After the Second Palestinian Intifada was launched in September 2000, scores of suicide bombings and daily terrorist attacks killed hundreds of Israelis and wounded thousands more. In response, Israel’s government decided to construct a security barrier near the northern part of the pre-1967 “Green Line” between Israel and the West Bank. The objective was to prevent Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israeli population centers. Construction of the barrier began in early August of 2003.
During the 34 months between the start of the Intifada and the construction of the first continuous segment of the security barrier, Palestinian terrorists carried out 73 attacks in which 293 Israelis were killed and 1,950 were wounded. Over the next 11 months, with that first segment of the barrier in place, only 3 attempted terrorist attacks succeeded. By July 2009, the number of attacks had declined by more than 90 percent from the level of violence that preceded the construction of the barrier.
The largest infrastructure project in Israel's history, the security barrier's construction is expected to cost more than $2.1 billion by the time it is completed. As of July 2009, approximately 300 linear miles of the barrier had already been built. Plans called for an additional 200 miles, but construction was commonly halted by petitions to the Israeli Supreme Court and by Justice Ministry deliberations.
Critics have sought to portray the security barrier as a kind of "Berlin Wall," but this analogy is false, as the following major differences between these constructions show:
- Unlike the Berlin Wall, the Israeli security barrier does not divide one people and deny freedom to those on one side of the wall. Israel's barrier separates two distinct peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, and offers Israel freedom from fear of attack.
- The Israeli barrier is not being constructed to prevent the citizens of one state from escaping; it is designed solely to keep terrorists out of Israel.
- Once completed, some 97 percent of the Israeli barrier will consist of two outer fences made of pyramid-shaped stacks of barbed wire; between these will be a third, lighter-weight fence equipped with intrusion-detection equipment. The fencing will be augmented by underground and long-range sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, trenches, landmines, and guard paths. Altogether, the barrier is approximately 160 feet wide in most places. Manned checkpoints constitute the only way to travel back and forth through the barrier. Concrete walls will comprise less than 3 percent of the total length of the barrier. Such walls are being built in three specific areas for the purpose of preventing Palestinian snipers (near the terrorist hotbeds of Kalkilya and Tul Karm) from shooting at cars as they have done many times along the Trans-Israel Highway, one of the country's main roads.
The land upon which Israel is building the security barrier was seized for military purposes but remains the property of its owners. Legal procedures have been set up in Israel to allow all owners to file objections to the seizure of their land. Moreover, property owners are offered fair compensation for the use of their land and for any damage to their trees. In addition, Israel has budgeted $540 million to ease the hardship of Palestinians affected by the fence by building extra roads, passageways, and tunnels.
Adapted from "Israel's Security Fence" (Mitchell Bard, January 9, 2007).