February 7, 2009

Israel's Anti-Terrorist Fence - Long Term Solution?

Anti-terrorist wall near Qalqiliyah

During my trip to Israel last month, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Israel Defense Forces Major General (Reserve) Uzi Dayan and Israeli Air Force Lieutenant Colonel (Reserve) Danny Grossman.

Lt Col Danny Grossman, the author and Maj Gen Uzi Dayan

Uzi served as the national security advisor to former Prime Minister Arik Sharon and was one of the key proponents of Israel's controversial anti-terrorist fence. Danny has the unique distinction of flying the F-4 Phantom fighter jet in both the U.S. Air Force and the IAF. Uzi and Danny were kind enough to take me to, and through, the fence that separates Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. I took these photographs on both sides of the fence/wall.

Uzi wanted to make sure that I understood that the barrier is a security device, not a border. The barrier follows the approximate June 4, 1967 armistice line between Israel and what was then the Jordanian-administered West Bank. It does make some fairly deep incursions into the West Bank to extend protection to Israeli settlements on the West Bank. At several areas, the fence is actually a concrete wall to prevent Palestinians from firing small arms at Israeli motorists.

Google Earth view of wall/fence - red line is 1967 border

Closeup of wall near highway at Israel's narrowest point

There is no argument that the barrier has been successful in preventing terrorist attacks from the West Bank. According to the official Israeli government anti-terrorist fence website, suicide bombing attacks from the West Bank have dropped drastically to almost none. Even the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan 'Abdallah Shalah, admitted that the security barrier has made "resistance" difficult.

Qalqiliyah gate (taken from from West Bank side)

It is possible to cross the security barrier - there is a crossing about every mile or so. Of course, you have to have authorization. Palestinians have very little chance of passing the Israeli army checkpoint to allow them into Israel. Israelis have a slightly better chance of entering the West Bank. We were able to pass through easily - most of the soldiers recognize Uzi as the former commander of the Central Command and the elite commando unit Sayaret Maktal.

Israeli military post above Qalqiliyah gate

Google Earth view of IDF camp and fence

Based on the Oslo Accords, there are three area designations in the West Bank. Area A is under Palestinian jurisdiction. The town of Qalqiliyah, shown in these photographs, is an Area A. Israeli forces can control who enters and leaves the town, but inside the town, the Palestinian Authority is in charge.

Qalqiliyah sits at the narrowest point of Israel - it is only 7.5 miles from the town to the Mediterranean. Area B is under joint Israeli-Palestinian jurisdiction, and Area C is under Israeli control. Area C contains the Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

IDF patrol on West Bank

The IDF was re-deployed to the area in the aftermath of the violoence in the so-called "al-Aqsa intifadhah" of 2000. They are still there, supporting the Palestinian Authority forces.

There has been a lot of criticism of the security barrier. It has been called a scar on the landscape, an eyesore, an insult to free movement, ugly. That said, it has been effective in lessening the violence directed against Israeli civilians.

The recent conflict between the Israelis and Hamas in Gaza has re-opened the debate about possible solutions on the Palestinian track of the peace process. Many believe there is no solution in the immediate future - the "no-solution solution" will include measures like the anti-security barrier. In the absence of a solution, just wall off the combatants and manage the conflict as best you can.