On fences and schoolyards


You are a teacher, and you know that two of your students tend to but heads any chance they get. You also know that the violence between the two is escalating and you're trying to help them. One day you go into the schoolyard and you see both of them engaged in the mother of all fights...what do you do?


OPTION A: You let them kill each other so they will get it out of their systems.

CONSEQUENCES: Both end up with bloody noses, multiple cuts and bruises, and you get blame by both sets of parents for allowing it to happen. You loose your job, and in the next opportunity they get, both of your (former) students engage again in the Grandmother of all fights, maybe with knives this time...


OPTION B: You get in the middle between the two of them, force them to sit down and talk on the spot.

CONSEQUENCES: Neither one is really listening to the other, and their main goal is to prove that the other one is the one to blame. You waste much of your precious time and achieve no results. As soon as you look the other way, they are at it again...


OPTION C: You get in the middle between the two of them, you send them both home suspended for two days. Talk with the parents about it, and insist that they make sure the two of them do not see each other for a while. If possible, you transfer one of them out of your classroom. After a week or so, you bring them together with their parents, the two kids and the two sets of parents and you ask them to share why they hate each other.

CONSEQUENCES: Maybe you get nowhere, and they still hate each others' guts – but you have a better chance that they will actually listen to each other. Why? Because you introduced the “cool down period”


Most people don't act very rationally when their passions are inflamed, and most loose the ability to listen to an alternative point of view. If we allow for a cooling down period and give people time to think, at least we have a chance at rational behavior.


The Separation Fence was first proposed by Yitzhak Rabin in 1994, and it was eventually implemented after the intifadah began in 2000. The purpose of the barrier as stated by the Israeli government was to stop “human bombs” (referred at the time as suicide bombers) from reaching Israeli civilian population centers. Anybody familiar with the geography of the area can understand that after all, there is only a short hour walk between the old Green Line and the Great Tel-Aviv metropolitan area, mere minutes to downtown Jerusalem. Did the fence performed as advertised? The answer is a rotund yes!. Suicide bombings in Israel proper originating in the West Bank are pretty much a thing of the past, reduced by more than 90 % in the first 5 years of fence construction.


If the suicide bombings would have continued at the pre-separation barrier levels, Israelis would not have felt comfortable at all with making concessions. The Gaza unilateral disengagement would not have happened and negotiations would have never resumed. Nobody feels comfortable negotiating with a gun against their head. The separation barrier afforded both sides with the necessary “cooling down” time to create an environment conducive to dialogue. So what went wrong?


Apparently the parent didn't talk to the violent kids. Based on the broadcasts from the Palestinian Authority controlled Media, the Palestinians Authority not only didn't do anything to stem the flow of bombers, but instigated instead an increase. This was done through special payments to the families of terrorists who blew themselves up in the middle of Israeli civilian areas, and these terrorist were officially hailed as “martyrs” and got streets and plazas named for them. The time was obviously not used for cooling down the game, but rather used for fanning the flames.


The principle, however, still holds. Insofar the separation barrier continues to be effective in stopping terrorist attacks in Israel proper, Israelis will be more willing to make concessions because they will feel more secure and more confident. If, however, attacks continue, Israelis will just decide to use their upper hand to squash the terrorists in their nests. The Palestinian Authority has now a golden opportunity to change their traditional approach to the conflict and to begin to promote Peace among their people.


A new era is downing in the Middle East...whether a better one or a worse one is something on which the jury is still out, but what is clear as distilled water is that each one of the actors has now a chance to change the game for the better or the worse. It is a choice. Israel has chose to go to Jordan and seriously engaged with its Palestinian Arab counterparts to find a solution under the auspices of the Quartet, and presented clear positions. The Palestinian leadership, however, chose (again) to walk out.


Historical windows of opportunity do not stay open for long, and it is sometimes many years until a new window opens. Will the Palestinian leaders take a chance at Peace, or will they come back to the schoolyard ready to fight again?


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