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Foreign Affairs; Walls, by Thomas L Friedman

This is a menu of the topics on this page (click on any): September 11, 2001, Tuesday    
Foreign Affairs; Walls     By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN    .

September 11, 2001, Tuesday

Foreign Affairs; Walls


As I was preparing to leave for this trip the other day, my teenage daughter asked me where I was going. ''Israel,'' I said.

''Why do you have to go there?'' she asked, with a worried frown.

Hmm, I thought. I've been visiting Israel since my youth, but my daughter -- who was born in Jerusalem while I was there as the Times bureau chief -- now thinks it's Kosovo.

Think how corrosive this will be for Israel and world Jewry, if this cycle of Palestinian suicide bombs and Israeli retaliations continues. A hard core of Orthodox Jews and Middle East nuts like myself will continue to visit Israel, but no matter how many solidarity marches they hold in New York, the next generation of American Jews will not share an intimate connection with the Jewish state.

I relate this story because it's one of the many ''mini-partitions'' that have been set off by Intifada II and the collapse of Oslo. What's happening is that the big diplomacy is totally stuck. Israel, the P.L.O., the Bush team and the Arabs lack either the power, the will or the way to separate, with a grand partition, into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state.

In fact, the status quo is politically quite tolerable for both the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, and Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon. For the moment, each is riding high in the polls, and neither has to confront his hard-line base and say the game is up. The status quo is also tolerable for President Bush, because as long as there is no peace process he doesn't have to pressure Israel to compromise, which is the last thing he wants to do, since it would inevitably force a clash with U.S. Jews, whose votes and donations he needs to protect his G.O.P. majority in the House.

But while the leaders are unable to forge the big partition, and can tolerate the status quo, the people increasingly can't. So what's happening on the ground is a million little personal partitions. People all over Israel are building their own walls to separate themselves from danger. ''Everyone is now their own minister of defense,'' said an Israeli colleague.

West Bank settlers are isolated from friends in Israel because they are afraid to take responsibility for inviting anyone to visit their settlements for fear they will be shot on the roads. Israeli parents refuse to let their kids go to malls, cinemas or discos that might be targets of suicide bombers. ''First I decide which movie theater I think will be the safest, then I check which movie is playing,'' an Israeli mother told me.

You drive north to the Jerusalem suburb of Psagot, which overlooks Ramallah, and you find that the houses with the best view of the Ramallah hills now have an anti-sniper concrete wall in front of them and sandbags on the windows. You drive south, between the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo and the Arab village of Beit Jala, and there is another long concrete wall blocking snipers from hitting Gilo, but also sealing in Gilo. There are Hebrew posters all over this wall that read: ''The New Middle East.'' Some Israeli coffee shops now have security guards at the door to deter suicide bombers.

I was driving with an Israeli journalist to Har Gilo, an Israeli settlement south of Jerusalem, when we came to an Israeli checkpoint at a fork in the road; one branch went to Jerusalem and the other to the Arab village of Vallaje. When we accidentally turned down the branch to the Arab village, an Israeli soldier angrily waved us back: ''Do you want to get lynched?'' he exclaimed. Think about this: Vallaje is an Arab village that is actually part of Israel-annexed East Jerusalem. But while it is officially part of Jerusalem, no Jew can go there anymore. There's a wall.

The building of Israeli settlements all over the West Bank has made the big partition, or even unilateral separation, extremely difficult. And Mr. Arafat's mendacity has made it even harder. But living with Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli retaliations has become unbearable for Israelis, and Palestinians, so people are just building a wall, or carrying one around in their heads -- partitioning themselves wherever they can. Israelis wall themselves into their homes, and wall the Palestinians off their roads, and the Palestinians go to Durban and try to wall the Israelis off from the world.

There are so many walls going up around here you can't tell anymore: Who is jailing whom?

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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