This morning I went to see the "separation fence" with some other students from my University. I assumed that the trip was sponsered by my school, and it would just be a small group of us going to see it and discuss it. Turns out it was part of a huge tour planned by the Israeli government for foreign students in Israel. There were over a hundred students, mostly American Jews still in college, and they shepherded us into a building, passing out fliers titled Saving Lives: Israel's Security Fence, and led us into an auditorium, where the fence was vigorously defended by members of the Israeli government, and where Natan Sharansky addressed us and encouraged us to get involved in student activism in support of Israel when we returned to our home countries. He himself was freed from a Russian prison after thirteen years due to political pressure from "students and housewives."
In spite of the obvious propaganda being hurled at us, I did manage to learn some interesting facts, such as the fact that 97% of the barrier is chain-link fence hooked up to an electronic surveillance system, meaning only 3% is actual ugly cement wall--not something I would have thought from the media's portrayal. Also the fact that since the security fence was built around Gaza in the nineties, not a single suicide bomber has passed through the fence to attack Israel (a sort-of exception being the two bombers of Tel Aviv's Mike's Place who passed through the checkpoints with British passports--the point being that they didn't get over the wall). These were interesting and convincing facts, and in truth, I am not entirely opposed to the wall (much to the horror of my more dovish friends, I'm sure), but I certainly did not like being fed this information in such an obviously slanted manner.
After the speeches, we set off in several buses to view the fence from Gilo, a neighborhood in southern Jerusalem. Here it is merely a fence, barely obtrusive on the landscape, and the soldier in charge of the security fence (not separation fence) in Jerusalem spoke to us, spouting more facts about dead Israelis and the drastic steps Israel has had to take to protect itself.
After this, we headed to Abu Dis, an Arab neighborhood near Mount Zion, one of the most disputed areas home to a huge concrete wall that looked to me over fifty feet high. We were most shocked to find when we got there that Israel had placed bus number 14, destroyed last week in a suicide bombing, right in front of the wall as a grim justification for its existance for all the Arabs to live with every day. (Another such bus was shipped to the Hague, Israel's only contribution to the International Court discussion of the fence). So here we were, staring deep into the bowels of this decimated bus, with all its twisted metal and blown out windows and seats stripped from their places, where seven people died a mere week ago. It was a bit more than I could take.
I was looking around at the Army Jeeps and the soldiers checking the IDs of the Palestinians passing through, at the graffitti scrawled on the wall (no to another wailing wall...from warsaw ghetto to Abu Dis ghetto...paid for by America...etc), and then at all the students, crowding around the bus, cameras flashing, people posing in front of the wall...it was hard to keep my thoughts straight. I was angry with Israel, angry with the Palestinians, angry with the students. I don't know why. Maybe because I find it so impossible to get to the truth here, when I'm surrounded by so many arguments from both sides--I just don't know what's right. Of course this wall is horrible, awful, should be taken down, but then again, if it works...if I can take buses here one day...not worry about blowing up...things are so much more complicated than either side is willing to admit.