A lot of people like to talk about how Israel's becoming a prison. But when it comes from a veteran war correspondent who was recently taken prisoner in Syria, the analogy is somehow more lucid. The journalist in question is none other than Richard Engel, NBC News's chief foreign correspondent who was kidnapped last year and spent nearly a week in the custody of Assad loyalists in Syria.
Engel just published a dispatch from Israel, undoubtedly pegged to President Obama's first visit to the Middle Eastern country in years. Under the bold headline, "Israel becomes a fortress nation as it walls itself off from the Arab Spring," Engel describes the many ways that Israel is has literally walled itself off from the region. You can't even pass between the country and the Gaza Striip without going through some bizarrely thorough screening process. It's straight out of the movie Gattaca (starring Ethan Hawke and Jude Law). Engel explains:
The tunnel is above ground, fenced in on both sides, and with a wire roof. It runs along the ground like a metal snake. It's about 20 feet wide and stretches for about a mile with a dog-leg turn in the middle. There are cement blocks in the tunnel so you can't drive a car through it. You have to walk, dragging your bags. It feels like you're passing through a wormhole from a beach community into a prison.
So Israel is a little bit protective. So what? Well, they have every right to be. Israel is a sovereign nation that's concerned, as any nation would be, about its security. It's also smack dab in the middle of chaos these days, as the Arab Spring becomes a recent memory and the messy cleanup becomes even messier. Sure, they're going to take some extra precautions.
But Israel has changed, Engel insists, and he's not the only one that thinks that. For years, scholars and journalists alike have been calling Israel a "garrison state." But a fortress and a garrison are not exactly synonyms. If we're to believe Engel, who's been covering the region for about two decades, the proposition is different now, somehow more dangerous. Israel's leadership knows it. Everyday Israelis are trying to remain oblivious, even if it takes tossing a few rock-throwing Palestinian children in jail.