Guest Column by Alexandra Friedman | What We See From Here
October 14, 2013, 4:24 am · Updated October 14, 2013, 9:38 pm·
Ha-Iriya. Al-Baladiya. City Hall. I look up as the train arrives at City Hall Station in Jerusalem, read first in Hebrew, second in Arabic and third in English. I look around — men in black hats, women in hijabs, girls in short skirts, soldiers in uniform. During ordinary moments like this, I am reminded of the city I have come to love so much, the city in which I currently live: Jerusalem.
On my first day of school, as I looked out over East Jerusalem from my classroom window, I was struck by a sight infamous around the world: the security fence between Israel and the West Bank, known by some as an “apartheid wall.” While this was not the first time I had seen the fence in person, it impacted me in a way I had never experienced before. Never had there been such a blatant reminder to me of the violence that once permeated life on my campus and still permeates life in Israel.
On July 31, 2002, during the Second Intifada period, Hebrew University was bombed by Hamas terrorists. The attack took place at the end of the summer Hebrew language course in Frank Sinatra Cafe, a large cafeteria on campus. Nine students, including Americans, were killed, and 100 were wounded. In response to the attack, thousands of Gaza residents took to the streets in celebration.
Today, I just completed my Hebrew language course. I ate in Frank Sinatra for lunch. I left my apartment this morning with every intention of coming back. I walk around campus without fear of attack. I am able to do this because of the security fence protecting Israel.
During the Second Intifada period, terrorist bombings like the one at my host university became commonplace. Restaurants, buses and schools within Israel became regular settings for massacres of Jews and Arabs alike. The ease with which a terrorist could cross from the West Bank into Israel made this possible and thus necessitated the building of a security fence, of which 90 percent is fence and only 10 percent is a concrete wall. Since its construction, the number of terrorist attacks has declined by more than 90 percent. In 2002, before construction began, 457 Israelis were murdered. In 2009, eight Israelis were killed. This fence is not a weapon — it is a shield.
Today, in memorial of those killed in the Hebrew University attack, there stands a tree planted at an incline into the ground. The exact meaning of the “sideways tree” is not certain, but it has come to symbolize Israel’s strength and solidarity in the face of terror. Despite being uprooted, Israel has continued to grow and flourish and Israelis have, in the face of adversity, remained rooted in the land.
There is no doubt that the security fence has a significant impact on the daily lives of Palestinians. There is also no doubt, however, that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorist actions. To relegate the wall protecting Israel from countless terrorist attacks and preventing the deaths of hundreds of Israeli citizens to the status of an “apartheid wall” makes this complex issue black-and-white. It diminishes the importance of the historical context in which the wall was built and neglects the gray area that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There is a saying here that one of my Hebrew teachers shared with me that translates roughly to something like this: what we see from here, they can’t see from there. What Israelis and Palestinians have historically had to face and continue to face is not something understood from “there,” whether that be your living room, your lecture hall or a news studio.
The fence outside of my classroom window serves to protect my life, and the lives of Jews and Arabs. To understand its meaning and purpose, one must live here. One must have experienced the fear that existed during the Second Intifada and the relative calm that has existed in Israel since. I am not claiming to understand those feelings, but I am refusing to ignore them. This is not simply a fence: it is a better night’s sleep, it is the ability to eat at a restaurant without fear, it is peace of mind.
Ha-Iriya. Al-Baladiya. City Hall. Doesn’t sound like apartheid to me.
Alexandra Friedman is a College junior from Marietta, Ga., who is studying abroad in Israel. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.