The good fence?

Israel is surrounding itself with fences – under pressure and with no thought or planning process.

West Bank security fence 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
West Bank security fence 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Afew days ago, Israel marked the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the war initially called “Operation Peace for the Galilee,” now known as the “First Lebanon War,” since it was recently followed by another one. With the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, the concept of the “Good Fence,” through which Israel had tried to build good relations with Lebanon, collapsed.
The term “good fence” is, of course, an oxymoron, since fences by definition separate and divide, but in the glory days of its ties with the Christians and the villages in South Lebanon, Israel had hoped to use the fence as a means toward co-existence. Indeed, from 1976, for the next 16 years there was a steady flow of workers and agricultural goods for export that passed through the fence from Lebanon to Israel, and six medical stations were set up to help the South Lebanese. But since 2000, following the IDF’s hasty withdrawal from Lebanon, a new fence was built – a security barrier, and anyone who got close to it was shot. Definitely not a good fence.
It is interesting to look back on how Israel, against its will, is surrounding itself with fences that are getting higher, more fortified and more electronic.
The fence serves as an ideal means from which to learn about the decision-making processes in Israel and the shift from a pre-emptive and proactive security concept to a protective and defensive one. The prime example is the new 240 km. security fence between Israel and Egypt, costing NIS 1.5 billion, which is supposed to keep out terrorists, illegal workers and smugglers.
In the early days of the settlement movement, the idea of the “tower and blockade” was developed. The first thing that every new settlement put up was a building, which could not be destroyed according to Ottoman law, on top of which was a watchtower and around which was a blockade, like the Tel Hai fence.
That was all well and good for the state in the making. But when the state was established, one of the only states in the world surrounded on all sides by hostile borders, it made a point of not hiding behind fences. The security concept was to mark the border with stones or a symbolic fence, maintaining the IDF’s option to cross in and out as needed.
The general consensus was that “they” should be the ones to fence themselves in, not us.
This was also a way of challenging our sense of isolation in the region.
However, it soon become apparent that Israel was deluding itself and that fences were a necessity, and moreover, they were a political security statement.
Thus, following the victory in 1967, Israel set up the first security fence along the Jordan border in the Beit Shean Valley and the Jordan Valley, to prevent border crossings. This was the first fence to include electronic components. It was considered a great success and still presents a formidable obstacle to such infiltrations.
For the same reasons, the next fence was constructed some 30 years later, the separation fence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, once again out of necessity and under the pressure of the suicide bombers entering Israel.
But there was also a new thought behind it – the fence would shape anew our eastern border and would delineate the final border between Israel and the Palestinians.
The construction of this fence was preceded by widespread public controversy. It was opposed by both Left and Right. The right wing contended that we should fight terror with military might and not fence ourselves in, but actually they were afraid of the political statement that the fence would make and by the fact that some settlements would be left out.
The left wing believed that any fence which deviated from the Green Line would anyway be dismantled once a final agreement was reached and so it was preferable to wait. Eventually, this strange left-right coalition broke up, the fence was built and significantly limited terrorism from Judea and Samaria. Typically, only twothirds of the planned 790 km.
fence were completed, based on the Israeli principle: don’t put off till tomorrow what you can put of till the day after.
And we were still left with the 240 km. border with Egypt, the peaceful border. We were hung up on the idea that there was no need for a fence along this border. But the fickle Middle Eastern reality imposed another fence on Israel. First there was a wave of illegal workers from Africa for whom Israel hasn’t yet found an appropriate solution.
At the outset, our leaders dismissed the idea with their characteristic prattle and by the time they got down to business, over 60,000 illegal workers had found their way into Israel, placing on our shoulders one of the most complex humanitarian and social issues which we have faced, and which we cannot seem to resolve.
As if that is not enough, the new political reality in Egypt and the Beduin takeover of Sinai have total changed the southern arena. With great concern, Israel observes the rise of terrorist activity from Sinai, or indirectly from Gaza, taking advantage of this permeable front.
The IDF must now reinforce the fence, which is already overloaded with electronic surveillance devices, by deploying an unprecedented number of ground forces.
With the construction of the fence, the dream of a true and lasting peace between Israel and Egypt has dissipated and black clouds are casting the shadow of concern over this dangerous arena.
It is only a matter of time before Israel sets up a similar fence on the border with Jordan.
It is already clear that blocking the Sinai axis will redirect the wave of illegal workers to Jordan, what is known in the military lexicon as the “T-axis,” and we should already start planning, and even building it, despite the predictable protests from Jordan.
Perhaps, for a change, we will pre-empt the expected events rather than just reacting to them as we usually do.
In the summer of 2012, all of Israel’s land borders – over 1,000 km. – are surrounded by fences. From one fence to the next we get better, each one utilizes the newest, most advanced technology, not to mention the costs. The story of the security fences is a microcosm of our politicalsecurity history. It is a perfect reflection of how Israel is isolating itself behind fences and is forced, against its will and under pressure, to invest huge amounts in defense and protection.
Moreover, with the advent of the fence, the hopes for open borders and a free flow of traffic with our neighbors, including the Palestinians, have been shelved. The fence is the outstanding monument to the lost dream and to the new reality, with which we will have to live for years to come.
Israel is surrounding itself with fences – under pressure and with no thought or planning process. Together with the construction of the new fences, the vision of peace and of a new Middle East is fading away.
The writer is a Kadima MK.