Israel rightly builds fence to save its citizens' lives

November 11, 2003|By Aron U. Raskas

LIFE IN the suburbs can be difficult. Nice neighborhoods often find themselves abutting busy expressways. Noise pollution and gas fumes disturb day-to-day life. Serene communities become prey to criminal intruders.

Fortunately, society finds solutions to these problems. Governments appropriate land to build walls alongside highways to shield nearby homes. Communities put themselves behind gates to stave off criminal elements. In the American Southwest, the government has erected hundreds of miles of fence, patrolled regularly by federal agents, in an effort to prevent infiltrators from committing unlawful acts in this country.

Nobody challenges their right to do these things.

The need for such walls and barriers is readily understood, accepted and sanctioned by governments and citizens alike, wherever they are built. Everywhere, it seems, except when a fence is built in Israel to protect Israeli citizens.

For Israelis, pollution, stolen bicycles and broken car windows are the least of their worries. Their real and ever-present fears are that terrorists will burst into their bedrooms and spray their children with machine-gun fire, that a suicide bomber will set off explosives in a restaurant they are patronizing, or that a sniper will line them up in his scope as they drive to work and pick them off from a nearby Arab town. That is why Israelis build fences.

Since September 2000, about 6,000 Israelis have been brutally maimed or injured in terrorist attacks. Nearly 900 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian snipers and suicide bombers. This means that more than one in every 10,000 Israeli civilians has been killed in a terrorist act. Small wonder, then, that in a recent poll, 75 percent of Israelis stated a belief that they or a family member would become a victim of terrorism.

Clearly no nation would tolerate such atrocities in its midst. It is therefore obscene for any nation to complain when Israel - after exhausting every other rational solution - constructs a fence alongside its highways and communities to shield its citizens from the terror and mayhem that have caused more bloodshed, tragedy and grief than any other society would care to imagine.

Americans, safely ensconced on two fronts by the world's largest oceans and bordered on the other two sides by friendly democracies, find it necessary and acceptable to take extraordinary military measures to fight terrorist regimes half a world away. For Israelis, those regimes are on the other side of the road.

About 70 percent of Israel's population and 80 percent of its industrial base are situated in the coastal plain that abuts the West Bank. Time and again, Palestinians have slipped across this expanse to wreak mayhem in Israeli towns. Too many times, Israelis driving home or to work have been shot by snipers standing in Palestinian villages. None of this is difficult to understand: Those towns are often just hundreds of feet from Israeli roads and population centers.

Imagine driving down the Jones Falls Expressway and the Pepsi sign has been replaced by one for Hamas. Or living in Towson with the Taliban on the other side of Interstate 695. That's precisely what Israelis face each and every day.

Israel's fence creates a barrier that will prevent murderous infiltrators from reaching Israel to inflict death and destruction. Indeed, there is precedent for this. Since Israel erected a similar fence in Gaza in 1994, no terrorist has succeeded in penetrating Israel from the Gaza Strip to execute a terror attack.

For a limited stretch, the fence turns into a wall. It parallels Israel's newest highway, a modern toll road running through the heart of the Jewish state. As I drove down that road last week, I could readily read the signs and see the flags in the neighboring Palestinian villages. It is fearful to imagine just how readily the terrorist snipers had been able to view their victims before the wall created a barrier of life.

The fence has been constructed in the disputed territories to protect Israelis who live there as well. The fence is not a political border; that will be set through negotiations. Until then, the fence will protect Jewish lives.

The Israeli government complied with its legal obligations in appropriating the land necessary for the fence, just as any local municipality would do in exercising its powers of eminent domain. It offered compensation to Palestinians whose land has been affected by the fence and has taken all steps possible to minimize disruption to Palestinian life.

No democracy has a perfect solution to terrorism. Yet Israel's fence is a measured, restrained and appropriate defensive response to this unremitting scourge. It is to be admired, not condemned.

Aron U. Raskas, a Baltimore attorney, is a member of the Public Policy Committee of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

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