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MEIR SHLOMO

Israel's fence of peace

IT TAKES about 10 minutes to walk from Coolidge Corner in Brookline to Kenmore Square in Boston. Why is this important? Because it takes the same amount of time for a Palestinian terrorist to walk from Kalkilya in the West Bank to Kfar Saba in Israel. Nothing can stop one from walking from Brookline to Boston; so too, nothing can stop a Palestinian terrorist from walking from the West Bank to Israel. Unfortunately, it's as easy as it sounds.

There has been a lot of talk lately about Israel's security fence. For Israelis, this debate has come as a complete surprise; most Israelis, both left- and right-wing, consider the fence to be an absolute necessity -- it's the last resort in protecting themselves and their children. And yet, outside of Israel, there is still debate.

One reason for this gap is the huge difference between aloof theoretical debate and the reality on the ground. While many pay lip service and condemn terrorism, Israelis are the ones who suffer the deadly consequences.

The security fence is a defensive and nonlethal measure. It has only one goal: to prevent terrorism. The end of terrorism would render the security fence unnecessary. Fences can be built and torn down, but human lives are irreplaceable.

Some say that the fence is a barrier to peace. In fact, it is just the opposite. The lack of a fence between Israel and the West Bank has made it possible for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to hold the peace process hostage. Each time political progress was made, it was derailed by deadly attacks carried out by these terrorists. The visit of General Anthony Zinni and the coinciding deadly attack on the Sbarro Pizzeria, which killed 15 Israelis in Jerusalem, are a case in point. Building a fence will cause a sharp decline in the number of such attacks and give leaders more latitude to continue peace negotiations. It will hinder the ability of terrorists to derail the peace process, thus making the peace process more resilient.

Another argument against the fence claims that it will be ineffective, but in fact the fence's effectiveness has been tested and proven. Over the past three years, only one out of the 124 suicide attacks came from Gaza, despite the fact that Gaza is the major stronghold of Palestinian terrorism. The reason why is painfully obvious: In Gaza there is a security fence, while in the West Bank there is none.

Photos in the media and elsewhere depict the fence as a tall concrete wall. However, 94 percent is actually just a chain-link fence, most of it within the Green Line. The portions made up of a concrete wall are adjacent to Israel's main highway, where any minor threat could bring the country to a halt.

Some claim that the fence is an Israeli attempt to annex part of the West Bank. This is a bizarre accusation. It has been Israel's policy in the past 36 years not to annex the territories. Suggesting that Israel is now attempting to change that policy through such partial measures is absurd.

The final argument against the fence states that it will create inconveniences for some Palestinian farmers who will be separated from their fields. A limited number of inconveniences do exist, and they are addressed by the Israeli government on a case-by-case basis. However, they are relatively minor when compared to the benefit of saving hundreds of lives.

The security fence may not be the ideal solution, but it is definitely the most practical way to protect innocent Israelis from the unprecedented wave of Palestinian terrorism. The Palestinian leadership, and all others who want to see a peaceful resolution to the conflict, would be well advised to fight terrorism instead of fighting the fence. While fences are reversible, the loss of human life is not.

Meir Shlomo is the consul general of Israel to New England.

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