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Prof. Jones’ ‘tear down this wall’ debate

by Shmuel Rosner

August 28, 2012 | 8:32 am

The sun casts the shadows of an Israeli Border Police officer and Palestinian women onto the West Bank fence at a checkpoint near Ramallah. (Photo: Reuters)

An associate professor of geography at the University of Hawaii has written a book ‎called “Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India and ‎Israel.” I haven’t read the book - it might be great. But I did read Reece Jones’ (that’s the ‎professor in question) article “Something There Is That Doesn’t Love a Wall” ‎‎(published by the International Herald Tribune) and was hardly impressed. In it, Jones ‎complain about the so-called “the world’s oldest democracy, the world’s largest ‎democracy, and the most stable democracy in the Middle East”. All three countries, he ‎says, “contend that they are walling out terrorists.”

What does he mean by “contend?” He probably would like to imply that such a ‎‎“contention” might not tell the whole story – but since Jones doesn’t have a different ‎story to tell, he leaves his readers with this implied sinister intention of nature ‎unknown. I can’t say much about the Indian fence, but I know quite a bit about the ‎Israeli one. It was built to keep terrorists out. ‎

Then comes Jones’ amazing revelation: Since “the war on terror is winding down,” the ‎contended reason is no longer viable. “Suicide bombings in Israel effectively stopped ‎at the end of the Second Intifada in 2005,” he writes, essentially saying: “Hey, why the ‎fence, the Intifada is over?” Except that the Intifada is over, among other things, ‎because of the fence, a fact that Jones omits to inform his readers. ‎

Then comes this phrase: “whether they are effective at preventing terrorism is ‎debatable.” Well, as long as Jones keeps implying that fences don’t work, his point ‎about a “debate” remains valid. Yes, there is a debate: Terrorism experts, high ranking ‎officers, specialists in preventing attacks, citizens living under threat on one side – and ‎Jones on the other. ‎

To prove that there is a debate Jones quotes two American secretaries speaking about ‎the American border with Mexico. But this is problematic on two counts:‎
‎ ‎
‎1. Quoting Secretary Napolitano speaking about the Mexico border doesn’t tell us ‎much about the fence Israel – and possibly India as well – was building. Different ‎places, different stories, different strategic objectives. Not every fence is exactly like ‎every other fence. 

‎2. Look at the quotes Jones uses. By way of convincing the readers that the ‎effectiveness of fences at preventing terrorism is “debatable”, he uses quotes that have ‎one message: Fences are not perfect (“I think the fence has come to assume a certain ‎kind of symbolic significance which should not obscure the fact that it is a much more ‎complicated problem than putting up a fence which someone can climb over with a ‎ladder or tunnel under with a shovel”). ‎

This is an important distinction that Jones fails to make. For him, that “none of these ‎three border security projects completely enclose the border” makes all of them ‎unworthy. That’s ridiculous: What if a fence only prevents 50% of infiltrations and ‎‎70% of terror attacks from across the border – is that not enough to justify its ‎existence?‎

Well, Jones writes, “walls are expensive to build and maintain.’ That’s true. But ask ‎any Israeli who lived in Jerusalem between 2000 and 2005 and you’ll get the ‎unequivocal answer: the fence was worth every penny, every dime, every bit of sweat. ‎If Israelis had to pay twice as much to get to this result – essentially halting the wave ‎of suicide bombing from the West Bank – they’d do it. But maybe that’s something ‎that’s harder to see from as far away as Hawaii.‎

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