - mayors of the communities that were going to be harmed, Palestinian nongovernmental organizations, employees of American and European development agencies whose projects were destroyed. Their warnings reached the ears of international solidarity activists, who, together with village residents and Israeli activists from Ta'ayush, demonstrated opposite the bulldozers, the rocks and the trees. Even though the Israeli government never determined the exact route of the fortifications, and much of the Israeli public believes they run more or less along the Green Line, the direct victims concluded that that was not the case: Instead, this was another attempt to evict thousands of Palestinians from their land so that the land could be annexed to Israel. B'Tselem, which shared these suspicions, hastened to prepare a detailed report about the implications of the expropriations.

Most of the villages hired lawyers to try to appeal, and then petitioned the High Court of Justice. There was no attempt to put a single human rights organization or legal team - either Palestinian or Israeli - in charge of handling all of the objections. Lawyers, villages and districts worked separately - as if the problem were personal and private rather than collective. Anyone who hired a private lawyer paid out of his own pocket.

This is a typical Palestinian modus operandi: isolated actions against the Israeli decrees and a lack of coordination among the victims, even though the injury stems from a single source; the waste of huge quantities of energy on demonstrations and prayer sessions in lonely wadis and olive groves; and the absence of the Palestinian leadership in the role of initiator, director and financier. There are those who claim that the Palestinian leadership itself initially fell for the illusion that the fortifications' path ran more or less along the Green Line and would thus create facts on the ground regarding the eventual border between Israel and Palestine.

It is possible to ask whether even prompt, coordinated and focused activity to reveal the true nature of the "fence" would have managed in time to arouse Western attention and the opposition of Israelis who support a peace deal with the Palestinian people rather than a surrender deal. It is also possible to assume that, even if it had succeeded in doing so, without American pressure - which is not visible on the horizon - the Israeli government would have changed nothing. Nevertheless, it is hard not to wonder: What would have happened if the energy, the thought, the planning and the time that the Palestinian leadership is investing in its Byzantine palace quarrels had instead been invested in building a system of coordinated, focused political opposition to Israel's annexation plans? Is the successful implementation of these plans due only to Israel's diplomatic and military superiority, or does this success also owe a debt to the failures of Palestinian political activity?