Halpern: Misplaced optimism


Issue of August 20, 2010/ 10 Elul 5770

By Micah D. Halpern

Ten years ago Israel put up a wall, now they are taking it down.

The wall was erected to protect the residents of Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb, from snipers practicing their craft across the valley in Beit Jala.  Artists from Israel and around the world joined locals in turning the protective wall into a piece of art.

Gilo's wall went up in response to shots fired by Palestinians who climbed the spires of churches and hid in high perches. The snipers had easy line of sight to the Israeli homes across the valley. Carefully and methodically, the Palestinian snipers made the lives of the residents of Gilo a living hell.

The trauma inflicted upon the residents of Gilo, shot in their kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms and while spending family time at dining room tables resonated worldwide. Kindergartens, day care centers and local schools were all regular targets for the snipers.

Beit Jala, a predominantly Christian Arab village, is very densely populated. The snipers were not locals, they were professionals brought in to kill. They found perches, made their kill, mingled with the local population to avoid detection and then rotated out. New crews were brought in as replacements. The irony of all ironies is that the snipers were trained in Langley, Virginia by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Israel was a faced with a very difficult decision. To fire back into Beit Jala, to use air force planes or helicopters as tools of retaliation, would cost the lives of too many Palestinian residents of Beit Jala.

Instead of snuffing out the snipers, Israel blocked the ability of the snipers to shoot and to terrorize. And over the past few years the area has been pretty quiet as far as snipers go. And so, it was announced that the protective wall of Gilo would be coming down. The process will take two weeks and then, voila, no more wall.

This act can be called neither strategic nor tactical. It is an act of good faith. I can politely call it hopeful. But practically I know that there is a logical fallacy at play.

Quiet now does not mean quiet tomorrow. It is much easier and much, much quicker to put snipers back in place than to replace the wall.  There was no hue and cry by the people of Gilo asking for the wall to be removed. What began as a reminder of tragic killings and heart-wrenching trauma had become a way of life, a fact of life.

Israel is placing the good people of Gilo at risk. Israel has chosen to, once again, turn Israeli children into easy targets. Israel is tempting not only fate, but tempting those Palestinians who believe in pressuring Israel through terror. And Israel is doing all this for no reason at all.

This poor decision is just one of many that can be attributed to an overly optimistic society. Israeli leadership on both sides of the aisle and a plurality of Israeli citizens understand the dangers they confront, yet, they continue to be overly optimistic. They believe that peace can be just around the corner, or just behind the wall.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. Read his latest book THUGS. He maintains The Micah Report at micahhalpern.com