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Political fencing in Israel


Earlier this year I advocated the erection of a fence to separate the occupied territories from Israel, as an alternative to keeping the Palestinians in the occupied territories permanently in a state of almost house arrest. In the past, some Israelis advocated building a fence, but it was blocked by expansionists who did not want to admit that the occupied territories were anything but part of Israel. Patrolling this fence could be done without trampling anyone's human rights.

Now the Israeli government has begun erecting a fence. That could be a good thing, except for a handful of problems. One is that Sharon does not plan to end the curfews, the stoppages of travel between towns, the blocking of ambulances, the intentional destruction of houses, the mass arrests of all the men in a city, the grabbing of land for settlements. The fence is to be in addition to crushing Palestinians' human rights, not as a substitute.

The fence, as it is being built, does not follow the border of Israel: it includes some of the occupied territories. Some Palestinians live on the "wrong" side of the fence, which means they will be cut off from the rest of the occupied territories. Some, in Bethlehem, have been cut off from their land by the fence. It appears that Israel is intentionally expropriating their land, because the land title records were stolen while Israeli forces held the city.

At present, Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in a kind of war, with each side killing both combatants and civilians on the other side (though civilians often participate in the fighting). In that regard, the situation is symmetrical. Each side can present its murders as "retaliation" for the murders committed by the other side. If this symmetrical situation were the whole of the problem, it would be hard to blame either side especially, and we could imagine both sides getting tired of the bloodshed and agreeing to stop.

But that's not the whole situation, and the rest of it is not symmetrical. All Palestinians live under constant oppression. It is not as bad as being killed, but it is bad enough to make anyone feel like fighting. While hundreds are killed on each side, millions of Palestinians suffer oppression; the Israelis suffer from no such problem. We can't expect both sides to simply stop fighting while one oppresses the other.