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Ben-Gurion University
The Berlin Wall, the Separation Barrier and BGU David Newman's Art of the Specious Comparison

Demarcating the Boundaries: Geopolitical Dimensions of the Israel-Palestine Peace Process

Prof. David Newman

Editorial Note:
David Newman and the Art of the Specious Comparison 

 David Newman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and the Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University, has ventured into comparative politics in his article on the East Berlin Wall and the Separation Barrier. He apparently learned something from the many radical academics in the BGU Department of Politics and Government, whom he had helped to recruit and promote.  Although Newman does not assert that Israel is equivalent to the apartheid regime in South Africa as they do, he has mastered  well the art of the specious comparison.

To his credit, Newman notes that the Berlin Wall was built by the communist regime to prevent East Germans from fleeing from the "workers paradise." He also admits that for some twenty years after 1967, Palestinians and Israelis moved freely in both directions. 
But in order to make his comparison stick, he omits the part of history that forced the Israeli government to erect the separation barrier. He should know that the Oslo peace treaty of 1993 and the Paris Agreement of 1994 were based upon an economic union between Israel and the Palestinian Authority featuring open borders.  But in early 1994 the top leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran decided that Oslo peace is an ideological threat to the regime; It instructed al- Quds Brigades, the international organ of the Revolutionary Guard, to mobilize units of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas to carry out suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.  The corrupt and dysfunctional Palestinian Authority (PA) under Yasser Arafat either could not or would not challenge the Jihadists.  As a matter of fact, the PA did not act against criminal gangs from Gaza specializing in large scale theft of cars and agricultural equipment that brought the insurance industry in Israel to its knees.  

Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership had refused the historic offer made by Ehud Barak in 2000 and the even more generous terms of the Clinton Parameters of January 2001, a decision that greatly surprised not only the leftist leaders of Oslo such as Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben-Ami but also President Clinton and the American negotiators. 
During the Second Intifada, unleashed by the Palestinians, there was a dramatic increase in suicide bombings in which thousands of Israelis were killed and wounded.  The separation barrier virtually halted such attacks by drastically limiting the number of Palestinians entering Israel.  
No one would dispute that the barrier has made the life of the Palestinians more difficult and that the security situation left two parts of the Palestinian society divided, as Newman asserts.  But any comparison between the Berlin Wall and Israeli barrier  is specious.  The Wall was built to prevent East Germans  from exercising their right to free movement;  the separation barrier was build to give Israelis their right to live free of terror attacks.  Unfortunately, the barrier cannot protect Israelis who live near the Gaza Strip, from a barrage of missiles and rockets made possible by the  IDF withdrawal in 2005. 
Newman starts his article with a wish for "our generation and the generation of our children to forget the Wall and the barrier." This is definitely a worthy vision, but before it can be realized "our children" need to be protected from the Islamist dream of destroying Israel, starting with the children of Sderot and Ofakim.


From East Berlin to east Jerusalem

11/28/2011 22:53

How long will it take for our generation and that of our children to forget the Wall and the barrier?

The remnants of the wall that divided Berlin between 1961 to 1989 have become transformed into one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Everyone visits Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery – a stretch of the wall which has been adorned with political paintings and graffiti by artists throughout the world.

The wall that divides large parts of Jerusalem, and which has been constructed during the past 10 years, also attracts many visitors and tourists – unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. Whereas most of the world has been pulling their walls down during the past 20 years, Israel has constructed a new concrete scar.

Walls are built to exclude someone or something. In Berlin, the wall was constructed as a means of preventing the migration of refugees seeking to escape the “socialist utopia” of Soviet- controlled East Germany to the “evils” of the capitalist west.

In the case of the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, the wall has been constructed in the middle of dense urban areas (such as Jerusalem, Kfar Saba – Kalkilya, and Baka al-Gharbiya) as a means of restricting the movement of Palestinians into Israel, for the fear that they will import terror with them.

The Berlin Wall, during its almost 30 years of existence, was fortified by large slabs of ugly concrete, guard towers from which a anyone attempting to cross the line of separation would be ruthlessly shot and killed. Many tried to escape from east to west, hidden in hollow compartments in cars, through secret tunnels or simply by attempting a sudden sprint from one side to the other.

Like its Berlin predecessor, the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank has a limited number of crossing points, at which those forbidden from crossing are checked to ensure that they have the correct documents. Unlike the Berlin Wall, where crossing points were closely guarded by armed soldiers with orders to kill, the crossing points in Israel have been franchised out by the Ministry of Defense to semi-private security firms who operate according the strict guidelines of the military authorities.

In divided Germany, West Germans could visit their relatives in the East under very strict conditions and surveillance, but East Germans could not cross into the West unless they were part of official cultural or sports delegations, in which case many of them defected and chose to remain in the West.

Along the Israel – West Bank divide, Israeli citizens (Jewish or Arab) are free to cross in any direction, as though the wall was invisible, while Palestinians are unable to cross unless they have a valid work permit. Even then they are no longer allowed to remain inside Israel overnight. Many Palestinians can no longer access their places of employment in Jerusalem, and there have been many cases of women who have been denied entry to Israel to seek medical treatment or to give birth.

TWENTY YEARS after the fall of the Berlin Wall it remains a major theme in the rich, and sad, political history of that city. Its remnants have been memorialized, its former location has been marked on city sidewalks, a new museum is being constructed in the area of Checkpoint Charlie and there is hardly a tourist site or book which does not mention the Wall in almost every context of city life. Beyond the lessons of history, the Wall has proven to be a great money spinner.

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, the division of Europe and the physical separation of Germany into two entities remains a major political theme within our consciousness. Nothing epitomizes that separation more than the physical division of a single city – Berlin – into two entities.

We are liable to forget that the division of Europe lasted for little more than 45 years, while the Berlin Wall was in existence for only 29 years, from 1961-1989. The wall has been gone for almost as long as it existed, yet it remains an event of such proportion within the national history books and collective memories, that it is as though it existed for centuries.

The initial division of Israel from the West Bank lasted no more than nineteen years, from 1949-1967. We often forget that more than twice as much time has passed since the conquering of the West Bank and the so called “erasure” of the Green Line in 1967, than the period in which it existed prior to the Six Day War. But the administrative division of these two distinct territorial entities has remained in existence for the entire 60-plus years of Israel’s existence.

True, there was a period of approximately 20 years from 1967 – 1987 (when the first intifada broke out) when there was no border fence, no official crossing points and when both Palestinians and Israelis moved freely in both directions for the purposes of work, but not for residence inside Israel.

For the Arab-Palestinian population of the country, the impact of the division between 1949-1967, and to a lesser extent the reimposition of the physical barrier during the past decade, is similar to the impact of the Berlin Wall on the German population.

A single people, speaking the same language, with the same customs and cultural norms, but separated by a politically constructed wall, on each side of which the political regime, the economic system and the social and educational norms have given rise to the emergence of separate societies.

I return from a visit to Berlin, not for the first time, with many questions concerning our own wall and separation fence. How long will it take for this artificial barrier to eventually be removed? And if, and when, it is eventually erased, will it signal the end to artificial separation between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, or will it signal the emergence of two states, in which Arabs sharing the same culture and history will be citizens of two separate states – one in which they are the majority under Palestinian sovereignty, and the other in which they continue to be a 20 percent minority under Israeli sovereignty?

How long will it take for our generation and that of our children to forget the Wall and the barrier? And what sort of memorials and remembrances will we put up along the course of the border to remind us of the political absurdities of ethno-territorial conflict, and the desire to keep the “other” out?

The wall in Jerusalem and the fence along other parts of the West Bank divide have already become a tourist attraction for groups of visiting politicians, diplomats, academics and other travelers. Walls have a fascination, especially for those coming from free and open societies. Either we will eventually forget the wall altogether, or at the very least the sort of tourism that it will attract will be the type which now visits Berlin as a historical curiosity and as part of a peaceful and open society.

The writer is professor of political geography and dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. The views expressed are his alone

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