Time to finish the fence

Posted: Aug 14, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The wit and sage Malcolm Muggeridge used to say, with a wink, travel narrows the mind. Well, I have been doing quite a bit of it over the past year and found it to actually sharpen the mind.

In a suburb of Jerusalem a few months back, I sat on an Israeli friend's patio and looked across a little valley where my friend told me Palestinian militants inhabited the neat homes on the ridge. In those homes, teen-agers live who on weekends take a bus over to my friend's side so they can mix with their peers of the opposite sex. Those are my kind of teen-agers. There are other Palestinian youths, however, who contemplate the day they might strap explosives around themselves, cross the valley and blow up innocent civilians.

The distance across the valley is not very great. It brought to my mind a valley 50 miles outside Washington, a much wider valley. There, my hunting buddies practice their art. With a good .30 caliber Weatherby magnum, even a mediocre shot can pick a small bird off a limb at 1,200 yards. At a quarter mile -- and that is about the distance from my Israeli friend's patio to his Palestinian neighbors' yards -- any shot would be easy.

Distances in Israel and Palestine are exiguous. Israeli patrols and helicopter assaults might be suppressing sharpshooters on either side of the border. Now, however, the Israelis feel they need to put up a fence to stop suicide bombers. Our State Department considers that fence an impediment to peace. So in a matter of weeks, the number of morally confused young Palestinians who blow themselves up in civilian purlieus will probably hit 100 -- unless that fence is built.

Just the other day, two more young Palestinians succeeded in crossing into Israel and killing innocent people. The dupes of Hamas, they broke a six-week-long moratorium against this sort of savagery. The moratorium was supposed to allow the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority to get on with Phase I of the American-sponsored Road Map to Peace. The dupes' last act on earth was to kill innocent people along with themselves. I would have thought that the Mullahs of Islam would have by now spoken out thunderously against this sort of barbarism as a sin against Allah, but only a few have. No Western religion I know of would be so mute on such horror.

The Israelis need to get on with finishing their fence. Its electronic systems on both sides will save lives, even the lives of the would-be suicide murderers. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been reluctant to finish the fence, but now it is clear he must. "If there was a fence today," an Israeli mayor remarked the other day after his town suffered one of the aforementioned attacks, "the suicide bombers would not have penetrated here." Frankly, I need to hear no more. Finish the fence. The United States uses fences to keep illegal aliens out and on overpasses to prevent morons from dropping bricks on cars. The Israelis' need for a fence is demonstrably greater.

Creation of the fence is not even a danger to the Road Map for Peace. The Road Map never mentions the fence. The Road Map does call for "sustained, targeted and effective operations aimed at ... dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure." Thus far, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has failed to do this. He fears civil war. How can the Israelis put any hope in a man who at this point has so little control over his jurisdiction?

Prime Minister Sharon has great respect for President George W. Bush and has thus far acquiesced to his wishes regarding this fence. At first, the president publicly opposed it, but now his opposition seems to be weakening. President Bush has demonstrated a healthy sense for the need to defend against brutes. Surely he will not persist in opposing something as sensible as a fence to keep murderers out of civilian neighborhoods. Yet whether he does or not, the Israelis should do their duty and protect their citizens, both Jews and Arabs, from slaughter.

From all I have been able to see, Prime Minister Sharon is a man of superior judgment. He is a man who has aged magnificently, a great soldier when that was his role, a superb statesman now. He knows, of course, that the West has never been beaten when it showed military resolve against brutes. Doubtless he will continue to show that resolve. It is good for Israel and even good for Palestinians. Those teen-agers who come down from their Palestinian neighborhoods to socialize in Israel ought to be as free from terror as Israelis. Build the fence, and maintain checkpoints.