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Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Strategic Logic of Israel's Security Barrier

Yesterday, I spent much of the day in the Tel Aviv area (and the night trying to catch up on the work I missed during the day) so I did not post.

The fastest way for me to get to Tel Aviv is on a road known simply as "Arba Arba Shalosh" (443), which leaves from behind my house, cuts across the "green line" when it leaves Jerusalem (although technically my Jerusalem home is also over the 'green line,' the parts of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian sovereignty have been legally 'annexed' to Israel, and it is common to refer to the green line as starting at the city limits to the east) , and cuts back across the green line at Maccabim, just before Modi'in, about halfway to Tel Aviv. This route - the security of which is one of the major goals of the 'security fence' - is approximately ten kilometers shorter for me (and infinitely faster) than taking the main Jerusalem - Tel Aviv highway.

In December 2000, when the road looked a bit different than it does today, I was about thirty seconds behind the first terror attack victim on 443. I was driving to a Chanuka party with my then-12-year old son when suddenly near Givat Zev the cars in front of us started to snake around an obstacle in the middle of the road. When we reached the 'obstacle' it turned out to be a driving instructor's car with its door open. Someone was walking in the middle of the road. I assumed it was a traffic accident and decided that since I had no gun and no shatterproof windows and a 12-year old boy with me, my reaction was going to be to hit the gas. About ten minutes later, I reached Beitunia, a small Arab village that we drove through a couple of times before 2000. Beitunia is just short of Maccabim on 443. (Today, the road into Beitunia is blocked and Israelis are not allowed to enter it). We saw army jeeps speeding from Beitunia back towards Givat Zev. When we reached the Chanuka party, an announcement was made that no one should drive back through Givat Zev - we were to cut through Modi'in and take the main Jerusalem - Tel Aviv highway. An hour or two later, someone else showed up who had been three cars behind the murder victim. Only then did we learn what a narrow escape we had.

For a long time after that, I avoided 443. Until relatively recently, I continued to avoid it at night (and I still try to avoid it late at night).

Israel's 'security fence' (and in most places it is a fence with sophisticated monitoring equipment and not a wall like you see in the western media) started out as the left's answer to suicide bombings in the center of the country (including both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as part of the center for these purposes). It was anathema to the right - including to Ariel Sharon - out of fear that it would set a border that was based on defensive considerations and not on what Israel really needs to survive long term. With the increase in suicide bombings in the early part of this decade, the fence gained widespread popularity. While it is not a panacea, it has reduced suicide bombings. However, it remains an answer only to the suicide bombers and not to sophisticated and unsophisticated weaponry that can be delivered from a distance. The problem with building the fence and then saying "we're over here and they're over there" (as then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak put it) is that unless we're also over there, they can lob rockets over the fence and reek havoc. This is what is going on in Gaza today (where the fence has been pretty much a hermetic seal for years), but the targets that are reachable from Judea and Samaria are much more attractive and dangerous, including Ben Gurion Airport, Israel's only true international airport.

Further, the fence has been eroded by continued 'Supreme Court' rulings in favor of Arab villagers who have appealed to the 'High Court of Justice' (known here as "Bagatz") with one complaint or another about how the fence impacts on their lives. The fence keeps coming closer to the green line, and with each move towards the green line (the 1949 border), Israel gives up more security assets and puts more strategic targets within the green line in range of Palestinian rocket fire.

The article excerpted below was written by the IDF's Chief Architect of the security fence,
Col. (Res.) Danny Tirza.

... But the main reason for the delay involved the political implications of the route of the fence. Some Israelis believe that the fence should be built along the Jordan River between Jordan and Israel. Others believe that the fence should be built along the "green line" - what had been the border between Israel and Jordan between 1949 and 1967. Still others believe the fence should run inside Israel and separate Israeli Arabs who live near the fence from Israel. There are also those who believe it should run deep inside the West Bank and include most of the settlements. There is a big debate going on about where the line should be, and initially the government took no decision, trying to stay away from the debate.


After we had built 145 kilometers of fence, Israel's Supreme Court instructed us to give greater weight to the daily life of the Palestinians. So we changed the route of the fence in some places, and in other places we changed the procedures that enable people to cross from one side of the fence to the other. The Supreme Court ruled that Israel has the right to build a fence to defend its population, but we cannot take all the land that we want for the sake of security. There has to be a balance of security and humanitarian concerns, taking into account the needs of those most affected by the fence.

In urban areas where there is not enough space, we are building a concrete wall, but the wall is only 5 percent of the total project, which will be about 726 kilometers long. We also understand that we have to take the needs of people into consideration, and we sometimes have to build new roads for the villagers. At the end of the project there will be fewer than 7,000 people with Palestinian IDs on the Israeli side of the fence, but there will be a lot of Israelis living east of the fence.

The army is seizing the land for the fence only temporarily. The owners will receive compensation annually for the use of the land, and we try to build on public land wherever possible. We have also replanted more than 90,000 trees in the area to try to minimize the damage to local farmers. Israel is not fighting against the Palestinian people; we are fighting the terror organizations.


Ben-Gurion International Airport is only eleven kilometers from the "green line," and Israel has real concerns over the potential threat of missiles launched against aircraft. Al-Qaeda tried to shoot down an Israeli Arkia aircraft with a missile in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002 and they missed. It was a miracle that nobody was killed at that time.

In Israel, all the aircraft come from the west and land from west to east, then take off from east to west over the Mediterranean Sea. But due to weather conditions, there are seventy days a year when the aircraft must fly in the opposite direction, above the West Bank. We wanted to build a double fence in the area near the airport in order to secure it from missiles, but there are 19,000 Palestinians living in this area. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saw the maps and said Israel could not cause people to live in enclaves, so the government decided not to build a double fence in this area at this time.

Route 443 is the only alternative road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in addition to Route 1 - the main road. But we had to consider the 47,000 Palestinians living west of the road, and we will have to find ways to defend this road without creating an enclave. [The prospect of driving on a road that constantly needs to be 'defended' is not an attractive one. Can you imagine this happening in any other country in the world? CiJ]

Read the whole thing.


At 7:25 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy has had a couple of posts about the legality of the "security fence." One of his points is that the ICJ's decision was only advisory so it has no force of law. But hasn't Bagatz used the ICJ's ruling as the basis for moving the fence closer to 443?

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Bagatz was doing that long before the ICJ ruling. They tried to anticipate the ICJ ruling before it was issued, but I don't think they actually changed the fence route based on the ICJ ruling.


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