Good Fences

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (hurrah!) has prompted an absurd publicity stunt inviting comparisons between, on the one hand, that infamous barrier to travel from Communism to the Free World and, on the other, the Israeli security fence (in Hebrew, גדר הביטחון or Geder HaBitakhon), a necessary barrier to terrorist incursions from the Palestinian West Bank into Israel. So, let’s compare.

  1. The Berlin Wall: designed to keep people in who wanted to escape from tyranny to freedom, built as a direct response to emigration from the Communist East to the democratic West (which welcomed the refugees as asylum seekers). The security fence: designed to keep out those wishing to commit heinous acts of mass-murder, built as a direct response to infiltration of democratic Israel (which understandably does not welcome its attackers) by suicide bombers coming from abroad.
  2. The Berlin Wall was, as intended, an effective impediment to freedom of travel: According to Wikipedia, “Between 1950 and 1988, around 4 million East Germans migrated to the West. 3.454 million of them left between 1950 and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.” By contrast, the security fence has been, as intended, a highly effective (if imperfect) impediment to slaughter: According to Wikipedia, “Between 2000 and July 2003 (completion of the ‘first continuous segment’ [of the security fence]), 73 suicide bombings were carried out from the West Bank. However, from August 2003 to the end of 2006, only 12 attacks were carried out.” The Berlin Wall was a desperate attempt, on the part of dictators, to help save Communism from collapsing entirely, as it eventually did. The security fence is a prudent measure, on the part of a democratically elected government, to help save the lives of innocent civilians (on buses, in cafes and discos…), drastically reducing the number and intensity of terror attacks to which Israelis are subjected.
  3. Communist East Germany and its ally, the Soviet Union, builders of the Berlin Wall, had a policy of killing (by shooting and other means) people who tried to escape Communism in order to enjoy peaceful lives in the West. Wikipedia again: “There were many ways to die on the inner German border. Numerous escapees were shot by the border guards, while others were killed by mines and booby-traps. A substantial number drowned while trying to cross the Baltic and the Elbe river. Some died of heart attacks during their escape attempts; in one incident, a baby died after its parents gave it sleeping pills to keep it quiet during the crossing.” Palestinian terrorists, whom the security fence was designed to deter, aim to kill (by means of suicide bombing) people who are living peaceful lives in Israel, a part of the democratic West. As Wikipedia says, “Suicide bombings have decreased since the construction of the barrier.”
  4. Over 1,000 people died trying to get beyond the Berlin Wall to freedom, between 1961 and 1989. Between 2000 and 2008, over 1,000 Israelis (almost exactly the same number as asylum seekers who died in Berlin) and many more Palestinians (nearly 5,000) were killed in the Second Intifada—those deaths led to the construction of the security fence as a peace-keeping and life-saving measure.
  5. The Berlin Wall was really a wall and a symbol/tool of oppression. It defended Communist tyranny by barricading inside of its perimeter people whom it was willing to kill in order to stop from breaking out. The security fence is actually (for all it matters) mostly fence (about 90%). It defends democracy–and innocent life–by limiting the access to Israel of those who would commit horrific crimes and do grievous harm (commit murder) if they got through.

In short, the most self-evident kinds of comparison/contrast show that there really is no comparison. Only a fool or a knave—or an intellectual—could claim to believe otherwise. Geder HaBitakhon (literally “fence (of) the security”) or the “defense barrier,” “wall of separation,” or for that matter anything else anyone chooses to call it, for whatever reason, honest or dishonest—saves lives by defending Israeli citizens and their guests (hurrah!) against the terror that otherwise emanates from the other side. Berlin Wall: bad. Security fence: good.

About the Author
Gabriel Noah Brahm is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), a Research Fellow in Israel Studies at Brandies University, a Visiting Professor in the School of Philosophy and Religions at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and an Associate Professor of English at Northern Michigan University. He is coeditor (with Cary Nelson) of The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel (Wayne State University Press, 2015) and coauthor (with Forrest G. Robinson) of The Jester and the Sages: Mark Twain in the Company of Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx (Missouri University Press, 2011). He serves as an Associate Editor of Politics and Culture and an Advisory Editor for Fathom: For a Deeper Understanding of Israel and the Region.
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