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Tear Down This Wall, Mr. Netanyahu

Bibi Netanyahu is visiting China where he’s negotiated trade deals, lobbied unsuccessfully for a tougher Chinese diplomatic stance against Iran, and likely cooked up some secret arms deals with the Chinese military. But one of the oddest of his public appearances was at the Great Wall, where he extolled its supposed virtues and promised to adopt them for Israel:

You know, this Wall served as an inspiration for me. We built the barriers to protect Israel from the south. Ultimately, we’ll have Israel covered with them everywhere.

He was later quoted amplifying on this thought:

“Just as the Chinese defended themselves by barricading themselves behind the Great Wall, so to will we [Israel] fortify ourselves along the southern border, the Golan Heights and all fronts.”

Leaving aside the debate about the utility of Israel’s Separation Wall, let’s look at walls in human history. There is a human impulse to isolate oneself from enemies. If you don’t have to see things that are unpleasant, it makes life so much more comfortable. Hadrian did it. The French did it with the Maginot Line. The Israeli tries tried it with the Bar-Lev Line. And the East Germans tried it in Berlin.

Deb Reich penned a study of various historic walls and found that none, including the Great Wall, ultimately succeeded in their goal of keeping undesirables out of the homeland:

Emperor Meng T’ien (Qin Dynasty) began the Great Wall of China in 221 BCE, with 300,000 workers, to keep out the Huns. Additions were made over the next 1,700 years. All told, it’s around 6,400 km long, up to 50 feet high, 15 to 30 feet wide at the base, and dotted with guard towers. Nowadays, of course, it’s a tourist attraction: Westerners admire it, but for the Chinese it signifies mainly their eventual defeat by the Manchurians.

Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Wall (2nd century CE) was meant to keep the northern neighbors out of Britain, but its location split the tribal lands of the Brigantes, the most powerful Celts…at the time. This little detail insured continuing trouble. A later emperor then built another wall farther north, but the cheeky Celts just rebelled again. These days, Hadrian’s Wall and Antonine’s Wall draw hikers and day-trippers; the Roman empire is long gone.

The Berlin Wall, its remnants now preserved for tourism, was erected in the middle of the night on August 13, 1961, and subsequently beefed up (to keep the East Germans in, and everyone else out). It was higher tech than the Roman stuff – 150 km of barbed wire and concrete, 3.5 meters high. JFK visited divided Berlin in June 1963 and, famously, gave good solidarity (“I am a Berliner”). Imagine what he’d say today if he came to Qalqilya.

Sharon’s Wall, planned at 500 km in length and meantime expanded to nearly 800 km and counting, is much, MUCH higher tech than the Berlin Wall ever was… But of course Sharon’s wall, too, is destined to evolve into a tourist attraction eventually. (Just ask Hadrian or any of those other guys.) Ah, for a working time machine! We could skip this cheerless, macabre interim phase and segue straight to the future theme park…

Netanyahu’s father was a professor of Jewish history. The son seems not to have absorbed any of the lessons of history his father may’ve imparted. Or else his father taught him the wrong lessons. Alternately, Bibi might’ve paid more attention to Robert Frost’s wise and knowing poem:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

At any rate, Bibi has lost sight of the fact that walls don’t work. Ultimately, the people or forces you’re trying to keep out have greater will than you and they overwhelm your defenses.

Unless, of course, you come to terms with them before this happens. No chance of that happening. So we’re left with the alternative, which is an Israeli wall that will eventually become a historical curiosity, because it failed in its goal of keeping Israel free of “terrorists” and marauders, those pesky Palestinians.

{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Rehmat May 11, 2013, 3:15 AM

    Bibi’s comparison of Chinese Great Wall with Israel’s Separation Wall is insult to human logic. The first was build to protect the Natives from the invaders – while the later is built to protect the occupiers from the Natives.

    This also reminds me 2011 quote by two journalists, Arnaud Leparmentier of Le Monde and Dan Israel of Arrêt sur Images, Sarkozy told Obama: “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he is a liar“. To which Obama replied: “You may be sick of him, but I have to deal with him every day“.


  • Fred Plester May 11, 2013, 7:47 AM

    Hadrian’s Wall was really a secure road, linking the West and East coasts of Britain by nearly the shortest route. It didn’t mark the boundary of Roman influence at all. (There was another military line in the suburbs of present-day Glasgow, for example.) Climatically, though, Northumberland and Cumbria do seem to represent the Northern limit at which Romans could survive and breed in the wild. It’s also worth remembering that Hadrian treated Jerusalem a lot more harshly than he treated the inhabitants of Scotland.

    Offa’s Dyke was a more diplomatic construction: because King Offa had merged several Saxon Kingdoms with “Mercia” to form pretty much what we call England today, he had to do something to persuade the Celts that he wasn’t coming any further and the Dyke was meant to show the limits of his ambitions.

    Israel’s walls don’t strike me as the same sort of thing. They are largely pre-fabricated and clearly capable of being moved forward at any time, if enough covering firepower is available for the move. Almost as if the concrete blocks were counters in a game of “Go”.

  • Elad R May 11, 2013, 11:05 AM

    Bibi never compered the Great Wall with the separation wall, unless you are trying to claim that the separation wall is miraculously repositioned itself on the southern border of Israel. Israel built a fence along side it’s southern border to serve as an obstacle in the way of illegal immigrants, stop human trafficking, arms smuggling, drugs trafficking etc. I’m sure you are not trying to claim that any of those should be permitted.

    Look at the numbers, in May 2012 – more then a 1000 people crossed the border illegally, May 2013 only 9. seems to be working just fine.

    • SimoHurtta May 11, 2013, 2:36 PM

      Well Elad R how does the wall stop the flow of illegal weapons, blood diamonds, synthetic drugs etc coming out of ISRAEL? (= protect OUR security, not yours). Lets not pretend that Israel’s problem is criminality coming from the neighbors and other poor countries. US embassy cable (see Wikileaks) called Israel as the promised land of organized crime. Israel is and has been “the heaven” of Mafias already before the walls were even planed. Drug smuggling, human trafficking, arms trade, organs trade, financial “services” etc are made from Israel by Israeli Jews. The elite Russian and US Jewish mafia bosses do not climb over the walls during the night in order to enter Israel. They come “legally” and get the Israeli citizenship and passports. And continue to do what they have done before now under Israeli “protection”.

      The African and Asian immigrants trying to get to Israel are not the source of serious criminality. Most European countries have at least as many illegals coming to their countries as Israel has had and still they do not need to build walls.

      If the Israeli walls are for the security of Jews, why does Israel constantly undermine that “goal” by building new settlements on “wrong” side of the “security” wall? Transferring thousands of whole families in an enviroment where they are seen as hostile invaders (what they in reality also are) is simply stupid if the security of those families is the goal. Well it clear that it is not the ultimate goal, the goal is to steal more and more (and to pretend to be the victims).

      • Elad R May 11, 2013, 3:23 PM

        So Israel builds an obstacle on it’s border with Egypt, and you think it’s because we want to steal something ?
        Right….great demonstration of logic. With respect to the green line, Judea and Samaria weren’t stolen from anybody, it’s a disputed territory. Attempts to solve this dispute ended in violence and hostilities. Blaming the 67 war is just ignoring the years of history in the region. Was the occupation of 67 responsible for the 1948 war as well ?

        • Richard Silverstein May 11, 2013, 4:08 PM

          No, only settlerists & pro-Israel advocates call it “disputed.” It is “conquered,” not disputed. Which means stolen by force of arms. A theft unrecognized by anyone but the thieves themselves. Making you either a goniff or an apologist for gonifs (ganavim).

          • Elad R May 11, 2013, 4:17 PM

            Who who was it conquered from ? The Jordanian who conquered it 19 years earlier, and who weren’t even a side to the conflict ?

          • Richard Silverstein May 11, 2013, 8:41 PM

            Off topic. Keep your comments on topic, related directly to the post on which you’re commenting.

          • Noam May 14, 2013, 3:34 AM

            @ Richard, is it possible to make the video attached to this thread to not auto play? every time i load your blog it starts and it’s annoying.


          • Richard Silverstein May 14, 2013, 12:52 PM

            Yes, I know. Eventually, the post will drop off the main page. I don’t believe there’s a setting allowing me to turn off the auto play. But I’ll double check.

          • Noam May 15, 2013, 12:02 AM

            @ Richard, i think you are still moderating me bcz of what you thought i wrote to you in the frone thread (i wasn’t moderated before).

          • Richard Silverstein May 15, 2013, 12:22 AM

            I have unmoderated you.

          • Eric July 8, 2013, 11:31 AM

            “No, only settlerists & pro-Israel advocates call it “disputed.” ”

            There aren’t many Jews in the world, so anything they say is wrong. Great argument.

          • Richard Silverstein July 8, 2013, 6:43 PM

            Well over half the Jews in the world are not settlerists or Likudniks. Anything these two groups say is surely questionable, if not wrong. But that leaves a whole lot of Jews who aren’t in these extremist groups.

  • Brane May 12, 2013, 3:08 AM

    “You know, this Wall served as an inspiration for me. We built the barriers to protect Israel from the south. Ultimately, we’ll have Israel covered with them everywhere”. Firts I thought this is a joke. I needed to see video by my self, to believe it. Most recent wall was in Berlin, build by communist Soviet Union, to separate one nation and to imprison one part of it. It is for diferent purpose in Israel, but finaly it will go down like one in Berlin. Either people in Israel will find some lasting solution for coexistence with palestinians, or wall will be crushed with force, suner or later.

  • BruceT May 13, 2013, 8:02 AM

    But the fence has been successful, it has almost elminiated suicide attacks, saving hundreds, maybe thousands of Israel lives, and also Palestinian lives (who would have died in the Israeli retaliation)

    • Richard Silverstein May 13, 2013, 11:03 PM

      You make a common rhetorical error. Because one thing happened followed by a second, then there must be a causal relationship between the two. In that case, the sun will destroy the Earth in several billion years. I got up this morning. Therefore I caused the future destruction of the Earth.

      The Wall (not “fence” unless concrete walls 30 feet high & 10 feet thick are what’s called “fences” these days) has had no impact on terror. Thousands of Palestinians cross the the “border” between Israel & Palestine each day where no Wall exists. Should a terrorist want to enter Israel there are hundreds of points where he could do so, as the Wall does not traverse the entire length of this border.

      • BruceT May 14, 2013, 8:13 AM

        Actually 95% of it is a fence. The “wall” is 5%, of which biased media sources focus on in video and photography; and since you haven’t been to visit Israel in a while, you are forced to rely on these sources and thus have an inaccurate view of it.

        Correlation is not always causation, but sometimes it is, and there are plenty of studies I could link to for the efficacy of the security fence but the sources probably violate your comment rules.

        • Richard Silverstein May 14, 2013, 1:02 PM

          You cannot link to any “studies” showing the Wall is a terror deterrent because there are none. There may be hasbara arguments much like the one you advanced. But that is not a study.

          Your 95% argument also doesn’t hold water & I challenge you to come up with any credible support for your claim.

          • Noam May 15, 2013, 12:01 AM

            @Richard, i do believe BruceT is right. maybe the numbers aren’t exact but most of the wall is actually a fence (in the movie ‘5 broken cameras’ you can see that it’s a fence with sensors and a gravel road behind it).
            the areas where it is a wall are places that over looks roads or high risk places – like when you exit the tunnels on your way from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion (near beit Lehem) – it’s even logical bcz building a concrete wall through out the entire border is extremely expansive).
            that wall isn’t buit to stop an army or an invasion. the first thing you learn in officers’ school is “the line of contact – the wall in this instance – will always be breached” (kav hamaga leolam hiparetz). i believe Netanyhu knows that.
            about the efficiency – it’s hard to argue with the numbers – the suicide attacks within israel are down to zero (almost) and it’s not as if the attempts are much lower than before (although the wall isn’t the only reason why it is so low – israeli intel and military ops crushed most of the big terror cells) and you can see now that most of the attacks are happening inside the WB. another thing in a security point of view – if there’s a breach – it’s much easier to find the penetrator – plenty of examples for that one (some times eve before he was able to commit his crime).
            the fence in the south is very efficient in keeping illegal immigration into israel (it was thousands a month now it’s only few tens maybe less) – which is becoming a big problem.
            “Thousands of Palestinians cross the the “border” between Israel & Palestine each day where no Wall exists” you are right – but if you have some areas not covered by walls or fences – where will you likely to put your men power? of course in the areas where there is none. so the military compensate the lack of obstacle with men power (until they finish building) – again from a military point of view it’s easier.

            that being said, i do think that the comparing of the great wall of china to the fence is a stupid (and poorly executed) attempt to suck up to the Chinese.

          • Richard Silverstein May 15, 2013, 12:29 AM

            @Noam: It’s not “hard to argue with the numbers.” It’s quite easy. The decline in suicide attacks has to do with many factors, but not at all to do with the Separation Wall, which serves a role akin to Iron Dome. Neither work, but they serve a political function in mollifying & pacifying the Israeli public who want their government to be seen to be doing something concrete against terror.

            I repeat: if Palestinian militants wanted suicide attacks inside Israel they could mount them. But they don’t. The reason for that has nothing to do with the Wall.

          • Noam May 15, 2013, 1:46 AM

            @ Richard,
            as i said the decline in terror attacks inside israel is due to other factors than only the separation wall.
            “if Palestinian militants wanted suicide attacks inside Israel they could mount them.” – only if you are within the system you know how many alerts there are – and they are still there – only nowadays the fashion as shifted to kidnapping. and i think you are overlooking the resilient of the intel and the IDF and the Fatah regim for preventing these kind of attacks. that it is why there’s the increase in settlers attack inside the WB. it’s easier for them to execute with relative low chance of getting caught (the problem with that is that the media echo is smaller).
            the fence has it’s contribution in other aspects as i mentioned before.

            about the Iron dome, i’ve heard these claims made by you – my professors we’re ones of many who developed the systems. they know the guy who gave that interview – i’ll spare you the details of why he was fired from rafael but he isn’t the most reliable source you can get. i invite you to spend a week in sderot and see for yourself if it is working or not. the invitation is not ment to be a challenge that i know is difficult for you to do but as to say that there are so many people involved in this project and so many people who’ve seen the Iron Dome in action that i can’t believe that a secret that big could be kept for long (and not kept means that mainstream media and people are talking about it not some has beens).

          • Richard Silverstein May 15, 2013, 9:22 PM

            @Noam: There were three sources for Reuven Pedatzur’s article. Only one of them was the former Rafael engineer. There was a second Israeli source (unnamed) & Prof. Postol. Postol was right about the failure of the Patriot system & I believe he’s right about Iron Dome. Not to mention that there are other sources disputing the IDF statistics on Iron Dome.

          • Joseph May 20, 2013, 9:53 AM

            Hi Richard,

            Here is a link to Shalom Ahshav’s website: http://peacenow.org.il/node/297 (it is in Hebrew)

            They say this about the the barrier in the west bank: 40 km are a wall, 750 are a fence.

            I used a calculator: 40/790 equals to 5%. Bruce is correct on that point

  • Al Moenee May 13, 2013, 1:31 PM

    “Netanyahu’s father was a professor of Jewish history. The son seems not to have absorbed any of the lessons of history his father may’ve imparted. Or else his father taught him the wrong lessons.”

    Richard, having somewhat known the Netanyahu family and Benzion the father from my Jerusalem days, I can assure
    you that the Netanyahu boys had indeed properly learned this lesson as taught by their father. Benzion was an ardent follower of Zeev Jabotinsky including his “Iron wall” strategy, and even served as Jabotinsky’s personal secretary in NYC until Jabotinsky’s death in the early 1940’s.

    We may agree that that this was the wrong lesson to be taught, but I very much doubt that you could have ever convinced Benzion of that. Trust me – I once tried.

  • Noam May 16, 2013, 11:37 PM

    well analysing videos from youtube and news reports is hardly the way i do my investigations.
    again, it might be possible. i just can’t understand how can you be so sure. same with the drone thread – you don’t even consider a malfunction as a possibility – based on speculation and some times inaccuracies.

    (i’m sure that there’s many more examples…)

    but, i guess we have to agree to disagree :)

  • Noam May 16, 2013, 11:39 PM

    @Richard, my comment jumped 9 comments upward

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