Whenever I bring visitors to the country into the West Bank, the image of the grim, towering security wall is a daunting one to explain. As are the checkpoints in which soldiers inspect the documents and vehicles of Palestinian drivers but let Jewish Israelis pass unfettered.
I explain how the unfortunate reality arose due to the Second Intifada some 20 years ago. Israelis were being blown up left and right on buses, both inside and outside the Green Line that delineates the pre- and post-1967 Israel.
The construction of the security barrier and extra checkpoints throughout the West Bank have saved countless lives. Terrorists were no longer able to make their way undetected to perpetrate their crimes against humanity, and the level of terrorism dropped drastically.
A blight on the landscape, and an affront to an “open borders” policy that freedom-loving people aspire to, the security measures followed the doctrine that virtually all Israelis concluded back then – the right of Israelis to travel on roads in the West Bank and Israel proper and arrive home safely – superseded the freedom of movement of the Palestinian population.
That’s been the working thesis up to today. And despite the rising incidents of terrorism, both inside Israel and on West Bank roads, those security measures have remained effective.
West Bank Checkpoints: An Effective And Necessary Security Measure
So, it’s surprising that when National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir espoused pretty much that same sentiment last week on N12, following the horrific murder of Batsheva Nigri on Route 60 near Hebron, he was skewered and called racist.
“My right and that of my wife and my children, to travel on the roads in Judea and Samaria, is more important than the freedom of movement for Arabs. I’m sorry Muhammed [Magadi],” he told an Israeli-Arab journalist on the panel. “That is the reality, that is the truth. My right to life takes precedence over your freedom of movement,” he said.
The comments reached Washington, where a State Department spokesperson stated, “We strongly condemn Minister Ben-Gvir’s inflammatory comments on the freedom of movement of Palestinian residents of the West Bank.
“We condemn all racist rhetoric; as such messages are particularly damaging when amplified by those in leadership positions and are incongruent with advancing respect for human rights for all,” the spokesperson stated.
US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “have been clear that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to enjoy equal measures of freedom and security,” the spokesperson stated.
There doesn’t seem to be any argument over the right of people not to be arbitrarily killed or targeted in hate crimes – and that in order to achieve that, it means that security sometimes trumps some unrestricted freedom of travel – whether at a checkpoint or a metal detector at an airport. That’s a fact for everyone since 9/11 in the West as well.
Heightened security in the West Bank also saves Palestinian lives. It’s not only zero-sum for Jews to travel, but not Arabs. It also saves Palestinian civilians from being in the crossfire or turning into endless victims of endless war.
Although the vast majority of Palestinians are not terrorists, those in their midst whose life goal is to murder Israelis are the ones who created the reality that all have to live with now.
You can blame it on the “occupation” or on the totally weak and ineffectual Palestinian Authority, but the reality is – until a political solution emerges for this area coveted by two peoples – that the safety of Israeli lives does take precedence over the unlimited freedom of access for Palestinians.
It’s unfortunate, but it’s not a racist sentiment. What Ben-Gvir said was offensive less because of its content – which has been official Israeli policy for decades – but more because of who said it: a minister who seems to have no regard for anyone besides Jewish Israelis and would probably like even more restrictions be put on the Palestinian residents of the West Bank.
Regardless of his ideology or motives, I’ll still keep telling visitors that I really believe that Israel would like nothing better than to demolish the security barriers and dismantle the checkpoints. But until that’s possible – if that ever comes – I’m thankful every day that they exist.
David Brinn is the managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. He made aliya in 1985 and has worked in many capacities at the Post since 1990. He was also the founder of the Israel office of media advocacy organization ISRAEL21c. In 2008, Brinn was chosen as a fellow in the prestigious USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program. He is co-author of the bestselling book ‘Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life,’ published by Divine Arts.