January 7, 2004 | Scripps Howard News Service

Self-Defense Fence

It takes some nerve to scold people for defending their children from terrorists — the more so when their method of defense is simply to erect a fence to keep the murderers from reaching their intended victims.

Yet critics have lashed out at the Israeli government's decision to erect a security barrier to separate Israel proper from the West Bank communities that have harbored suicide terrorists for years. Not the least of these critics is the International Court of Justice in The Hague which has granted itself the jurisdiction to hold a hearing on Israel's fence next month.

Using fences to keep out those intent on committing crimes is hardly an innovative idea.  As the media watchdog group PRIMER (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting) has illustrated in a series of pictures available at its website (www.tampabayprimer.org) such barriers can be found virtually all over the world.

For example, the U.S. has a fence along its southern border. That fence is primarily to keep out Mexicans seeking jobs rather than bombers seeking children. But if the former is justifiable, surely the latter is as well.

A well-fortified zone divides Korea. The purpose is to keep out North Koreans who, one supposes, consider Americans to be “military occupiers” of South Korea.

India is in the process of erecting barriers to separate its territory from that of Pakistan — from which Jihadi terrorists have frequently infiltrated. The terrorists say India is “occupying” Kashmir. Heard any objections from the European Union?

Botswana is erecting an electric fence to keep out Zimbabweans attempting to escape Robert Mugabe's oppression. Apparently, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hasn't a problem with that barrier – or with the Marxist, racist dictator Mugabe, for that matter.

Unlike the countries above, Israel is fighting a war. The enemy's base is on the West Bank. Over the past three years since Yasser Arafat turned down the offer of an independent state in more than 95% of the West Bank and Gaza, 900 Israelis have been killed and 6,000 injured by terrorists whom Arafat has never seriously attempted to suppress. On the contrary, Arafat has encouraged and funded them.

Those who argue that the fence should not represent a final border have a point. The Israelis concede that point, agreeing that any borders between Israel and what may become an independent Palestinian state should be “determined by negotiations.”

The problem is that the Palestinians who now wield power refuse to negotiate a deal that would lead to a Palestinian state living peacefully next to a Jewish state. Some Arab leaders are candid enough to acknowledge this reality. Last week, Prince Hassan Bin Talal, uncle of Jordan's ruler King Abdullah, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that Israeli Prime Ariel Sharon is a pragmatic leader who is having trouble finding a pragmatic partner on the Palestinian side. “Unfortunately, we can see the growing influence of Hamas and Hezbollah among the Palestinians,” he told the newspaper. Indeed, Hamas and Hezbollah are not interested in borders with Israel. Their openly stated goal is to destroy Israel and to replace it with a radical Islamist state.

Such intransigence also is not new. It was pursuit of this same goal – Israel's annihilation — that led to Israel's occupation of the West Bank in the first place. In 1967, Egypt (which then ruled Gaza), Syria (which then held the Golan Heights) and Jordan (which then administered the West Bank) explicitly announced that their intention was to wage a final war to drive Israelis into the sea.

But Israelis prevailed in that conflict. In so doing, they took possession of territories that had long been a staging ground for terrorism and from which the aggression against them had been launched. Israel did not annex most of this property, as many other countries have done in similar circumstances. Instead, they returned the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty and have said they are willing to trade most of the West Bank for a similar arrangement with Palestinians.

This history has been generally forgotten in media coverage of the fence. Reports have tended to focus instead on how the barrier is inconveniencing innocent Palestinians who live near it. That's a real and troubling dilemma. But complaints about how and where the fence is being built will be taken more seriously if they come from critics even-handed enough to acknowledge that Israelis do have the right to protect their children from suicide terrorists.

What's more, if the fence works as planned, Israel will be able to remove road blocks, check points, tanks and troops from the West Bank. Would that not be an enormous benefit for Palestinians?

As noted, security barriers are not a new innovation – not even in Israel. On my first visit to that country — a fact-finding trip taken with former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and Senator Frank Lautenberg shortly after 9/11 — I visited Gilo, a community in suburban Jerusalem that overlooks a valley in which the scenic Palestinian village of Bet Jallah spreads out. From Bet Jallah, snipers had repeatedly fired at Israeli children as they walked to school. A concrete wall was erected to stop the bullets.

On that wall, Israelis had painted a picture of Bet Jallah — a poignant reminder of the neighbors who had become too dangerous even to gaze upon.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies a policy institute focusing on terrorism.



Palestinian Politics