Every Jewish Israeli who travels to Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and encounters soldiers on the way out is familiar with their shocked response. “What, you were there, in Ramallah?!” they will ask, as if you had just returned from a wild land, as if you had come out alive from hell itself.
The separation barrier, a stretch of concrete wall and metal fences that Israel began building in the 2000s during the Second Intifada, has contributed greatly to this perception, which most Jewish Israelis share. As if the barrier managed to segregate Israelis from Palestinians, us here and them there, beyond the mountains of darkness. As if the barrier “works.”
The tens of thousands of Palestinians who crossed freely into Israel through the recent breaches in the barrier, in many instances under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers, are challenging this perception. But for some senior Israeli officials who are familiar with the situation, this is no surprise. The barrier acts mostly as a symbol, and does not really separate Israelis and Palestinians, because Palestinians travel past it all the time. Israel’s security system is relatively indifferent to this movement; it only cares that people don’t talk about it. The only purpose the separation barrier serves, says one of the retired officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, is to transform the Israeli mind — to create an illusion of separation.