A friend of mine on Facebook linked to an article in HaAretz about how the Israeli government has decided to remove some of the concrete barriers that protected the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo (somehow always erroneously dubbed “East Jerusalem”) from gunfire coming from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala. During the Palestinian Terror War (incorrectly termed “the Second Intifada”) in the early part of this decade, Gilo residents were subjected to bullets through their apartment windows and along streets and sidewalks facing the wadi between Gilo and Beit Jala. They lived in terror, and to protect them, the government replaced vulnerable windows with bullet-proof glass and put up the concrete barriers between the terrorists and Jewish residents, motorists and pedestrians.
Now that I’ve got that little memory-jog out of the way, I have to admit that the brief comment exchange between my friend and an Arab friend of his raised my blood pressure. His Arab friend, like so many others, believes that the long-suffering Palestinians have been oppressed by this barrier (which is not, as he mistakenly believes, the Security Fence), and that it’s time not only this concrete buffer, but the whole Security Fence, came down.
I wish I could agree. But I even have my doubts about whether removing these admittedly unsightly concrete barricades in Gilo is wise. At the same time this protective measure is being dismantled, I can see when I drive into Jerusalem that the Security Fence is being completed along the section of Route 60 between the Gilo and Beit Jala tunnels (called, predictably, “the tunnel road”). A new concrete-and-stone wall and patrol road (part of the standard structure of the Security Fence) is going up next to this section of road, a treacherous area which was a veritable shooting gallery in the early 2000s and where many Jews lost their lives for committing the great crime of driving home from work. (Cynically, the Arabs limited their shooting at motorists from the hours of 8 PM and 11 PM—in order to make the 11 o’clock news.) If Israel is completing the Security Fence in this area (in sight of both Beit Jala and the apartments in Gilo that were shot at not so long ago), as well is in the nearby Bethlehem suburb of Wallaja, why are the concrete barriers in Gilo coming down? Obviously, while one area may be considered to be out of danger (credit being given to IDF infiltration of terrorist cells in Bethlehem), someone still thinks Route 60 is unsafe. And with all the dallying Abbas has been doing over direct talks, consulting with Egypt and Jordan, the Arab League, trying to create new conditions, and generally dragging his feet, I get the distinct impression living here that while the Netanyahu government may look poised and ready for direct talks with the Arabs, they’re not expecting much to come out of them.
I know my friend and this Arab guy don’t hate Jews categorically. My friend himself is Jewish, and his Arab friend is his friend. But while I nearly always exercise restraint when reading their naive exchanges about the Israeli news, I am nearly always struck by the fact that neither one of them has any idea what the backstory is on most of the news items they read. The Arab sees everything through the goggles of oppression and occupation, and my friend is a true humanitarian (not one of these flotilla tourists we read about) who loves and supports Israel, but doesn’t know enough to be an informed advocate. Their exchanges typically involve a news story about Israel or Israelis, my friend makes a comment in support of Israel, the Arab comes on and leaves a comment to the effect that “Too bad the Israelis aren’t that nice to the Palestinians,” or “The Israelis wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for the occupation.” And my friend, ever sensitive to his friend’s feelings and not informed enough to respond, writes some weak comment agreeing, admitting to Jewish or Israeli guilt, or pointing to some other half-baked news story as progress toward peace. Neither knows what kind of place Israel was to live in in the 1990s or the early 2000s. Neither has the slightest suspicion that the pressure being placed on Abbas to enter into direct negotiations with Netanyahu might not bear the fruit they hope to see.
Remember the last time a serious offer of peace was made by Israel to the Arabs (in 2000)? The one that was supposed to end the conflict once and for all? That would offer the Arabs everything they asked for short of the certain destruction of Israel? The one that Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat could have actually earned his prize by accepting?
So do I.