The border with Lebanon is called “the quiet border.” It used to be so before Hezbollah. However, after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and an 18-year occupation there, UN watch-towers overlook a security zone in the Southern Bekaa valley: the term when applied to the northern border is an anachronism. Today, “Jordan is the real quiet border,” say our kibbutznick friends Dudu and Shaul. They, like every Israeli we have met on this trip, are satisfied with the effectiveness of the separation wall. “It has worked and that is good enough for me,” says Dudu.
The residents of Kibbutz Ashdod Ya'acov get on well with their Jordanian neighbors. “It’s peaceful, but it’s a cold peace,” says Shaul. Indeed, they have no interaction with their neighbors across the river valley; and there is no opportunity for contact. Still, even though it's quiet, they feel the need for the fence: “The violence moves around; today it’s in Gaza,” offers Dudu, implying tomorrow it might come back to Kibbutz Ashdod Ya’acov.
“What should be done with the West Bank,” we query. They shrug for not knowing what to do. Dudu is partial to giving it back to Jordan. Not that Jordan would be receptive to such an offer if made. And not that it looks like Israel is prepared to give up control of the West Bank anytime soon.
Shaul spent time in an Israeli prison for refusing to perform border duty in the territories while he was in the IDF. Today, after Munich, the Yom Kippur war, the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada, ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza, and extreme rhetoric from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also from some in the West Bank, he is less sure about his stance. “We know that if they don’t vigorously pull suspects out of bed, we’ll have more attacks,” says Dudu. The belief is strong that this is so. You hear it again and again.
The lack of trust carries over toward Muslim Israelis (20 percent of the population). All Isrealis are required to serve in the army upon turning 18. However, Muslim Israelis get an exemption. They may volunteer, but almost none do; and if they do volunteer they are not generally allowed to serve in regular units. “We don’t trust them,” is the universal Israeli Jewish consensus.
There are reasons for the lack of trust. But lack of trust makes the conflict intractable. A Jewish army for a Jewish state is a natural thing, but it is not likely to help overcome mututal distrust in the foreseeable future. Driving down the Jordan Valley through the West Bank the road lies entirely in Area C, IDF controlled territory. Yet there is hardly any IDF presence in this part of the Jordan Valley. There are large Israeli farming operations and several Israeli settlements. There is no border control. There are Israeli Regional Councils. It’s clear that the Jordan Valley is, de facto, a part of Israel. The border is east along the fence with Jordan and the country extends from there to the Mediterranean Sea. Here is a graphic of Area C.
This past week there was talk by mainstream Israeli politicians about annexing Area C in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks. It is not surprising: the two state solution is dead. As we drive to dinner with friends in Modi'in we pass "the Green Line," the pre 1967 border. Today there is no trace of this line. This area is fully within Israel. The same is true for Latrun, where we purchased a nice Syrah from an old monastery. Even though Area C includes 60% of the West Bank, it contains only ~150,000 people. Israel can grant full citizenship to those inhabitants without upsetting the applecart of a Jewish majority. What’s left of the West Bank after the annexation of Area C are the enclaves of Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and some smaller pockets in between: 2.2 million people without citizenship, without the right to travel freely, without substantial hope for the future, and at risk of being hauled out of bed at the point of a gun by the IDF at 3:00 a.m.
How do you build trust? It’s a two way street; but the street is blocked by IDF check-points. There is hardly a trickle of traffic on this road to peace. The guide books make it sound like you can visit the territories like any part of Israel. You certainly can’t from Jerusalem. You may be able to freely go past checkpoints to Bethlehem from the Jordan Valley, but certainly not to Nablus or Ramallah. Our rental car contract prohibits us from traveling to any part of the territories. It's no accident. Israel feels very safe, but the idea of travel to the territories on your own feels less safe. How much of this is imagined? How much is real? No one here can tell us, because they don’t venture there, and the Palestinians living there are hemmed in. Israelis don’t trust them.
Israelis are generally satisfied with the current security situation. They’ve built a great and vibrant country that is safe. The Hebrew language has been fully revived, the economy is growing at a healthy clip. Israel is prominent in high tech, energy production, and now in biotechnology as well. There is a strong feeling of family among all Jewish Israelis. For now they are ignoring the problem in their midst.