JERUSALEM, Israel — Israel’s security barrier in and along the West Bank was condemned by many in the international community. But it helped defeat Palestinian terror, and could be a model for the U.S.-Mexico border.
That much was clear Monday, as this reporter stood on a hilltop in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo that I had last visited in 2003, which a wall was being constructed to keep out sniper fire from a nearby Palestinian village.
Residents, who had become used to seeing Beit Jala from their windows, painted a mural of Beit Jala on the concrete to remember the view.
Today, they can enjoy that view directly, and the wall has been torn down.
Danny Tirza, a retired Israeli military colonel who was responsible for the design and implementation, explained that the idea for a barrier had long been discussed, but had never been implemented because of complex political questions — until the spring of 2002.
That was when Palestinian terrorists killed 128 Israelis in the month of March, and massacred 27 Jews at a Passover dinner in the coastal city of Netanya in April.
Tirza explained that the Israeli army was given the task of planning a barrier — and it was his job to figure out how to do it and where it should go.
Today, the barrier — only 8% of which is a concrete wall — runs for 726 kilometers (451 miles) in and along the West Bank. It consists of several basic components. The fence, which is not electrified, includes electronic sensors that detect motion, including seismic sensors that can detect attempts to dig underneath the barrier. It is accompanied by a dirt track that is combed twice a day, and which can reveal the footprints of anyone who crosses the barrier. It has a patrol road, and then a secondary fence on the Israeli side of the barrier to slow down anyone trying to cross.
The fence is built close to Palestinian areas, not the Israeli areas that it protects, to give time for security forces to find anyone who crosses the barrier, rather than simply allowing infiltrators instant access to Israeli communities.
Where there is not enough physical space between the fence and Israeli communities, or where Palestinian snipers perched in nearby homes could hit major Israeli highways, a wall is used instead of a fence. Each wall section is nine meters high and includes what Tirza calls a “hole of hope” — a hole at the top that a future construction crew could use to remove the wall, when it is no longer necessary to keep the peace between the two conflicting sides.
The Gilo wall could be taken down because the security barrier, which was added later to the valley in front of the neighborhood, made the community much safer — though bulletproof windows have been installed in some homes.
On the Palestinian side, the wall is a burden, as are checkpoints that Palestinian commuters must pass through to work in Israel. However, Israel has installed airport terminal-like facilities to help speed up daily security checks.
Rather than using anti-graffiti paint, Tirza said, he decided to let people on both sides use the barrier to express their views. Israel has no law against graffiti, he said, and he believed it was useful as an alternative to violence.
The entire barrier cost about $11 billion — none of which came from U.S. military aid, Tirza noted, since the U.S. considered the barrier and its path to be a political issue regarding the Palestinians, and therefore ineligible for aid.
Tirza noted the barrier’s effectiveness: while there were 3,000 Palestinian terror attacks launched from the area known as the West Bank between 2000 and 2006, there have only been 145 since. The barrier is not a panacea; coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security services has also helped. But the physical barrier was crucial.
Tirza added that a slightly different barrier was built on the Egypt-Israel border to stop migrants and terrorists. That, he said, would be a more appropriate model for the U.S.-Mexico border.
He is, he said, waiting for a call.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.