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How Removing Checkpoints Could Make Israelis More Secure


Fact is social science is not going to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we've come across a way that seems to reduce hard feelings and even violence in the Middle East. This comes to us from NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam. He joins us regularly here on MORNING EDITION. He sat down with our colleague, Steve Inskeep.



INSKEEP: So this comes out of a study I gather. What was the study?

VEDANTAM: Well, the study was based on what social scientists call a natural experiment. Daphna Canetti at the University of Haifa in Israel and Matthew Longer (ph) who was then at Yale University and Nancy Hydruben (ph) at Tufts heard about an initiative by Tony Blair. Blair has played a very active role in Middle East peace negotiations.

INSKEEP: Oh, the former British prime minister.

VEDANTAM: Exactly. Now, under this plan, Israel was to voluntarily dismantle some checkpoints that curtail the movement to Palestinians in the West Bank.

INSKEEP: OK. So this is an Israeli checkpoint in between, say, a couple of Palestinian neighborhoods or towns.

VEDANTAM: That's exactly right. Now, before the checkpoint dismantling initiative was made public, Canetti and her colleagues quickly conducted detailed surveys in 17 villages. Some of them were located in areas where checkpoints were going to be removed. Others were in areas where the checkpoints were not going to be removed. And once the checkpoints were actually removed, Canetti and her colleagues went back in, and they surveyed people in these areas once again.

INSKEEP: And the question is, are people feeling differently after the checkpoints were removed?

VEDANTAM: Precisely. I reached Daphna Canetti on the phone in Israel, and she told me she was stunned at the difference removing the checkpoints made on the desire among Palestinians to make peace with Israel.

DAPHNA CANETTI: In the places where checkpoints were removed, the local Palestinians expressed more support for negotiations for peace with Israel, way less support for violence, way less intention to participate in violent acts.

INSKEEP: Very different attitudes even though the overall Israeli-Palestinian situation has not changed. But let me ask you - she says people say they had less intent to commit violent acts. Did they actually commit fewer violent acts?

VEDANTAM: Well, Canetti actually went back and she tracked all incidents of anti-Israel violence in the areas before and after the checkpoints were dismantled. And she says she found measureable changes in actual behavior.

CANETTI: We saw a decrease in the number of instances of Palestinian violence against Israelis in the places where checkpoints were removed.

INSKEEP: So checkpoints are troublesome for people. They don't like going through them. They don't like having them around. And this study finds that when the checkpoints are removed, Palestinians are a little bit happier. Isn't there some level on which that's kind of obvious?

VEDANTAM: On one level, it is obvious, Steve. But it's important to remember, of course, that Israel placed the checkpoints in place. So in other words, Israel thought the checkpoints actually increased security. Canetti told me the checkpoints were tricky things because while they might make Israelis feel safer, they might actually be decreasing security. Here she is again.

CANETTI: The message that we were trying to deliver was, hey, Israel, you have to take the risk. Give it a chance. And in the long run, you'll have more security, and not just the sense of security but real security.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. So she's saying that at least in this instance having less security made Israelis more safe.

VEDANTAM: It sounds paradoxical, Steve. But that's exactly what Canetti is finding. She also says that she's had conversations with the Israeli defense forces where they're really interested in this kind of research because Canetti thinks she's found not just the empirical finding that there's less violence, but the reason that there is less violence. The survey research tends to suggest that Palestinians respond with anger and violence not just because of the inconveniences of the checkpoint but because the checkpoints produce humiliation, and there's been a large body of scholarly work, Steve, that suggests that humiliation is often a big driver for anger and violence.

INSKEEP: Shankar, thanks very much.

VEDANTAM: Thanks, Steve.

MONTAGNE: And that's Steve Inskeep speaking with NPR's Shankar Vedantam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
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