Tuesday, October 14, 2003

There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the way the world is reacting to Israel’s decision to build a security fence between the West Bank and Israel.But Israel will continue to build the fence to protect its citizens. It has no other choice.

The deadly terror attack in Haifa on the day before Yom Kippur, in which 19 more Israeli citizens died at the hands of a suicide bomber, was a powerful reminder of the threat that Israel is up against.Palestinian terrorists have no qualms about killing civilians, including children, in pursuing their larger goal of the destruction of the Jewish State.

Criticism of Israel’s security fence comes at a time when both the U.S. and Europe are seeking ways to seal their borders from unwanted outsiders. Much of this activity focuses on illegal immigrants. Images abound of the U.S. putting fences and walls in the Southwest to prevent the illegal entry of Central Americans.In Europe, for months TV cameras caught French and British authorities trying to prevent illegals from going across the Channel.

Israel’s problem however, is a much more serious one, a matter of life and death.It is not illegal immigrants but suicide bombers that Israel has to contend with. More than 800 civilians, the majority women and children, have been murdered in the last three years by terrorists. Thousands more have been injured.

The people of Israel are doing what any people would do in the face of such horror — they have demanded that their government take steps so that they can send their children to school each day without having to fear for their safety.

Why has it come down to the issue of building a fence to bring some normalcy?Partly, it’s because the world has told Israel it is wrong in every action it has taken or tried to take to deal with the violence.

Let’s remember that the Palestinian violence against Israel took place after and during a period of unprecedented efforts by Israel to bring peace. During the six months before the intifada began, Israel offered Syria almost the entire Golan Heights, unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon, and offered the Palestinians an independent state on more than 90 percent of the West Bank, dismantling 80 percent of the settlements and sharing Jerusalem.And, even after the violence began, Israel proposed even greater concessions to the Palestinians at Taba.

In other words, any rational assessment had to attribute the violence to Palestinian aggression and hatred, not to Israeli occupation or obstinacy.Yet, when Israel defended itself, whether by limited military steps or by economic moves, the world came down on her. It was as if Israel did not have the right to do what any government in the world would do in such a circumstance because Israel was guilty of some “original sin.”

To some that sin was occupation, to others it was settlements, to others it was the refugee problem, and to still others it was Israel’s very existence.Whichever “sin” one picked, it was the prism through which terrorism was too often seen; negating Israel’s moral right to defend itself.

And, so Israel finally said, let’s keep the terrorists out in the most non-military way we can: build a fence. This despite the fact that Israel’s strategy for decades has rested on the notion of a flexible, mobile military which a fence seemed to contradict. But enough was enough.

Now,however,itisbeing claimed that a fence might not be so bad if it were built along the 1967 borders.But because it goes into the West Bank, the fence is unacceptable.Ironically, the accusation has emerged that by building the fence, Israel will be pre-empting future negotiations and preventing a Palestinian state from emerging.

In fact, if Israel were forced to build the fence along the 1967 borders, the clear message would be that the Palestinians had succeeded in their minimalist goal of the Intifada: force Israel out of the territories without ending the conflict.Yasser Arafat will have been rewarded for three years of violence.

The truth is that whatever fence Israel is building could and would come down if the Palestinians were to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and negotiate peace in good faith.So, the notion that building the fence partially in the territories forecloses future negotiations is bogus. On the other hand, if Israel accedes to pressure to build along the 1967 Green Line, then any future negotiation will invariably begin with the view that Israel had already conceded the entire West Bank.

Let the focus be on Israel’s right to defend itself, if necessary by building a fence against terror, and on the need for the Palestinians to end their 55-year war against Israel, so that two states can live side-by-side in peace.

Then there will be no need for a fence.For now, Israel has no choice but to build it.

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

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