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Israel's New Wailing Wall

Will Israel's wall improve security — or make the Middle East even more volatile?

April 14, 2004

Will Israel's wall improve security — or make the Middle East even more volatile?

Israel is constructing a massive wall to fence in Palestinian areas. The hope is that this will improve security — by making it more difficult for potential suicide bombers to reach their targets. But many outside — and inside — Israel are highly critical of the fence and its impact on Palestinians’ daily lives. Our Read My Lips examines what is at stake.

Who was an early supporter of a security barrier?

“We have to decide on separation as a philosophy. There has to be a clear border. Without a border demarcating lines, whoever wants to swallow 1.8 million Arabs will just bring greater support for Hamas.”
(Israel’s assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, October 1994)

Were people generally in favor of a fence?

“No one in Israel actually wanted the wall — the government didn’t want it, the army didn’t want it, the right didn’t want it.”
(Ari Shavit, Haaretz columnist, September 2003)

Did anyone predict that Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would support the building of a fence despite initial misgivings?

“When there are 70 dead Israelis, you can resist the fence — but when there are 700 dead Israelis, you will not be able to resist it.”
(Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to his successor Ariel Sharon in February 2001)

How does Israel’s government officially justify the wall?

“The fence is a temporary security measure with no political meaning and can be removed.”
(Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, January 2004)

What is the rationale behind the fence?

“The Israelis argue that the fence will actually reduce tensions, because it will no longer be necessary to have troops and checkpoints in Arab communities.”
(George Melloan, Wall Street Journal columnist, February 2004)

How will the wall affect many Palestinians?

“The fence is going to suffocate our village. The fence will turn us here into a prison.”
(Bajis Sheikh, mayor of the Palestinian town of Biddu, February 2004)

Do some Palestinians suspect an ulterior motive behind the wall?

“The wall is not about Israel’s’ security — it is about taking as much Palestinian land as possible, while caging in as many Palestinians as possible.”
(Saeb Erekat, Palestinian Authority Minister of Local Government, February 2004)

Why is Palestinian nationhood at stake?

“Construction of the wall would kill every opportunity for a viable Palestinian state.”
(Jordan’s Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, January 2004)

What message does the wall convey?

“What the wall says is that we want to have our coastline democracy — a small, sane, quiet country of our own, keeping both the Palestinians and the settlers out.”
(Ari Shavit, Haaretz columnist, September 2003)

Will Israelis also suffer from the wall?

“It will just become a new and longer Wailing Wall. But unlike the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, this wall will have people wailing on both sides.”
(Yaron Ezrahi, Israeli political theorist, September 2003)

Why is neighboring Jordan concerned about the long-term effects of the wall?

“The wall will make life impossible for Palestinians: dividing them from their work, their schools, their lands. If that happens, what options do Palestinians have? They will leave, voluntarily — or by force — for Jordan.”
(Jordan’s Foreign Minister Marwan Muashar, January 2004)

Have the Israelis become self-conscious about building the wall?

“It is clearly a desperation measure. Israelis argue that the fence will disrupt the lives of only a few thousand Arabs — but they are trying to put the best face to a horrid measure.”
(George Melloan, Wall Street Journal columnist, February 2004)

How will history judge the wall?

“The Wall going up right now in the West Bank will be the Berlin Wall of the 21st century.”
(Thomas Barnett, military strategist at the U.S. Naval War College, July 2003)

And finally, what are the rules for building any wall?

“Before I build a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out — and to whom I was like to give offense.”
(Robert Frost, U.S. poet, in “Mending Wall,” in 1914)