Drive around Jerusalem—or many other parts of Israel—and you will soon come face-to-face with one of the most visible symbols of the current Middle East crisis. In most areas the “wall” is really just a high-tech fence, while in others it is a massive concrete barrier that cuts across the countryside like a giant scar. (This picture, taken near Bethlehem, visualizes the imposing nature of the barrier in some places.)
But is this fence/wall a symbol of racial apartheid and exclusion . . . or is it a symbol of protection against an implacable foe? The fact that a fence/wall is being built is undisputed; but the purpose for the structure is hotly debated. The Palestinians call it the “racial segregation wall” or the “apartheid wall,” while most Israelis call it the “security fence” or “separation fence.”
So why is the fence/wall being built?
Some claim the barrier is being built as a way for Israeli settlers to gobble up additional portions of land that rightfully belong to the Palestinians. But this view clashes with the historical facts.
The concept of a barrier was first suggested by Yitzak Rabin, the Israeli leader who was assassinated for trying to make peace with Yasser Arafat. Rabin proposed the idea of a separation barrier in 1992 after an Israeli teenager was killed in Jerusalem. Two years later, after a series of violent incidents in Gaza and the West Bank, Rabin stated more clearly his intentions for a barrier. “This path must lead to a separation, though not according to the borders prior to 1967. We want to reach a separation between us and them. We do not want a majority of the Jewish residents of the state of Israel, 98% of whom live within the borders of sovereign Israel, including a united Jerusalem, to be subject to terrorism.“ The purpose for the barrier—as envisioned by Rabin—was for protection, not apartheid.
Since the beginning of construction in 2003, there have been several changes to the exact route of the security barrier. As originally conceived, the barrier roughly paralleled the “Green Line”—the 1949 armistice line that divided Israel from the West Bank of the Kingdom of Jordan. However the barrier did diverge in several places to incorporate key Israeli settlements in the West Bank. These variations originally included about 7% of the land that was on the Arab side of the Green Line.
In 2004 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that a portion of the route violated the rights of Palestinians and mandated that those portions be rerouted. In 2006 a new route was approved that left fewer Palestinians, and less West Bank land, on the Israeli side of the barrier.
So what do we need to know?
First, we need to realize that the 1949 armistice line (the Green Line) was not intended to be the final boundary for Israel. It was to serve as an interim border until a final peace treaty was reached. Unfortunately, no such treaty was ever signed.
Second, we need to realize that Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the 1967 Six-Day War, which began when three countries (Egypt, Syria, and Jordan) threatened to “push the Jews into the sea.” After the war Israel offered to exchange the land it had captured in exchange for peace with her Arab neighbors. That offer was rejected.
Third, we need to acknowledge that the fence/wall has imposed hardships on some Palestinians. Some private land was appropriated for the project. And the barrier has restricted access from the West Bank into Israel . . . and even between some villages in the West Bank.
Fourth, we also need to acknowledge that the barrier has resulted in a tremendous drop in terrorist attacks within Israel. Since the beginning of construction, terrorist incidents in Israel have almost been completely eliminated. This is Israel’s stated purpose for the barrier, and it seems to be working.
What’s the bottom line?
Simply put, the barrier is saving Israeli lives . . . but at the cost of making life more difficult for those living on the other side. So what can be done? Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who later emigrated to Israel and entered politics, expressed the dilemma for Israelis and Palestinians.
Our government understood that there were three options to maintain an acceptable level of security for our citizens. The first was to wage a total war against Palestinian terror using weapons that would claim many innocent Palestinian lives. The second was to keep our reserves constantly mobilized to defend the country. The third option was to build the security fence. Had the Palestinian Authority become a partner in fighting terror, as it was obliged to do under all the agreements that it signed, none of these options would have become necessary.
I believe Christians need to respond to the current situation in two specific ways. First, we need to become better informed about the history and purpose for this barrier. To that end I recommend you click on the following links. For a Jewish perspective, read Israel's Security Fence. For a relatively neutral perspective, read Israel's West Bank Barrier. And to view the issue from a Palestinian perspective, read Denying Palestinians Free Movement. Read each article and decide for yourself which one best presents all the relevant facts.
Second, I believe we need to pray for the people who live on both sides of the barrier. Ask God to continue thwarting terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. And ask Him to give those designing and building the barrier a full measure of wisdom and compassion to construct it in a way that gives Palestinians the greatest possible freedom and ease of access within the West Bank.
Finally, remember this. The barrier is not being built to fence in the Palestinian people; it’s being constructed to keep out terrorists. And it is working—but at a great cost to many Palestinians with no connection to terrorism. Like Natan Sharansky, I blame the Palestinian Authority. Israel was forced to build the barrier because the Palestinian Authority failed to fulfill its promises to fight terrorism. I don’t blame Israel. One key role for government is to protect its citizens—and that’s why Israel finally decided to build the barrier.