Monday, August 25, 2003

What would the U.S. government do if suicide bombers were constantly entering this country and blowing themselves up on public buses, at local restaurants and in community parks, murdering hundreds of Americans?

For Israelis, this isn’t a hypothetical question. Over the past 3 years, the Israeli public has been forced to deal with an ongoing and deliberate campaign of terrorism in which all Israelis — Jews and Arabs, young and old, men, women and children — are considered legitimate targets by the Palestinian suicide bombers. This sad reality was demonstrated again last Tuesday in the horrific attack on an Israeli bus in Jerusalem.

Constructing a security fence, thereby creating a physical barrier between Israel and the terrorists in the West Bank, is one of many defensive measures adopted by the government of Israel in order to combat the infiltration of suicide bombers into Israeli cities. The concept is both simple and tested. Despite the fact that Gaza is the center for both Hamas and Islamic Jihad — the two terrorist organizations most active in carrying out suicide attacks against Israelis — there have been practically no successful infiltrations of suicide bombers from this region into the Israeli heartland. The reason for this is that a security fence separates Gaza from Israel. This security fence acts as a shield, preventing access for terrorists. As the reality on the ground has proved in Gaza, by transferring this security measure to the West Bank it will be possible to substantially reduce the number of terrorist infiltrations into Israel.

The security fence is partially complete and is already producing positive results. In those parts of Israel now protected by the fence, we have experienced a dramatic reduction in terrorist infiltrations. The city of Hadera is a key example. Situated in the heart of Israel, Hadera and its surroundings have suffered a significant series of murderous suicide bombings coming from the West Bank against public transportation centers and shopping malls, resulting in horrific casualties. But since the construction began on the northern sector of the security fence, which shields the region of Hadera, there has been a substantial period of tranquility. This same improvement is true for other Israeli cities and communities now safeguarded by the fence. Can anyone seriously argue against the position that the security fence is making Israeli citizens safer?

The security fence will not only save lives, but it can save the political process. Today, terrorist groups have the ability to hold that process hostage because of their capability to conduct these devastating acts. The creation of this security fence, coupled with decisive action by the Palestinian leadership to dismantle the terrorist organizations, will neutralize this ongoing threat to the peace process.

Some have called this security fence a wall. This is true in only two small areas of the security fence where concrete is used in order to prevent sniper fire into Israel. The security fence is primarily comprised of wire and electronic devices used for surveillance purposes, similar to that which Israel has on its border with Lebanon, which has also proved to be an effective measure against incoming attacks on Israel.

While any inconvenience to the local population, such as a farmer having to take an alternate route to his field, is clearly problematic to those individuals involved, it must be put into perspective. In no way can an equal comparison be drawn between these inconveniences and the many lives that will be saved as a direct result of this project.

Israel is working closely with the United States in order to minimize any negative impact that construction may cause on the Palestinian population in the designated areas. However, preventing these terrorist atrocities that have become all too frequent over the years must be the dominant factor in any consideration of public policy.

Surely, if suicide bombers were constantly entering the United States, the American public would demand that its leadership take every necessary measure to protect their lives. Why should Israelis expect any different from their leaders?

Daniel Ayalon is Israel’s Ambassador to the United States

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