Gantz approves upgrade to stretch of West Bank barrier after spate of terror attacks

Steel fence similar to Gaza border to be built from Te’enim checkpoint to Oranit; several Palestinian attackers slipped through fence earlier this year

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Defense Minister Benny Gantz tours the consruction of an upgraded West Bank security barrier, near the town of Salem, November 14, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz tours the consruction of an upgraded West Bank security barrier, near the town of Salem, November 14, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday approved plans to upgrade a section of the West Bank security barrier, months after a series of deadly terror attacks were committed by Palestinians who illegally entered Israel.

The Defense Ministry said a tall steel fence, similar to the ones on the borders with Egypt and the Gaza Strip, would replace a 50-kilometer (31-mile) stretch of fencing from the Te’enim checkpoint, near the settlement of Avnei Hefetz, to the settlement of Oranit.

In the summer, construction began on a 9-meter (30-foot) tall concrete wall to replace another 50-kilometer (31-mile) stretch of fencing from the town of Salem, close to the northern West Bank barrier, to the Te’enim checkpoint — one of the first sections of the barrier ever built, some 20 years ago.

Both upgraded sections will be equipped with surveillance cameras, sensors, and other technological means, the Defense Ministry said.

In July, the Israel Defense Forces also began a major engineering operation to strengthen defenses along the existing security fence in the Judean Desert area of the southern West Bank, digging a deep trench over some 20 kilometers (12 miles) to prevent the passage of people and vehicles.

Separately in April, work to fix up holes over dozens of kilometers of the fence began, following a spate of deadly terror attacks in Israel, including several in which terrorists from the northern West Bank entered Israel via large holes in the barrier.

Security forces work to repair holes in the West Bank security barrier on April 13, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

On April 7, a Palestinian gunman who entered Israel through a gap in the barrier shot three people dead in Tel Aviv. A week earlier, a Palestinian who also crossed through the barrier illegally — with a vehicle — shot and killed five people in Bnei Brak. And on May 5 in Elad, two Palestinians who entered Israel illegally killed three people in an axe attack.

Gantz, who toured the construction work near the northern West Bank’s Salem checkpoint on Monday, said the work was a “highly important defense mission.”

“I am proud of the defense establishment and the IDF for advancing the construction of hundreds of kilometers of barriers that will provide a solution to a variety of risks,” Gantz said in remarks provided by his office.

In this September 6, 2020 photo, Palestinian laborers cross illegally into Israel from the West Bank through an opening in a fence, south of the West Bank town of Hebron. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

Over the years, thousands of Palestinians would enter Israel every day through the gaps in the fence for work.

But in recent months, the IDF has dispatched thousands of troops in recent months to the seam zone area — a swath of West Bank land on the Israeli side of the barrier — to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel.

Last week, a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli troops after he allegedly attempted to damage the fence near the village of ‘Anin, west of the city of Jenin.

The West Bank security barrier was first proposed in the 1990s by then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who saw it as a way to separate Israel from the Palestinians. But the project never materialized due to internal opposition.

It was only during the Second Intifada, as Israel fought waves of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks emanating from the West Bank, that the idea was revived and kicked into high gear.

In this photo taken July 5, 2017, a section of the Israeli security barrier that divides Palestinian farmers lands and surrounds the city on three sides, in the West Bank city of Qalqilya. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Many credit the barrier with helping end that uprising, which lasted from 2000 to 2005, though of its planned 708-kilometer (440-mile) route, only 62% has been completed.

The security barrier did not come without controversy, as the fence sparked local demonstrations and international condemnation over its route, snaking into the West Bank through seized Palestinian fields and sometimes cutting off farmers from their land.

About 85% of the barrier runs within the West Bank, with the remaining 15% running along the Green Line — the pre-1967 ceasefire line that delineates Israel from the West Bank — and within Israeli territory. In total, the barrier is estimated to have cost the country some NIS 9 billion ($2.8 billion) according to the Knesset Research and Information Center.

For most of its original route, the barrier consists of a chain-link fence equipped with surveillance cameras and other sensors, buffered by barbed wire and a 60-meter (200 foot) wide exclusion area. In more urban areas — including around Jerusalem and Bethlehem — the barrier is not a fence but an eight- to nine-meter (26- to 30-foot) high concrete wall.

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