Ministers approve NIS 300 million to upgrade section of West Bank security barrier

9-meter high, 40-kilometer long section to be improved from Salem area in north West Bank to Bat Hefer; move comes after 2 terrorists suspected of slipping through gaps in barrier

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman visits a broken section of the West Bank barrier near the central town of Matan, March 31, 2022. (Courtesy)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman visits a broken section of the West Bank barrier near the central town of Matan, March 31, 2022. (Courtesy)

The high-level security cabinet approved funding to upgrade a section of the West Bank security barrier, the Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday.

According to a statement, the ministers voted unanimously to allocate NIS 300 million (some $93 million) to improve a 40 kilometer stretch of the barrier along the so-called seam line.

The move came after the terrorist who on March 29 killed five people in Bnei Brak entered Israel through a gap in the barrier, and security officials suspect the Palestinian assailant who shot dead three people in Tel Aviv on Thursday did likewise.

“We will fight terror with all the tools available to us and we will win,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted after the cabinet meeting.

According to the Defense Ministry, the money will fund the upgrade of a 40 kilometer (25 mile) stretch of the barrier from the Salem area in the northern West Bank to Israel’s Bat Hefer region — one of the first sections of the barrier ever built.

“The barrier will be comprised of concrete, protective equipment, and additional technological components. It will be up to 9 meters (29.5 feet) high and will replace the fence that was built about 20 years ago,” the ministry said, adding that it plans to begin work in the coming weeks.

A section of Israel’s security barrier between the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, right, and the outskirts of the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah, June 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Senior security officials told Hebrew media that they believe that the Tel Aviv terrorist crossed into Israel through a hole in the security barrier near Jenin, even though the military recently fortified the fence in that area.

The West Bank security barrier was first suggested in the 1990s by the late 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.

Palestinian laborers cross illegally into Israeli areas through a hole in Israel’s security barrier on November 20, 2019, near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

The security barrier did not come without controversy, though, 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.

However, in recent years Israel has been accused of seemingly turning a blind eye to gaps in the barrier that are used daily by thousands of Palestinian laborers to enter Israel illegally.

Analysts say Israel’s unspoken policy has been to allow as many Palestinian workers into Israel as possible to head off economic hardships that can lead to desperation and create terrorists.

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