by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director
Begun early in 2002, the fence project was carried out in four phases, eventually reaching a length of nearly 500 miles (804 kilometers). It is often mistakenly called “the separation wall” by the media, Israel’s detractors, and sometimes even by her friends. However, less than 3%, or about 10 miles (16 kilometers), is actually concrete wall, and those sections were erected only in areas where Israeli citizens were at highest risk for terrorist attack. The rest is a sophisticated combination of chain link and barbed wire with underground and long-range sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, trenches, and guard paths. It is 160 feet (49 meters) wide and is marked with dozens of entry points to make sure that those who should, can get safely across.
Those who shouldn’t, however, have found the fence to be a formidable obstacle. Even Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah Shalah remarked in an interview on Syrian television that since the fence has made it so difficult, new strategies would be required, to carry out what he called the “strategic choice” of the Palestinian resistance: suicide bombing.
Although several terrorists are still apprehended every month, terrorist bombings have decreased by nearly 95%! During the first 36 months of construction, for example, there were 73 terror attacks originating in Samaria (in the West Bank), leaving 293 Israelis dead and 1,950 injured. However, from August 2003 to June 2004, the second phase of construction, there were only three bombings from that same area. Or compare 47 bombings in 2002 with two in 2008. Clearly, the project has achieved its aims: saving innocent life and providing an atmosphere of security for Israel’s citizens.
The Israeli government has been firm in its assertion that the creation of the fence was not a political move or an attempt to establish borders. Neither was it a punitive action taken against the Palestinian people. It was a matter of survival. As such, the Israeli Supreme Court has deemed the action legal and in keeping with United Nations resolutions regarding the seizure of private land when necessitated for self-defense. Everyone affected by the barrier has a right to appeal, and the Supreme Court has twice ruled in favor of appellants, dictating a change in route to avoid what it agreed constituted undue hardship.
Even though private land has been appropriated for this purpose, it remains the legal property of the owner, and when necessary, the Israeli government has compensated Palestinians to the tune of millions of dollars. Further, Israel has made every possible effort to avoid any damage to landscape and vegetation and to minimize hardship for the Palestinian people. Water resources have been protected as well.
Nonetheless, Israel’s security fence has created a firestorm of negative response. Although US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a supportive stand, former US President George Bush called the fence “a problem” and a “hindrance to peace.” The European Union has spoken out against its existence repeatedly. A UN resolution was passed demanding that Israel dismantle the life-saving barrier. It has been called a separation wall, a prison wall, and an apartheid wall; songs have been written calling for its destruction; and politicians and religious leaders the world over have condemned Israel for such an “inhumane” action.
Perhaps the world has failed to notice that there are many such fences around the globe, some predating Israel’s. Saudi Arabia, one of Israel’s most vocal opponents, has built a barrier along its border with Yemen. India is constructing a fence along the majority of its 1,800-mile (2,896 kilometer) border with Pakistan and has constructed a similar fence on its border with Bangladesh. Uzbekistan has done the same on its border with Kyrgystan, and Thailand erected a concrete barrier on parts of its border with Malaysia.
The separation walls of Northern Ireland—called the “Peace Line,” dividing Catholic and Protestant areas—have grown from 18 in the 1990s to 99 today. These walls are constructed of iron, steel, and brick and rise to heights of 25 feet (7.6 meters). Many have guarded gates that are secured at night, locking people in until they are opened the next morning.
Since 1974, Turkish Cypress and Greek Cypress have been separated by a fence, as well as North and South Korea since 1953 with the most heavily fortified border fence in the world. In 2004, Kuwait installed a 217-kilometer (135-mile) iron wall on its border with Iraq, and Botswana and Zimbabwe are separated by a 10-foot (3-meter) high electric fence.
In October of 2006, US President George Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which called for the building of 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) of barrier on its border with Mexico. The high-tech fence, which is about two-thirds complete, is 27 feet (8 meters) high, six (2 meters) of which are underground and secured in a three-foot (one-meter) trench filled with concrete. Spain has also constructed a separation barrier to keep out illegal immigrants from Morocco, which was funded by the European Union.
Unlike Israel’s fence, some of these barriers are erected on recognized international borders. Others are built on contested land, and some, like the Northern Ireland Peace Line, separate neighborhoods, not nations. Most of the barriers that exist today were erected for economic purposes or to stem illegal immigration. One can’t help but wonder if such hypocritical and self-righteous opposition to Israel’s life-saving security fence is, in fact, not the result of international commitment to human rights and open borders, but rather another manifestation of Israel’s age-old enemy, anti-Semitism.
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