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ISRAEL'S SECURITY BARRIER

A buffer is needed between enemies

By Moshe Ram, Israel's consul general in Chicago

 

On Jan. 29, Israelis once again started their day forced to face shocking pictures of dead commuters, the victims of yet another suicide bomber.

 The anti-terrorist fence could have prevented this massacre. The sheer absurdity cannot be ignored.

 No responsible government can stand idly by while its citizens are slaughtered with impunity. Since September 2000, according to Israel Defense Forces, more than 20,000 Palestinian attacks of all kinds have left more than 900 Israelis dead and thousands more wounded. Suicide bombings have accounted for 430 dead. This has made the building of this anti-terrorist fence an unpleasant but unavoidable necessity.

 Is Israel's anti-terrorist fence effective? Just ask the students of the ORT High School in Yokneam, southeast of Haifa. On Dec. 3, 2003, Israel's security forces apprehended two would-be suicide bombers from Jenin, whose target was that school, as they tried to cross into Israel. Investigators said they were told "that they had chosen the location because there is no fence preventing them from entering Israel." Or ask the people of Netanya, Hadera and other northern Israeli cities and towns who have lost dozens of their citizens in terrorist attacks their view of the fence that now shields them. Their response will be a resounding: "What took so long?"

 The real builders of this fence are the Palestinian terrorist organizations, which, with the approval and financial support of the political leadership, continue to carry out attacks targeting Israeli civilians. This policy, intended to hurt Israelis, also has grave consequences for the Palestinian people, because their suffering is largely the direct result of this deliberate choice to pursue the terrorism option to achieve unrealistic dreams of "Palestine from the river to the sea" instead of the path to peace involving two states for two peoples.

 Polls tell a story

 It must also be pointed out, however, that these organizations could not operate without broader support. Terrorism is backed by large segments of the Palestinian people. One Palestinian poll from Public Opinion Research and published in the Jerusalem Post last fall revealed that 59 percent of Palestinians want to see terrorism against Israel continue even after the creation of a Palestinian state. Another poll, this one from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, showed 75 percent approved of the horrendous homicide bombing of Maxim's Cafe in Haifa, in which three generations of two Jewish families, as well as several Israeli Arabs, were murdered. This bombing against an establishment owned jointly for years by Jewish and Arab Israelis was also a violent attack against the very idea of Jewish and Arab cooperation and coexistence. The owners recently reopened the cafe in defiance of this threat.

 Confronted by the total absence of a Palestinian partner and by the paralysis of the peace process, Israel had no alternative but to take a unilateral action to save lives, selecting a security solution that seems quite obvious. Why not put up a fence so that those bent on killing people will not be able to enter? This will not only thwart potential terrorists but also will meet the needs of Israeli forces that today are unfortunately forced to enter areas under Palestinian Authority control to weed out terrorist cells.

 Implementation of this plan will lessen the need for an Israeli presence inside Palestinian areas and minimize contact and conflict with the Palestinian population, thus allowing the resumption of normal lives.

 With the first phase of the fence completed, Israel has come under harsh criticism. Much of this critique has come, surprisingly, from advocacy and human-rights groups that should have been among the first to promote such a temporary, non-violent measure to save lives. This idea is not sinister, as some conspiracy theory advocates believe, but may furnish a short-term solution to the unbearable problem of terrorism. Saving lives is the sole reason for this endeavor, which is supported by 80 percent of the Israeli public regardless of their political views.

 As for the argument that the fence constitutes Israel's pre-emptive attempt to create permanent borders, had Israel simply wanted to permanently annex territory in the West Bank and Gaza, there have been ample opportunities since 1967. During the last decade, Israel entered first into the Oslo process and now has accepted the U.S.-sponsored peace initiative called the road map as a guide to reach a negotiated political solution to determine final borders with our Palestinian neighbors.

 Sharon on annexation

 As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon emphasized at a news conference Jan. 11: "We never thought about annexing Samaria, Judea and the Gaza Strip. . . . It's not going to happen."

 This pledge was reinforced by Sharon's subsequent announcement that plans were being drafted for the relocation of 17 Israeli settlements in Gaza and three in the northern West Bank.

 As for the route of the fence, the Israeli government seriously considers objections raised by Palestinians about the location of potential sections. Several changes have been made based on these requests, and other complaints are being adjudicated in Israel's courts. Every effort is being made to minimize hardship to the Palestinian population by including a system of dozens of gates designed to provide access. But again, it cannot be stressed too strongly that while the fence can be moved or dismantled, lives lost cannot be restored. Israel must place the right of its citizens to live free from fear above any temporary inconvenience to local Palestinians.

 The fence will be needed as long as Palestinian political and religious leaders continue to encourage hatred of Israel and Jews in their media, mosques and schools.

 Rejection of U.S. aid

 The fence will be needed as long as Palestinian officials prefer self-destructive behavior such as the recent rejection of $30 million of U.S. aid to Palestinian non-governmental organizations because it was stipulated that the funds not go to entities "engaged in terrorist acts."

 The fence will be needed until Palestinian police officers commit themselves to enforcing law and order in Palestinian areas instead of creating chaos and death on Israeli buses.

 The fence will be needed as long as terrorist leaders send young women so brainwashed to desire the destruction of "Zionists" that they choose to blow themselves up instead of watching their children grow up.

 The fence will be needed until the Palestinian leadership, with the full support of the Palestinian people, completely rejects terrorism as a means of achieving political objectives.

 The fence will be needed until Palestinian leaders arise who are, in President Bush's words, "untainted by terrorism and corruption," and can express recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

 When that happens, Israel will fulfill its commitments and make painful concessions for peace. Until then, Israel will not risk the lives of its people on empty promises to fight terrorism. When the Palestinians have torn down the wall of blinding anti-Israel hatred and violence that envelopes them, Israel will be more than willing to exchange the fence for bridges to peace.

 
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