Misplaced cutbacks

Israelis in the West Bank deserve no less protection than those within the country's sovereign borders.

security fence 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
security fence 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The last few days have seen a concerted escalation in terrorist attacks on Israelis beyond the Green Line. Some link these intensified attempts to the end of the 40-day mourning period for Hizbullah's terror linchpin Imad Mughniyeh, others to the celebration of Purim (perennially a terrorist favorite), the impulse to upstage Gazan rocket attacks or just the extremists' all-pervading desire to slay Jews. Whatever the reasoning, firebombs have been hurled at Israeli vehicles near Kalkilya, shots were fired at an Israeli bus south of Nablus and a 13-year-old boy was wounded by a roadside explosive device detonated in the Hebron hills. Yet even as the danger quotient is palpably on the rise for Israelis in the West Bank, the government appears intent on slashing its already limited contribution to the maintenance of settlement defense systems. These are crucial for providing minimal safety at all settlements, including those designated by the government as part of the "major blocs" which it hopes to retain under Israeli jurisdiction even in the context of an accord with the Palestinians. Government funding is needed, for instance, for the repair of electronic fences, cameras and other sensors at settlement perimeters. Already the IDF is reporting a noticeable increase in infiltrations. On the whole, these have been criminally motivated. But where felons get through, terrorists are sure to quickly follow. Some of the perimeter early-warning systems are out of order and others frequently malfunction. Sensitive electronic equipment is being allowed to degrade. The government has just slashed its share in the upkeep of these systems by a whopping 70 percent. Similarly, subsidies for fitting cars with shatter-proof plastic windows to protect Israeli drivers and passengers from stoning have also been canceled; unfortunately, the stone-throwing has not. Quite apart from the settlers' anxiety, the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the Home Front Command have all expressed concern over the cutbacks, thus far to no avail. As the Treasury digs in its heels, some ministry sources suggest that money allocated for the settlements goes there at the expense of more deserving beneficiaries like the residents of Sderot, cancer patients denied pricey medications, the education system, and so on. But these arguments are both misleading and unconscionable. The sums involved here are paltry, certainly insufficient to solve the problems of Sderot and other worthy causes. Suggestions to the contrary, furthermore, are geared to turn the settler population into the scapegoats for all the nation's financial woes. Another argument against such spending beyond the Green Line is that many of the settlements will eventually be vacated, so pouring more resources into them is wasteful. But the fact is that there is, at present, no operative government decision to surrender any further settlements. Moreover, most of the Israelis adversely affected by the cutbacks reside in the large population centers which this and preceding governments have insisted will remain Israeli. For now, in any case, possible future withdrawals cannot be touted as grounds for leaving tens of thousands of Israelis unnecessarily vulnerable to terrorist attack to save money. Sending out the message that their lives are more expendable because of where they are located is not only amoral but is sure to accentuate and exacerbate disaffection, alienation and extremism among some settlers, and to encourage further terrorism against them. Penny-pinching should be a non-starter where lives are directly at risk, and could leave settlements vulnerable to a disaster far costlier than any savings the Treasury accountants might possibly achieve. The misplaced miserliness violates the unwritten contract which guarantees protection by the government to its individual constituents. So long as the government enables them to live where they do, Israelis in the West Bank deserve no less protection than that accorded Israelis within the country's sovereign borders.