"One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall."
-Pope Benedict XVI
I certainly understand the Pope's sentiments concerning the Separation Barrier. The "Wall" is a sign of the hatred that exists and the fear that hatred evokes. It is a sign of the separation of peoples who cannot get along.
For the Palestinians, it may divide them from parts of their families, keep them from lands and businesses, make their journeys longer in many cases and make them feel like prisoners. It is also a tangible reminder that Israel exists and that there will not be a single Palestinian state over the entirety of the territory. For many THAT evokes sadness and hatred.
But there is another side to the "Wall." For Israelis, the Barrier is a symbol of security and freedom. It is a barrier against the shredding of flesh, the murder of women and children, and the use of fear as a weapon. It is a barrier to violence against innocents and it has been exceedingly effective.
I'm not going to tell you that the ROUTE of the barrier, which is a FENCE and not a wall for most of its length, is ideal. It encompasses settlements that it my mind are indeed barriers to peace and will have to be removed for there to be a two state solution. The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered it moved in certain places because security concerns do not require its path. The essential requirement of the barrier is not to put post-1967 land on the Israeli side, but to prevent the slaughter of innocents. That its route encompasses some of the land East of the Green Line is necessary. That it juts into the West Bank to encompass enclaves like Ariel is HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC and rightly results in condemnation. In making peace, such issues will obviously need to be resolved. This all said, let us not pretend that when there are two states, suddenly there will be no need for the barrier. The barrier SAVES LIVES and will continue to save lives for the foreseeable future.
All one needs to do is look at the list of terror attacks against Israelis since 2000 and you will note the dramatic decline in both the quantity and effectiveness of attacks since the bulk of the barrier was completed by 2006. Just compare pre-2006 with post-2006: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Palestinian+terror+since+2000/Suicide+and+Other+Bombing+Attacks+in+Israel+Since.htm
But also think of this: there have been no major Israel incursions into the West Bank for years now. Why? Because the threat from the West Bank is minimal. People there can go about their lives without fear of Israeli military operations. During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, people in the West Bank watched the news on televisions in cafes without fear that suddenly dozens of tanks would pour through their villages. The barrier has provided real security for the Palestinians in the West Bank, not only for the Israelis, by allowing Israel and the Palestinians to avoid regular and increasing conflicts.
Now, I am not under the false pretense that "life is good" in the West Bank. Peace will make it far better. A Palestinian state in control of a large contiguous territory in the West Bank will make it overwhelmingly better. But right now, one of the things that has resulted in dramatically better lives for the people in the West Bank versus Gaza is that Israel has largely been able to leave the people of the West Bank alone. It has not had to send in forces to strike at would be slaughterers of innocents, while resulting in the collateral damage of civilian deaths and injuries, destroyed infrastructure, ruined economies,.... That is PRIMARILY the result of the effectiveness of the Security Barrier.
Shalom is not simply the absence of violence. Shalom is a sense of well-being that is achieved with the absence of the THREAT of violence.
It saddens me that the Pope did not acknowledge that the Separation Barrier is, for lack of a better term, a necessary evil. Taken in conjunction with the missed opportunity to connect with justified ONGOING, not only decades old, Jewish fears of genocide, the absence of acknowledgement of the Security Barrier as a RESULT of the real threats against the Jews and Jewish people from those who would continue the work of the NAZIs is in my mind glaring.
I think those ARE the Pope's sentiments. I simply wish that he had stated more explicitly in Bethlehem that there is a NEED for the barrier as long as there are threats of violence or even that he understood Israel's act in its construction as based upon its security fears. With many nations condemning Israel for defending its citizenry against those who would slaughter them, such a statement could have been greatly beneficial.
Immediately following the Pope's statement in Bethlehem, standing before the barrier, President Abbas' spoke. Abbas said that the “apartheid wall” was a bid by the Jewish state to drive Palestinian Christians and Muslims from the Holy Land. He spoke of “oppression, tyranny and land expropriation” and said Palestinians wanted a future with “no occupation, no checkpoints, no walls, no prisoners, no refugees”. Abbas gave the Pope's words CONTEXT that the Pope did not intend, because the Pope did not give them context that day.
If I were the speech writer for the Pope, I would have written the following words for him to have said in Bethlehem:
While I am saddened by the very existence of this wall and the conflict that has resulted in its construction, having just visited Yad Vashem, where I saw the results of the kind of libelous rhetoric about, murderous hatred against, and demonization of the Jewish people that are continually, even today, uttered against the Jews in the media, including on Palestinian television stations, by religious leaders, and on the streets in the Arab world and have been all too often put into action from THIS SIDE of the wall, I can understand WHY the wall behind me exists. For there to be a Palestinian state, the Jews must be allowed to live in peace and security in their own state on the OTHER SIDE of this wall. You must be allowed to live in peace and security on THIS SIDE of the wall in your own state. Someday, it is my fervent hope that the wall behind me will not separate enemies, but will divide friends and then it will be taken down. Let us pray for the coming of that day.