The first Hebrew ghetto
Aviad Kleinberg 14 January 2010-01-14
“Eventually, there will be no choice but to fence Israel in on all directions,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a closed-door session (which was immediately reported, as is common in Israel.) “The country will have to be fully fenced on all directions.”
“On all directions.” “Fully.” A fortified island, armed to the teeth, surrounded by minefields and fences, high cement walls, and suspicion.
This is certainly required in light of our security needs, you may say. The security issue that rules us and protects us demands sacrifice and we have no choice but to grant it. However, this is not the case.
The prime minister does not justify the walls and barbed wire and minefields by referring to fears of terrorists and invaders. Rather, he is talking about another fear. “Israel is the only First World state that can be reached by foot from the Third World and from Africa,” he says. “Should we fail to fence ourselves in, Israel will be flooded by hundreds of thousands of foreign workers and illegal aliens.”
Put aside for a moment Netanyahu’s geographic statement (a quick glance at the map will show that Israel is less unique than what the PM claims.) Also put aside the false description of the problem (most work immigrants in Israel arrive here with the State’s approval, as officials allow employers to exploit foreign workers.) Just think about the worldview his words express.
Netanyahu fears peace no less than he fears war. Peace is indeed a dream, but it seems to be a nightmare for him. Netanyahu is mentally unable to think of our neighbors in positive terms. In his view they have nothing to offer us. They are coming to take what we have – to taint our “villa in the jungle.”
This isn’t surprising. When one lives in the upscale community of Caesarea or in upscale Tel Aviv towers, the poor neighbors become nameless; a mere logistic problem. Lock your doors, build a fence, and deploy guard dogs. The poor people are coming; they are impolite, uneducated and cannot tell apart the various types of cigars. Filipino ladies do a great job scrubbing tiles, but this doesn’t mean they deserve a work permit or a name.
Erecting a high wall between us and our neighbors is a cultural statement: Your culture, your problems, and your lives are of no interest to us. We live in the First World – that is, we’re from America. We only happened to get stuck in the Middle East. Our neighbors understand this message well – we’re not from around here. Yet if you’re not from here, they ask, what exactly are you doing here? We don’t like to hear it. After all, we reach out for peace. Across the fence.
And don’t think this is only about stopping outsiders from coming in. In a society where the political elite thinks that those different than us should be kept out by walls, we shall see visible and invisible separation fences in many other places.
The justifications get mixed up often. Why can’t we open Highway 443 to Palestinian traffic? Security reasons? For reasons of convenience? In order to prevent attacks, or in an effort to prevent congestion on Highway 1? Everything gets mixed up. Culture, economics, and security all work in the service of separation.
Yet we do not only separate ourselves from them. Try to walk in some neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh. Try to pass through the gates of some neighborhoods in Jaffa. Try to pass the entrance exams and tuition fee walls at some academic institutions here; try to go from being very poor to being very wealthy. Good luck, it isn’t easy.
The mentality of separation, of turning an alienated back on those who are not quite like us (Jewish or Arab or secular or religious or poor or wealthy or white or black) does not stop at the border fence. It gets through just as easily as before. Welcome to the first Hebrew ghetto.