Controversial fence proves its worth

By JOSHUA BRILLIANT, United Press International

NETANYA, Israel, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Aliza Hazan was thrilled. Three times that afternoon she had walked up and down Netanya's main street from the outdoor cafes by the seashore to a shopping mall near the main entrance to town. They are more than a mile apart.

Both had been targets of deadly terrorist attacks and Hazan marveled at the city's signs of recovery. "You see more people in the streets! ... All the shops are open! ... People are eating in restaurants!" she said.


Netanya, a city of 185,000 people north of Tel Aviv, was badly hit during the intifada. There were 14 attacks, a municipal spokesman said. According to a Foreign Ministry casualty list, 43 people were killed and more than 400 were wounded.

"It was frightening. After every attack, people locked themselves up in their homes," Hazan said.

By 7 p.m., Netanya's streets were empty. It looked like a city under curfew, London Café's manager, Asher Sofer, recalled.

The last attack, in March, was outside that café. A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up when a soldier passed by, a sandwich in his hand. The soldier, Gil Kupermann, was severely wounded. Sofer saw him again at a reception with the doctors who treated Kupermann. He has difficulties using his left hand, the restaurant manager observed.


The atmosphere changed after Israel built a formidable security barrier, at the edge of the West Bank, 10 miles east of Netanya.

In most sections, the barrier comprises stacks of coiled barbed wire, ditches to prevent cars from crashing through, a high electronic fence that signals an alert when touched, and several dirt and asphalt roads so that troops can rush over and check footprints to determine whether anyone got across. Cameras can detect attempts to cross the fence, even at night. In some sections, the authorities built an 8-meter (26-foot) high wall to protect motorists from Palestinian gunfire.

By now the barrier covers some 100 miles from the northeastern corner of the West Bank, near Jenin, to Elkana, southeast of Netanya. Construction is continuing and by the end of 2005, the barrier should enclose the West Bank from the north, west and south, Project Manager Nezah Mashsiah said in an interview.

The first wall was built in 1996, separating a new Israeli bedroom community of Matan and the neighboring Palestinian village of Hableh.

"There wasn't a night without two or three burglaries," Matan's Secretary Amir Isbi told United Press International. Cars were also stolen.

"I was afraid someone would knock at the door, take a gun, and shoot us," recalled Rachel Cohen, 36.


The wall, constructed along the pre-1967 line, solved the problem until the intifada. Then, said Moshe Ben-David, 32, Palestinian youngsters climbed it and hurled stones with slingshots. They narrowly missed him and he, a professional gardener, planted trees and shrubs outside his door to conceal his movements.

The army raised the wall at Matan, topped it with barbed wire, and Ben-David said he feels safe.

Successive Israeli governments were nevertheless reluctant to build a full-fledged barrier around the entire West Bank. They feared that would be seen as demarcating a border between Israel and the Palestinian entity. However, the suicide bombings generated a public outcry that the Israeli government said forced it to act.

A security source said there were 117 suicide attacks since the intifada erupted in September 2000. In all, 477 people were killed in those attacks and 3,239 were wounded, he added.

The planned fence aroused international criticism because it cuts into the occupied West Bank, closes off Palestinian areas -- and those living in the areas -- and impedes travel from villages to farms, schools and other public services.

A recent United Nations report noted, "The planned route, if fully constructed, would deviate up to 22 kilometers (almost 14 miles) in places from the Green Line (meaning the pre-1967 boundary line).


"Based on the (planned) route ... approximately 975 square kilometers (600 square miles), or 16.6 per cent of the entire West Bank, will lie between the barrier and the Green Line. This area is home to approximately 17,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 220,000 in East Jerusalem," the report added.

Mashiah said the 455-mile long fence would take up 70,000 dunums (15,500 acres). When completed 8,000 people (not including East Jerusalem's residents) would be on the Israeli side of the fence, but they will have permits allowing them across.

Israel is not annexing those areas. If police intervention is needed, Palestinian policemen will be called over, Mashiah said.

When planning the fence, they ignored the Green Line. "It doesn't matter. We're making a security fence," he insisted.

He named eight places where the route leaves Israeli lands outside the fence. Israeli farmers will get keys to gates built there so that they can till their lands, he said. A Palestinian whose house is right by the fence, on the "Israeli-side" already has such a key, he maintained.

A Defense Ministry paper released in recent days acknowledged the fence "may introduce hardships into the lives of many innocent Palestinian civilians." However, it blamed the Palestinians for it. "The Palestinian Authority has been unwilling to take the tough steps necessary to dismantle terrorist infrastructure and arrest the perpetrators of indiscriminate murder. ... Saving lives must always come first," the paper stressed.


Palestinians have tried to cross the fence, even using ladders and cranes, Police Sharon Sub-district Commander, Brigadier Gen. Amichai Shai, told UPI. Mashiah said the attempts failed.

Shabak -- Israel Security Agency -- interrogators concluded the fence has become a "significant obstacle," a well-placed source said. Arrested militants said in their interrogations they had to devise complicated ways to penetrate Israel; sometimes they sent militants south because there is no fence there yet.

Wednesday the army caught an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber on his way to attack an Israeli school in Yokne'am south east of Haifa. The bomber and his guide first went to a remote village to skirt the fence's northern section, which is still under construction. They were arrested in a mosque in that village.

In Netanya this week, elderly people were relaxing on the benches in the pedestrian mall watching water flow from a lily-shaped fountain. A woman confined to a wheelchair rested her head on the shoulder of a younger woman who brought her there. Cafes were empty but shopkeepers were busy attending customers. A young girl violinist played the tune of a Hebrew song: "Thank you for all you created. ... Because of that I exist." A bicycle rider dropped a coin in her box.


Unease nevertheless prevailed. There is "less fear" but no sense of security yet, said Miriam Dahan, 61, who strolled through the Hasharon shopping mall. Another woman pushed a carriage with her three-month old daughter. An Israeli-Arab pediatrician brought his wife and girls to eat there.

In the nearby town of Hadera, another target for several suicide attacks, a worker emerged from the Armon David hall. In January 2002, a gunman burst into a girl's 12th birthday party there, and killed six people and wounded 30. Monday night chairs were stacked up and tables were gathered on the side. No events tonight, the worker said.

A passerby, Varda Hamami, 65, said her teenage grandchildren are driven to extra curricular classes even though they are held nearby and the children are 12 and 15 years old. "We avoid public places," Hamami added.

Mashiah himself didn't trust the intricate security arrangements to prevent all attacks. "My son doesn't go by bus. My wife takes him," he said.

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