Photo: Shalom Bar Tal
The first instinctive Israeli response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the whole of Israel needs to be surrounded by a fence is as follows: Oy vey, that’s the last thing we need.
Such response would be completely understandable. Every Israeli child, and even every Jewish child anywhere in the world, has been born with images of fences. These are the fences of the death camps in World War II.
These images are automatically associated with the glances of the people behind the fences; the look in the eyes of the people who are walking to the gas chambers and to the crematoria. Hence, the proposal to surround the entire country with a fence initially elicits a reaction of fear and rejection; a sense of a ghetto or a fortress state.
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However, on second thought, after all almost every community established here during the British Mandate surrounded itself, first and foremost, with a wall and watchtower. Even before they built the first roof, they already had a fence and a tower, in order to defend the community against Arab attackers.
So what’s wrong with that? After all, we have been praising these early walls and watchtowers. We wrote songs about them. We wrote plays about them. The fence and watchtower became one of the most prominent Israeli symbols in the history of the nascent state.
We wanted to be like AthensAnd on third thought: What’s all the fuss about? After all, by now almost the entire country is already fenced in, hiding behind electronic barriers. In the Golan Heights, vis-à-vis Syria, we have a fence; there is also a fence on the Lebanon border; in the Jordan Rift Valley, vis-à-vis Jordan, there is also a fence; the Gaza Strip is surrounded by a fence.
There is also a fence (and partly a wall) that extends for dozens of kilometers and separates Judea and Samaria from the State of Israel. So, what’s the big deal? Now they shall be building a fence that extends hundreds of kilometers along the Israeli border with Egypt, and the job will be complete – the whole land will be fenced in.
But maybe that’s the crux of the issue: We were hoping that at least one border will really become a border of peace; a frontier without a fence, a sort of outlet for a state that is being choked by fences. Yet even this small and unrealistic dream is now being taken away from us.
And on a final note: This is what is so sad. A whole country lives behind fences, surrounded on all directions by oceans of enemies. The thought that this is our destiny could drive a normal person crazy. And so, we are seeing the establishment of the new, modern-day Sparta here; yet we so much wanted to be like Athens.