Construction work began Tuesday 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, defense officials said.
The Defense Ministry said the 9-meter (30 foot) tall concrete wall replaces a 45-kilometer (28 mile) stretch of fencing from an area in the northern West Bank to Israel’s Bat Hefer region — one of the first sections of the barrier ever built, some 20 years ago.
NIS 300 million (some $93 million) was allocated toward the plan in April.
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.
On April 7, a Palestinian gunman — who entered Israel through a gap in the barrier — shot dead three people 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.
“We are continuing our defensive efforts in the north by strengthening the Judea and Samaria security barrier and providing solutions for the Israeli home front,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement published by his office on Wednesday.
“These efforts constitute an integral part of our operational activity. Along with this, we will continue to operate against all threats we face in order to maintain the security of Israel’s civilians,” he added.
In recent 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.
The West Bank security barrier was first proposed in the 1990s by the 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.
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 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.