Courage of Her Convictions

JERUSALEM—Jessica Montell ’90 pops out of the passenger side of the armored Jeep and, ignoring the guard booth, charges toward a gap between two 30-foot high concrete slabs that make up the separation barrier between this part of Jerusalem and the West Bank. One of the guards, an Israeli soldier who is half Montell’s age, jumps up and raises his automatic weapon. “You can’t go there,” he barks in Hebrew.

Montell stops, but barks back, “We’re looking at the wall.” She has a reporter in tow and is determined to point out the problems with the controversial separation barrier, which has been under construction since 2002. The soldier lowers his weapon but shakes his head.

Undeterred, Montell rolls her eyes and marches off in a different direction; she can make her point just as easily from a few feet away. As executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Montell is used to hearing “no” both from government officials and average citizens alike. Too many Israelis in recent years—teens in night clubs, commuters on their way to work, elderly women shopping in the open market—have been indiscriminately slain by suicide bombers, and few Israelis are willing to hear about human rights for the Palestinians. But Montell is determined to document and to educate the public about the economic hardship and human rights abuses she believes the separation barrier is imposing on innocent Palestinians. To that end, she is proud of the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to mandate changes in the barrier’s route, changes that bring it closer to the so-called “Green Line,” the armistice line established between Israel and its enemies after the 1948 war.

The 450-mile-long barrier—designed to stop deadly terrorist bombings of the second intifada by cordoning off Israel entirely from the West Bank—consists in most places of a layered system of dirt security roads, barbed wire, and electronic fence. In about 5 percent of the barrier’s length, the fence system breaks out into concrete walls 30 feet high. (Mirroring the semantic polemics of the “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” debate, the barrier is commonly referred to by supporters as “the fence” and by opponents as “the wall.”)

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