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Israel’s Good Fences Against Bad Neighbors

In response to Rabbi Eliyahu Stern’s blog post criticizing former President Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” “God’s Politics” guest blogger Jeff Halper, an Israeli peace activist, defended Carter’s perspective on Israeli policies toward Palestinians and his use of the term “apartheid.”

Read Virtual Talmud blogger Rabbi Susan Grossman’s reply to Halper:


Commenting on Jimmy Carter’s newest book, Jeff Halper says “apartheid” is “exactly what Israel is doing, from annexing its huge settlement blocs to imprisoning the Palestinians behind 26-foot concrete walls and electrified fences. I don’t even see what the ‘controversy’ is about. Just go to the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and open your eyes.”

I have been to the West Bank and Gaza and have seen the security barrier with my own eyes, several times. I traveled with Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and with Rabbis for Human Rights, on whose advisory board I sit.


The electrified fences Halper refers do not deliver shocks to those who touch them, as one might infer from Halper’s words. They do not harm anyone touching them. They are electrified with sensors which inform the army whenever someone tries to climb over them.

The walls comprise only short sections of the overall security barrier, most often to block Palestinian snipers from lethally shooting passengers in Israel proper driving in cars or putting their children to sleep in their bedrooms.

The barrier would not be necessary if Palestinians had in fact fulfilled the commitment they made to then-President Carter to renounce violence for negotiations. It is a shanda (a shame) that Carter, who could do so much good as an honest broker for peace in the region, sold out to become a lobbyist for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who never could make the transition from terrorist to statesman and thus led his people to perdition instead of peace and statehood.


Now that chaos reigns in the territories, the situation is even worse.

The reality is that since the security barrier went up, deaths from terrorism are down in Israel. Simply put: The barrier makes it much more difficult for suicide bombers to get through to kill innocents.

It is true that the security barrier has created hardship for many Palestinians. It is also true that Israel’s own courts have required the army to restructure the barrier to ease up some of those hardships. (That is not what would happen in an apartheid state.) But the bottom line is, if we are weighing hardship against loss of life, Judaism would come down on the side of saving lives.

As Alan Dershowitz points out in his fine article in The Boston Globe, if we really want to identify apartheid nations in the Middle East, we should look to the Arab nations that ban citizenship to non-Muslims. In contrast, Israel provides its Arab citizens with civil rights, electoral representation, and the full protection of the courts, which often support their causes.


There certainly are inequities in Israel, as there are here in the United States on race and class issues. But that is not the same thing as practicing apartheid. To imply Israel is doing so is simply slanderous. Worse, it actually undermines lasting peace by continuing to polarize the parties rather than bring them together.

Israel is not an ideal society, and the security barrier is far from the solution many of us, on the left or center, would prefer, let alone need, if there were a partner willing to commit to peace on the other side of the wall.

The cement slabs that are shown in the photo in Halper’s blog post are from Abu Dis. They sit on a roadway. When I asked why, I was told it was because they could be set up without causing destruction to area homes and because they can be easily removed!


The hope is that they can be removed quickly, as soon as the threat of terrorism ends. But that will not be the case until enough Palestinian people in the territories decide they are better off living in peace next to a Jewish State that they are willing to elect leaders who will broker and enforce such a peace. Until then, good fences remain necessary to protect against bad, i.e., deadly, neighbors.

–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

Comments read comments(11)
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wilford martin

posted December 22, 2006 at 1:42 pm

I am African American and I am from the deep south during the 60s. This is APARTHEID. Carter is right.

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posted December 22, 2006 at 2:44 pm

You mention Abu Dis. I have also been there. The wall there, as many places, divides a Palestinian neighborhood–not Israel from Palestine. You acknowledge “hardships” that Israeli courts sought to ease. It seems those courts did not mind that people in that neighborhood have had their homes separated from their jobs and schools. If it was only to keep Israelis safe while “driving in cars or putting their children to sleep in their bedrooms” why does it annex so much Palestinian land around illegal settlement blocs and in strategic points in East Jerusalem? I’m also curious about what will keep Palestinians safe while “driving in cars or putting their children to sleep in their bedrooms” if they happen to be near a suspected terrorist whom Israel decides to extrajudicially execute by firing a missile that kills them and everyone nearby, as has happened repeatedly. I suppose the Israeli courts’ recent decision will “ease” that “hardship.” Apartheid. Annexation. Assassination. Let’s speak in clear and accurate terms. Israel has the right to exist, but not to oppress. Other Arab nations’ injustices are no excuse.

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charle johnson

posted December 22, 2006 at 7:46 pm

0ppress? It is VERY clear (to me) that Israel is merely trying to exist. It is outnumbered by 100 million to 1..and some folk worry about apartheid, annexation, etc. It only annexes when foolish enemies invade God’s chosen. A comparison to apartheied in S A. and the practice(?) in Israel is fatuous and fatwitted. cj

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Jeff Halper

posted December 25, 2006 at 9:04 am

The problem, as evidenced by Rabbi Grossman s reply to me, is the willingness of our spiritual leaders to justify fundamental violations of human rights in the name of Jewish lives and their refusal to hold Israel the world s fourth largest nuclear power and an Occupying Power accountable for its actions. What is missing in Rabbi Grossman s reply? Occupation. NEVER does she or her colleagues or (need I say it) Dershowitz mention the O word. She does not apparently does not see the overarching political context of our conflict with the Palestinians. There is absolutely no reason why this conflict should continue. The Palestinians accepted the two-state idea already in 1988, well before Oslo. To lay the blame for the failure of the peace process at Arafat s feet, to accuse him of turning to terrorism, is simply outrageous. During the seven years of Oslo, as we were supposedly negotiating the status of the land, Jerusalem, a Palestinian state and all the rest, Israel DOUBLED its settler population, effective foreclosing any viable Palestinian state. What would you have counseled the Palestinians to do accept apartheid, not resist? Their offer of a two-state solution is still on the table this is the gist of the Prisoners Document of all the Palestinian factions but Olmert is talking convergence/realignment, annexing eight major settlement blocs to Israel, a permanent regime of apartheid in my view. And even the Arab League in 2002 offered Israel peace, recognition and regional integration in return for the Occupied Territories. Rabbi Grossman also couches her reply in security. The issue is not security Israel could have had that 20 years ago if it had relinquished its occupation; its Israeli claims to the Land. NOTHING Israel has done in the Occupied Territories not the expropriation of half the Palestinians land, not the building of 300 settlements and outposts, not the demolition of 18,000 Palestinian homes, not the uprooting of a million fruit and olive trees, not the construction of Israeli-only highways to link the settlements irreversibly into Israel and not the construction of the Separation Barrier with its convoluted route deep in Palestinian territory can be explained by security. Security comes from peace; it cannot be acquired by force and repression. Rabbi Grossman does not relate to the wider issues of occupation and apartheid, but relates solely to the security barrier whose official name is the Separation Barrier because again its main purpose is to separate Jews from Arabs, as the Israeli government itself says. Doesn t that sound like apartheid to you? And she is simply wrong about the wall parts. Except in tiny areas like Qalqilia and Tulkarm, the Wall does NOT separate Palestinians from Israelis but, rather, Palestinians from Palestinians. It is built INSIDE Palestinian communities where Israelis never see it. Like in Abu Dis, where its separates grandparents from children, pupils fromn school, patients from doctors, customers from stores. So where is the sniping part? That s just nonsense. In many places such as Ma aleh Adumim the wall is actually LOWER than the road. No, the point of the Wall is to mark borders, as Foreign Minister Tsipi Livi confessed a few months ago. Security might be a nice by-product (was the reduction in terrorism due to the Barrier or to the year and half cease-fire declared unilaterally by Hamas?), but it is NOT the main purpose. To call what we are doing to the Palestinians hardship and then to justify it as saving Jewish lives is truly a shanda. To call people resisting oppression yes, OUR oppression bad neighbors, shows to where we have descended as Jews defending indefensible Israeli policies of occupation and now apartheid. Its not Jewish lives OR human rights; its human rights for EVERYONE as a guarantee of Jewish lives.

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Jeff Halper

posted December 27, 2006 at 10:58 pm

Tanya Reinhart, Professor Emeritus, Tel Aviv University: Part of the reason why the pro-Israeli lobbies [in the U.S.] have been so successful…is the massive lack of knowledge about what is really happening in Israel-Palestine. However, matters are even worse: it is not so much innocent ignorance that accounts for the unwillingness of most of the American Jewish community to help save Israel from itself, for by now there has been considerable coverage even in the super-cautious American news media of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and to its own best interests. Thus, the real issue is the willed ignorance the psychological need not to know of our community. The price to the Palestinians, to the Israelis, and to American national security is already unbearable, and it may well soon become apocalyptic.

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Steve K

posted December 27, 2006 at 11:47 pm

You can’t deflect the actions of Israel onto other nation-states. Israel answers for Israel’s actions, not for Iran’s.

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Chris Black

posted December 28, 2006 at 3:56 am

“Willed ignorance” should be “willful ignorance”. Many political ends are served by keeping the conciences of Americans in slumber. The cost is borne by common Iraqis and Palestinians [not the terrorists]. There was a similar willful ignorance in the 1930’s about events in Europe, the cost of which was borne by common Jews. Acquisition of political power releases myriad rationalizations [for suspension of moral imperative] with names like security, pragmatism and opportunity. What end is served by suppressing reportage of events in Iraq and Palestine? How chilling that the suppression occurs from the inside.

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posted December 28, 2006 at 6:36 pm

Good fences for bad neighbors. Hmm. To be a good fence, it would have to be placed on the owner’s property; not imposed on the neighbor’s property. The Israeli fence cuts through Palestinian land cutting off Palistinians from their work, fields, and family. Moreover, has Israel even declared a border? They say the fence wasn’t a land grab, so where’s the official Israeli border? For Palestinians to be considered a neighbor, wouldn’t there have to be a border between Israel and the rest of historic Palestine? A good neighbor stays on his side and a good fence is the one he builds on his side. The Israeli fence suggests they choose to remain uncommited about what belongs to the Palestinians, if indeed they think any of historical Palestine belongs to the Palestinians. What do Israeli children’s schoolbooks teach is Israeli land?

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posted January 22, 2007 at 7:25 pm

And what do Arab and Palestinian textbooks show is Israeli land? Can you show me one Arab map with Israel on it? Why do Arab governments publish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

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the thinker

posted June 13, 2007 at 1:41 am

Follow history folks! Do you remember Jacob’s wells? He settled on land and dug wells for water then thesons of Ishmael – illegitimate son of Abraham because Sarah could not have children and told him to have a child by an Egyptian handmaiden) would come in and want the well and land.
Note that Abraham had Isaac by his wife Sarah because God promised it and it was God that preferred his approved child, Isaac, as Abraham’s lineage. Perhaps if the handmaiden and her son had not made fun of Isaac and ticking off Abraham, they would not have been kicked out of the camp. They still claim the same father Abraham just as the Jews, but they have struggled over inheritance for several thousand years.
When the Israelites returned to their land in the early 1900’s, there was no feud. As a matter of fact there were Arabs, Jews, and Christians in Israel. It was undeveloped and even the Arabs did not care for it except for having the Mosque of Omar (where Abraham supposedly was buried) and a few nomads camped around the area.
The Jews turned the deserts into productive land and discovered resources like oil on the land. Naturally, the Arabs want the land back now. The worse thing is that now there are Arabs who want Israel annihilated. (PS They also desire that anyone who is not Muslim, especially Christians, convert to Islam or die. You may not believe me – just read the Koran and see their intolerance to anything but Islam. Fortunately, most Muslims do not follow all the Koran and would rather peacefully subdue the earth.
I hate no one but I do not hide my head in the sand and say what is really is not so. Personal freedom, especially freedom of religion, will impact these people. Perhaps some day they will at least respect people that do not agree with them or follow their belief system.

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John Morris

posted June 28, 2007 at 4:44 pm

How “rich” a discourse if both sides were to tell the complete truth!

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