Among the attractions in my life is a good view. On a clear day, I can stand on my balcony and trace the line of the Jordan River in the Valley ten or so miles to the east, and see the buildings of Amman on the Mountains of Moab 15 miles further to the east.
In recent days, I've seen the construction of Israel's security barrier about a mile from me. If good fences make good neighbors, this may improve the quality of our life.
Israel has been building a barrier between it and the West Bank for eight years. It currently bends and twists for more than 700 kilometers, about 60 percent completed. Less of its planned route has been finished in the area of Jerusalem.
Construction began in the high-casualty years of 2002 when 457 Israelis were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers and other acts of terror. The barrier's advocates credit it with helping to reduce the deaths to an annual average of 26 in 2006-08.
There is now a bit of the wall going north from the road to the Jordan Valley. Other sections that we see from our neighborhood are several kilometers in overall length, but include gaps between what has been built.
Some of the delay and gaps reflect legal challenges mounted by Palestinians who protest land being taken for the barrier, or the inconvenience it causes for their travel between areas of the West Bank or into Israel. Much of the barrier is close to the armistice line that prevailed from 1948 to 1967, with variations to include major Jewish settlements close to that line. Lack of completion also reflects ambivalence about the barrier, and the lack of desire to spend huge sums all at once on a project that may not be all that effective.
Skeptics admit that the barrier has added to the problems of Palestinians from some areas to enter Israel. However, a quarter million Palestinians will be on the Israeli side of the barrier in Jerusalem. Recent shootings and rampaging heavy equipment have been the work of Jerusalem's Arabs.
To the left of the road to the Jordan Valley is Anata. It is outside the municipality of Jerusalem, and meant to be on the other side of the barrier. To the right of the road is the Arab neighborhood of Isaweea. It is part of Jerusalem, and will be on our side of the barrier. Its residents drive through our neighborhood of French Hill, and some of the boys from Isaweea play soccer in the school yard right alongside these fingers.
Arab friends have advised me not to visit Isaweea. Police observers have photographed the area from the roof of our building. Occasionally we see police check points on the road, and read of violence nipped in the bud, or traced to Isaweea..
The best explanation of the reduced carnage may be Palestinian fatigue. There are also some 12,000 Palestinians in Israel's security prisons, most of them seized since the onset of the intifada in 2000, and about 5,000 Palestinians in cemeteries due to the work of Israeli security forces. The Palestinians killed and captured have come disproportionately from the leaders and activists of the violence. There may be no shortage of Palestinians willing to replace them, but the overall quality and intensity of potential terrorists have declined.
Israel has invested heavily in intelligence, and frequently enters the West Bank for a short time in order to seize people wanted for questioning or incarceration. Palestinians still intent on doing us harm must evade that intelligence, even before they set off for one of the gaps in the barrier.
I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science