Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Another Wall, 15 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Now this one is especially interesting from a German point-of-view.
I have lived next to the fortified border between East and West Germany for 25 years, so it was kind of obvious to me that
a) one can build a border that is cheap yet almost impossible to overcome, and therefore
b) I suggested already in 1995 in several letters to the Israeli media to hire the unemployed East German border engineers for a year or two to separate Israel proper from the territories, at least as long as it is necessary to cool the fighting parties down.
As we have seen in Germany, such a border must not be permanent and is no contradiction to a negotiated settlement. Well, somehow I was not taken all that serious at the time, but here I am, 9 years later, deeply satisfied that finally an Israeli government has the guts to do the sensible thing and separate us from the lowtech terrorism emerging on a daily bases from the PA territory.
Is the wall, or rather fence - because that is what it is for 90% of the total length - legal or fair? Does it bring hardship upon part of the Palestinian population? Complicated questions with a simple answer: I couldn't care less, at this point in time.
The only relevant question from this side of the fence is: Does it save lives? And here the answer is a crystal clear YES! And, believe it or not, it saves both Israeli and Palestinian lives. Israelis are not being blown up in busses and restaurants, while the Palestinian suicide bombers have a hard time to find a worthy target to blow up, so they stay alive and their families don't suffer Israeli retaliation for another day, and another one, and another one. And maybe one day they'll wake up and realize that there are better career moves than to explode at the entrance to a disco.
Not many people know this, but there are at any given moment about 300 Palestinian volunteers willing to turn themselves into living bombs. The fence may save most of them eventually. So this is what the fence is all about: It buys all of us, on both sides of it, time to stay alive, day after day, one at a time. Welcome to Middle Eastern realities.
In that context it is no wonder that nobody here gives a damn about the absurd recommendation of the International Court of Justice. From the Israeli perspective the fence is a must, like it or not. And from the Palestinian perspective, too, although not too many Palestinians see it that way, I have to admit - yet. Once the fence is completed, things will settle down and when things settle down, blood returns from the muscles to the brain, and so maybe finally we can start talking business again.
Since I promised to write about the daily life here, I want to add something you haven't read in the international press. Besides the already very clear impact on the security situation in large parts of the country, the fence has another very significant effect: It reduces incidents of car theft, break-in into homes and businesses by over 40% overall, and even more so in the parts of the country where construction has been finished.
The explanation is obvious. Most of those stolen cars disappeared in the West Bank. The new ones were turned into official PA vehicles (especially fancy 4x4 very appreciated by PA security and police (!) officials of all sorts), or sold at 5-10% of the real value to whoever can afford it. The not so new ones were disassembled and sold as spare parts back to Israel, where many cheap garages used those parts. During the happy times of the Oslo accords, when the border to the PA areas had more holes than a same-sized Swiss cheese, close to 46,000 vehicles were stolen in Israel in the record year of 1997! (See http://www.police.gov.il/statistica_umipui/statistica/xx01b_09bd_stat.asp for official police statistics.)
This unbelievable situation could only exist, because the Israeli government decided not to do anything meaningful against it, officially because there were not enough resources for that - there never are, by the way. Essentially the common Israeli financed the complete PA car pool indirectly via his or her extremely high car insurance payments. It was not only my impression that our politicians didn't want to step onto PA toes and rather tolerate the illegal flow of wealth into the PA coffers. You can maybe call this an indirect peace tax.
What has happened since? Well, the silk gloves are off, the fence is progressing and car theft was down to 25,000 cars in 2003. Still very, very high by any standard, but there can be no doubt about the trend, can there?
By the way, I lived five years in Hong Kong, which has a population just like Israel, about 6 Million people. Believe me, had there been 46,000 car thefts in that city in any one year, the world would have witnessed an uprising of the local Chinese masses. Which only serves to prove the point - you have to be a little mad to live in Israel...