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May 6, 2004
They built up topsoil along the Israeli side of the fence, almost to the top, my friend said, and they've planted shrubs.

So it looks like a lovely hill, with a pretty little fence on top. In another stretch, they've painted a mural on the wall, architectural arches, with a painted green vista in between them. The message is obvious: This is not really a wall.

But on the Palestinian side, it is. A bare wall, forty feet tall.

Oh, it's a ha-ha, I said.

She hadn't heard of ha-has. Not many people have: a ha-ha is a feature of eighteenth-century English landscape design, one that solves the problem of what to do when you want to be able to see your cattle or your sheep grazing in their pretty meadow, but don't want them to come right up to the house and poop on your porch.

You cut straight down from the place in your lovely lawn beyond which you do not wish them to approach. About six feet down, higher than a cow or a sheep can jump. Straight down, so they can't climb. And then you slope the meadow to the cut, forming what amounts to a cliff, if you're the cow.

But if you're the landowner, all you see is a lovely expanse of grass. No ugly fence. Just your lovely lawn. And, at the prescribed distance, your pretty cows. Ha-Ha! you chortle -- hence the name.

We will build a fence to keep them out. But we won't call it a fence. Soon, we won't even have to know it's a fence. The shrubs will grow and spread, and you won't be able to see a thing.

It's a ha-ha, I told Q on the phone. He is at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington this week, a center for the study of landscape design. Q is an expert on Kew Gardens. Honest.

He listened to my description. Well, it's not exactly a ha-ha, he said finally. A ha-ha's purpose is to allow you to see the animals, yet keep them away. With this wall, you won't even see the Palestinians.

We must protect ourselves against them. But the wall cuts right through the Palestinians' olive groves, so they can't get to them. It prevents them from getting to their jobs, so they lose them. Some of them can't get to their schools. It keeps suicide bombers out, but it imprisons everybody else along with them.

And we are surprised that they are angry.

In the 1980s, Mayor Koch ordered the broken, walled-up windows of the city-owned buildings in the South Bronx painted, and lovely painted windows appeared on the faces of all the wretched buildings that faced the Cross Bronx expressway, where all the Westchester commuters drove by. Windows, with curtains and window boxes with plants in them. It was absurd. People would have laughed, but it wasn't funny. It was cruel. Nobody will know.

Everybody knew.

You can't paint over oppression and poverty and suffering. You can't make them disappear by putting a plant in front of them. You can do what you wish to protect yourself. Go ahead. But you can also reap the consequences of having done so. Some things you do to protect yourself may place you in greater danger. Think ahead. Farther ahead than tomorrow or the next day. Think outside the box of your own immediate goals.

What will really happen because of what you do?
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