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Israeli and Palestinians at Harvard: Part 3 of 9

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The Security Fence
Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia, the West has had and tried to impose on others international political boundaries. One of the tenants includes a general recognition of the exclusive sovereignty of each nation over its lands, people, and agents abroad. It also recognizes the responsibility for the warlike acts of any of its citizens or agents. There have been three distinct principles that have come out of the Treaty, which include 1) the principle of the sovereignty of states and the fundamental right of political self-determination; 2) the principle of (legal) equality between states; and 3) the principle of non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another state. These became influenced the UN's General Charter but they have evolved over the years.

In an attempt to define the borders of Israel, to solidify the land acquired in 1967, and to protect Israel from external attacks, the security fence/wall that has been erected over the past several years has been recognized by every Israeli that I interviewed as a success in that it has unequivocally decreased terror attacks on Israel. There is also a sense of outrage among some Israelis that the fence was not completed quickly. One Israeli woman said to me abut the fence, "does it add to the conflict? Probably, yes. Does it improve our security? Yes." Meanwhile, on the same issue, a Palestinian told me that

[first] if you want to prevent terror attacks go ahead and do it, just do it on your own land; don't go one or two kilometers inside [Palestine] and take people land and destroy their land for you, this is not on the 1967 border. Second, it is really stupid to have it because it limits access to one another (Palestinians and Israelis). Also if you want to keep people inside this wall, why do you have thousands of checkpoints? It is about controlling people. It is about everyone. And you want people to love you or not. Go ahead do build what you want, do what you want; if you want to defend yourself, just do it on your own land.

An Israeli official, Barak, told me that the delineations of the fence have not always been for security reasons:

The fact that we (Israelis and Palestinians) don't meet any more is extremely dangerous. But there is no hatred and both sides acknowledge that they have to love together. Even that Hamas who call for the destruction of Israel, are not irrational; they know how to talk to the populace and how to talk to the politicians.... The bad thing is that we don't see Palestinians any more. So there is a process of demonization on both sides... our kids never meet, we never meet, and we become so polarized... not the psychological gap is huge; people don't trust each other any more. And when there is no trust, it is much more complicated.

Meanwhile, another Israeli pointed out that 1) there are border fences between countries throughout the world and these countries still interact; 2) that the only basis for complaint is that the fence is not built on the historical line; and 3) that the two sides know but don't like each other and a cooling off period is needed.

A Jordanian student at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania named Ayman noted that in the U.S. Palestinians and Israelis get along quite well:

You know what surprised me, and this is a very interesting thing I observed. The only ones who can actually blend in with the Israelis now are the Palestinians. I've seen it at the Kennedy School; I've seen it here at Wharton (at the University of Pennsylvania), like in all communities in the U.S. They talk, they go out together, and they have social debates. So I saw some Saudi guy looking at some Palestinian talking to an Israeli wondering why they are talking to each other. But they don't realize that they have to live together on a daily basis. The hatred is not backed by anything. But they don't realize that the only ones who are living and talking to [Israelis] are the Palestinians.

In my own experience living in Saudi Arabia confirmed for me that there are people who hate Israelis who have never met a single one. In fact, the level of hate I witnessed in Saudi Arabia directed towards Israelis and Jews was unparalleled to anything I have ever seen before or since.

I asked an Israeli about the security fence/wall and I was told about the decrease in terror incidents inside Israel attribute to the fence/wall and that the "Israeli Supreme court made some decisions in favor of the Palestinians" suggesting that it was actually acceptable since Palestinians have seen justice granted to them by an Israeli judge. But Israeli Barak said "The bad thing is that we don't see Palestinians any more. So there is a constant process of demonization on both sides... our kids never meet, we never meet, and we become so polarized... not the psychological gap is huge; people don't trust each other any more. And when there is no trust, it is much more complicated." With the fence "there is no sense of urgency [to compromise] in Israel now" said one Israeli.

PAUL HEROUX previously lived and worked in the Middle East, was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, and is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations discussing the Middle East. Paul has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.