"Convenience or life," that's what it all comes down to when you talk to people like Yossi Tzur about Israel's security barrier.
Tzur, a stocky man in his forties with a neatly trimmed goatee and a pained expression permanently etched on his features, pulls a roll of seventeen photos out of his briefcase. Among them is his son, Assaf, one of the seventeen Israelis killed by a homicide bomber on a bus in Haifa almost exactly five years ago. Assaf was a 16-year-old high school student.
For Tzur, there's no question that the security barrier, which Israel's Defense Cabinet approved for construction in 2002 in response to a massive wave of Arab terrorist homicide bombings, has fulfilled its purpose. He cites the statistics he's committed to memory—a ninety percent decline in the number of terror attacks in the area where the barrier has been completed.
"I'm sorry there's inconvenience for some people because of the barrier, but if that's what it takes to save lives, how can we live without it?" he asks rhetorically.
For Arabs like Shada Hanun, a young pharmacist in the West Bank town of Nebi Elias, it's all about the inconvenience and the injustice. Standing in front of heavy blue velvet and gold drapes in an ornately furnished living room in her family's five story home, Hanun complains bitterly about the "very real suffering" that she and her family have endured as a result of the barrier. She describes how her father, a previously healthy man, was never informed that some of his land would be on the other side of the barrier. "He had a heart attack when he found out and now he suffers from angina," she claims.
Shada launches into a long explanation of how some of her father's land is blocked by the security barrier, and she's particularly irked about an olive tree that needs to be trucked over to the right side of the fence. When she's asked if she sees any connection between homicide bombers and the construction of the barrier—she answers definitively: "Absolutely not." In Hanun's opinion, Israeli authorities erected the security barrier just "to separate people." Why didn't Israel build a separation barrier before the wave of terror attacks? No answer…
If the security barrier has caused so much hardship, why not turn to the courts to request reconsideration of the route or demand compensation, Hanun is asked. Hanun looks at the questioner as if he is completely mad. "What kind of justice could we get from an Israeli judge who is asked to give a ruling against Israeli officials?" she retorts, before adding that for anyone in her village to take Israeli money as compensation would "ruin the family name."
Interesting that Hanun chose not to tell her visitors that her village head, Jalal Khalif, together with Ikhsan Hussein, the head of Azun, a neighboring village, had in fact successfully appealed to the court less than two years ago to dismantle part of the fence.
Khalif was even quoted about the successful legal action in the Haaretz daily newspaper (June 25, 2006). "I said to myself that an Israeli would not rule against another Israeli. But I didn't realize how strong the court is here. Even the court in The Hague could not have given me back my land. An Israeli court can. Only an Israeli can order another Israeli," said Khalif.
The court, in fact, ordered the Defense Ministry to dismantle 6 miles of the fence in the vicinity of Azun and Nebi Elias, east of Kalkilyah. This despite the fact that five terror suspects had been arrested in Nebi Elias in 2002 and Israeli vehicles were being stoned by Azun residents in 2006.
Could it be that Hanun's story about her father omitted a few details too? One Israeli army reservist who met Hanun was incredulous that anyone whose land was to be expropriated would not have received prior official notification. "We're a completely bureaucratic society," he noted. "Nothing gets done here without filling out a pile of forms and going through countless approval processes." In his reserve duty he had been responsible for delivering notifications to land owners in other areas of the West Bank—an unenviable task. "Only in the case of an absentee landlord or a landowner who refused to accept the papers did we fail," the reservist asserted.
Still, for others affected by the security barrier, the legalities are of lesser importance than the positive impact it has had overall. Eliezer Hasdai, head of the Alfei Menashe Regional Council, is responsible for the safety and security of the 1,800 families in his community. Like Yossi Tzur, Hasdai looks at the statistics and states: "where the barrier exists there are no terror attacks." But Hasdai is pessimistic about the future. The terrorist's inability to permeate the barrier has significantly reduced the number of homicide bombings on the western side of the fence, but in recent weeks, a rise in lethal violence against Israeli vehicles on roads on the eastern side has escalated concern. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a bus full of Alfei Menashe schoolchildren just last week leading Hasdai to predict that as the terror incidents continue "there will be suffering and then inevitably even greater security measures."
Hasdai bemoans the fact that his formerly excellent personal and business connections with Arab families like the Abu Sassas and others in Kalkilya have been curtailed because of the security barrier. Still, he is adamant that construction of the barrier was not a mistake. "After the Passover atrocity that killed so many people on Seder night in Netanya in 2002, what else could we do?"
Glumly, Hasdai recalls a recent trip to Germany. "All of a sudden I was told we were in France and we hadn't passed a single fence or border. I'm envious of that kind of situation, but it can't happen here," he sighs as he stares out of the window across Israel's narrow waist from his municipal building on a hill in Alfei Menashe down towards the Mediterranean coast
"Some of our Arab neighbors have been brainwashed with hatred," he asserts. Until that changes, Israel's security barrier will continue to be inconvenient for some and life-saving for others.