The Israeli security fence and checkpoints are often invoked as symbols of the “occupation” and Israel’s oppressive policies. But is this a fair portrayal? How should we assess this structure from the perspective of justice?
I’ve seen the security fence and it is indeed a wall, monstrous, ugly and heartbreaking. I’ve stood at its base outside Bethlehem and felt its hulk towering over me. I’ve seen it at a distance from the lovely balcony of a friend’s home in Mevaseret Zion, and even further off from a car window on the highway headed north from Tel Aviv. It’s a scar upon the landscape of Eretz Yisrael. The suffering and indignities the wall imposes on Palestinians are heartbreaking too. I’ve heard people say, “What are they complaining about? I have to go through a TSA security check every time I get on a plane.” But, of course, that’s an unfair comparison. The Israeli checkpoints can hold you up for hours, not minutes, and you’re not going to be greeted with a nod or “have a nice day” as you go through. Not that you’ll necessarily get that from the TSA either, but for Palestinians, the IDF soldiers manning the wall represent the “occupation” and a steady reminder of the broken and humiliating condition of their daily lives.
But there is an analogy between the wall and airport security. They’re both unfair and both take a toll on innocent people. But they’re also both there for a reason. I’d rather endure the TSA screeners than a plane hijacking, or worse, and so it is with the wall. It is monstrous, ugly, and heartbreaking, but not as heartbreaking as the sight of a bombed-out Egged bus on a street in Jerusalem, or a wall plaque inside the Sbarro restaurant listing the names of those killed in a terrorist explosion. It disturbs me that people call for the wall to be removed, or invoke the checkpoint as the symbol of oppression, with absolutely no reference to why the wall is there in the first place, as if everything was just fine until one day the Israelis decided out of thin air to wall in their hapless neighbors. (Indeed much anti-Israel sentiment thrives by completely ignoring historical context.) The wall has actually succeeded in drastically reducing suicide bomb attacks throughout Israel. Taking the bus or hanging out in a restaurant in Jerusalem no longer seems like an act of bravado, as it did just a few years back.
So, is the wall just? I was once discussing the concept of just war with my colleague Rabbi Paul Saal, and he mentioned a statement by Elie Wiesel, who prefers to think in terms of necessary war. No war is just, but some wars may be necessary. Is the Israeli wall just? No. But is it necessary? Apparently so, at least for now. But my hope is not for the wall’s endurance, but for its eventual obsolescence. May it come speedily, even in our days.