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August 31, 2015 | 16th Elul 5775

Barbarians at the Gate

May 11, 2003
Marc Rosenstein

When we arrived at Shorashim in 1990, there were sections of the perimeter of the settlement that were fenced with a rusty barbed-wire fence about 4 feet high, several strands, the type of fencing used to keep out cows. There was a gate that could be swung shut across the entrance road, and we all had to do guard duty (all males), about once a month, midnight to 5 am. The gate was kept open, except during those morning hours, when it was the task of the guard to stand there and open it when necessary for cars entering and leaving. Occasionally, there was a flurry of concern about a stolen bicycle or garden tool, annoyance about the cows ruining our gardens, and ambivalence about the local Arabs collecting wild herbs on our hillside; but otherwise, no one lost any sleep due to fear of intruders. When the community was first established in the mid-80s, they had requested a perimeter fence, but the Defense Ministry did not feel it was a priority.

Then, around 1995, we were informed that the Defense Ministry had finally found the resources, and we were to receive a perimeter patrol road with lights, and a proper seven-foot chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Some of us were relieved, others annoyed by this intrusion into the landscape. When the objectors tried to make an issue of it, they were informed that it was too late, as the contract with the contractor had already been signed. The only concession that we were able to extract was to reduce the height to 5 feet. And so the bulldozers cut a path around the mountain, apparently not always working according to a blueprint, as the patrol road strayed off into several dead-ends. Wooden poles were erected for sodium vapor lights aimed outwards. And the fence was stretched along the road. The topography of the mountain is such that there are several large gaps, where the fence could not be built. Thus, while it is quite effective in preventing us from hiking around the mountainside, it seems to be less effective in keeping cows and goats out. Moreover, as one would expect, the inconvenience of the fence for shepherds and hikers led, within a couple of years, to the appearance of several unofficial "openings" allowing passage between Shorashim and the open mountainside. We still have cows in our gardens, stolen bicycles, and Arabs collecting herbs.

Now, I suppose in the wake of the riots of 2000, all of the communities in our area are being equipped with massive steel entrance gates that roll on tracks, opening and closing ponderously in response to a signal from a remote control or a cell phone. People who complain about the inconvenience are assured that the gate will only be kept closed from 11 pm to 5 am – and that there will still be a guard on duty from midnight to 5 am (no longer one of us, but a hired security guard; when Shorashim privatized, and our employer was no longer ourselves, we found ourselves unwilling to take a turn staying up all night when we couldn't expect our employer to let us come to work at 9:30 the next day). I gather that the gate is not really meant to keep out wandering cows, teenage bicycle thieves, or herb-gatherers, but rather, is being put in place "just in case" we are attacked, besieged by… …by whom? Mobs of urban proletarians hungry for bread? Bloodthirsty Arabs seeking to drive us into the sea?

Some people love the gate. It makes them feel safe, protected, fortified. It confirms their self-image as embattled pioneers (colonists?) standing firm for civilization inside their stockade against the terrorists and savages at the gate.

I, on the other hand, am among the soft-minded faction who hate the gate, for it is an unmistakable symbol of our distrust of our neighbors, of our insecurity, of our outsiderness - and as such, I fear it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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