Security Fences Make Good Neighbors
By Eric Trager
Sensing that the terror-fighting strategy of military occupation and reoccupation of Palestinian areas could not continue indefinitely for both political and strategic reasons, Labor members of the previous national unity government proposed the building of a security fence in June 2002. Since then, the fence has gained the backing of Likud members of the government, most notably Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, creating a strong political force for its construction. It has also become a lightning rod for criticism from the international community with Palestinian leaders and critics around the world calling the proposed fence a “racist separation wall”1 and an “apartheid wall.”2 However, the details of the proposal illustrate clearly that the potential benefit and true intention of the plan: effectively keeping terrorists out of Israel while minimizing intrusion into the daily lives of Palestinians.
In the three years of intifada, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have adopted a number offensive measures to stop terrorists from infiltrating Israeli cities and towns. While these offensive methods have proven effective at reducing the number of attacks, they cannot ensure Israeli security indefinitely, demonstrating the urgent need for the security fence. As a student who spent the summer in Israel during 2002—the peak of Palestinian terror—I witnessed these limitations firsthand. Two weeks into my trip, Palestinian terrorists struck Israeli civilian targets on three consecutive days. On Tuesday, June 18, nineteen people were killed in a suicide bus bombing; six of the victims were students on their way to high school. On Wednesday, June 19, another seven people were murdered when a terrorist detonated himself next to a Jerusalem bus stop. On Thursday, June 20, yet a third terrorist infiltrated a home in the West Bank Jewish town of Itamar, killing a wife and three children as the father watched in agony.
Eating dinner on Ben Yehuda Street—an outdoor mall in Jerusalem—on the Wednesday night, I witnessed Israel in despair. Israeli police officers and army personnel outnumbered civilians significantly. Trained dogs were being led up and down the streets, sniffing every inanimate object for explosive material. Israel remained on high alert, and proceeded with its second West Bank offensive in three months. Within the week, the IDF had reoccupied seven of eight major West Bank Palestinian cities, imposing 24-hour curfews and strengthening checkpoints along the Green Line.
These offensive tactics, however, can have only limited success. When the IDF loosened the curfews nearly a month later, Palestinian terrorists again succeeded in infiltrating Israel and killing innocent Israelis. The proposed security fence is clearly not an ideal solution to the conflict. A negotiated solution in which both Israelis and Palestinians agree on how to live together side by side would be more effective at achieving peace and more acceptable to both sides. However, with the failure of the Oslo process and absence of a responsible Palestinian leadership willing to assume control of Palestinian terror groups, Israel has rightly begun to consider what Sharon calls “the unilateral security step of disengagement.”3 The security fence is an effective way of achieving this goal, providing a clear physical barrier that will allow Israeli security personnel to monitor who comes into Israel and thereby achieve greater security.
Moreover, there is important evidence that the fence will work. A similar fence encompassing the Gaza Strip under the 1994 Jericho-Gaza Agreement has significantly thwarted Gazan terror against Israel. Indeed, no suicide bomber during the Intifada has attacked pre-1967 Israel from the Gaza Strip. Moreover, according the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Israel, with the completion of the fence running along the border with the northern half of the West Bank, the number of suicide bombers infiltrating Israel from there dropped from 17 in 2002 to 5 in 2003. During the same period, the number of suicide bombers reaching Israel from the southern portion of the West Bank, which still has no fence, remained nearly constant.4 The evidence clearly shows that the fence is an effective tool for combating terrorism.
Perhaps what is most curious about the intense criticism Israel faces over the current proposal is the fact that the fence is one of the least intrusive and most defensive methods Israel has adopted in its two year struggle to combat Palestinian terror. The fence is meant to keep terrorists out of Israel and does not require large scale military raids into Palestinian towns to do so. The fence will allow Israel to ease the other burdens it has imposed on Palestinians by scaling back curfews and roadblocks and allowing for more freedom of movement.
Critics of the fence argue that the fence is Israel’s attempt to unilaterally create a border between Israel and the Palestinians and to steal land that is rightfully the Palestinians in the process. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat claimed that Isarel is “burying the two-state solution by building the wall in the West Bank and confining us to towns that are prisons.” However, this claim is not borne out by the facts. The way in which Israel is constructing the fence indicates clearly that the fence is a temporary solution to Israel’s immediate security problems, which stem from the unwillingness of Palestinian leaders to make a good faith effort to stop terrorists. The fence is largely constructed of easily removable materials—indeed, 94% of the fence is chain-links—signaling that Israel hopes that the fence is only necessary as a temporary solution to terrorism. While many images of the fence on television and in newspapers display large concrete barriers and refer to the fence as a “wall,” the concrete barriers ultimately make up only 5% of the wall and are in places where Palestinian snipers have shot at Israeli cars in the past.5 Also, the hardships imposed on Palestinian civilians with regard to travel and freedom of movement, while unfortunate, is far outweighed by the need to save innocent Israeli lives from Palestinian terrorists.
Other critics, like coordinator of the Palestinian Environmental NGOs network Jamal Juma, compare the security fence to the “Berlin Wall.”6 His organization helped coordinate worldwide protests of the security fence on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, November, 9 2003. Other Palestinians leaders, like PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, call the fence an “apartheid wall.”7 These analogies, however, are quite misleading. The Berlin Wall was constructed to keep East Germans from joining the free world in West Germany. It separated Germans from Germans. The Palestinian terrorists the security fence blocks do not wish to join citizens of Israel but rather to kill them. Also, the fence in no way creates an apartheid system. Palestinians are not subjugated by Israelis nor are they separated from the Israelis by the fence. More than a million Arab citizens of Israel will continue to live to the West of the fence. The fence is simply meant to be a temporary measure to keep Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israeli towns and villages.
Until the PA assumes the responsibility for fighting Palestinian terror, Israel has no choice but to take every precaution it can to protect the lives of its citizens. The security fence, as a passive defense against terrorism, provides Israel with the best means of ensuring security in a way that will have minimal impact on ordinary Palestinians. Opponents who declare the fence an apartheid wall are simply ignoring Israel’s need for security. Indeed, tranquility can only come to the region when Israelis believe that they will not be sacrificing their security in giving the PA land on which to build a state. The security fence will be the first step towards reassuring Israelis that such a vision is possible.
Eric Trager, Harvard Class of 2005, is from Hollis Hills, New York.
1. Toameh, Khaled Abu. “Qurei slams ‘racist separation wall.’” Jerusalem Post (January 12, 2004).
2. Toameh, Khaled Abu. “PA declares new intifada against ‘apartheid wall.’” Jerusalem Post (February 24, 2004).
3. Keinon, Herb. “PM details disengagement plan.” Jerusalem Post (December, 19 2003).
4. The Anti-Terrorist Fence, an Overview. Published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (http://securityfence.mfa.gov.il/mfm/Data/48152.doc)
6. Lazaroff, Tovah. “World anti-fence campaign kicks off,” The Jerusalem Post. Novermber 10, 2003.