Israel’s state ombudsman on Thursday accused authorities of allowing the West Bank security barrier to fall into disrepair, saying that the defensive measure credited with helping staunch the Second Intifada over 15 years earlier was “no longer relevant.”
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman made the comments while visiting a broken section of the barrier near the town of Matan, northwest of Tel Aviv, days after a Palestinian terrorist, who apparently drove into Israel via a hole in the fence, shot dead five people in Bnei Brak.
“We see here openings through which thousands of Palestinians pass, with and without permits, without any oversight, including the possibility of vehicles entering,” he said, calling it a “significant and substantial failure.”
“This is how a terrorist can get from Jenin to Bnei Brak in an hour, with great ease,” Englman said.
The first section of the West Bank security barrier was constructed in 1994, under former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, but construction only went into full gear during the Second Intifada (2000-2005,) and was seen as a major tool for preventing Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching populated areas in Israel.
With a total planned length of 708 kilometers, only 62 percent of its construction has been completed so far. About 85% of the barrier runs within the West Bank, with the remaining 15% running along the Green Line and within Israeli territory. While some portions have yet to be built, other sections are falling apart.
Palestinians have long criticized the barrier, which, in some places cuts them off from agricultural lands. Following the Second Intifada, it has also mostly been seen as an obstacle for illegal Palestinian workers seeking better wages in Israel.
“We have been examining in recent months the whole issue of the separation fence. This is a significant and substantial failure. More than NIS 8 billion was invested in the project and just over NIS 5 billion in the fence itself. In addition, the State of Israel invests NIS 140 million a year in day-to-day maintenance and operations in the area,” Englman said.
The comptroller called on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the government as a whole to “come to their senses and realize that the separation barrier that was declared a significant tool in protecting Israeli citizens from terrorists is breached and no longer relevant,” urging a reevaluation of the invested resources in order to “examine how to prevent these breaches.”
Englman was joined by Oshrat Gani Gonen, director of the Southern Sharon Regional Council, who said that the council has been warning the government of the issue for years.
“For years we have been alerting the Defense Ministry and the Public Security Ministry that we feel like we’ve been left for dead because this fence can be crossed easily and that’s what happens,” she said.
“Our only demand — and now more than ever we see how much of a justified demand it is — is to close these gaps, to maintain it and to position security forces along the fence,” she added.
Englman’s visit to the fence came after three terror attacks that have claimed the lives of 11 Israelis since last week, marking Israel’s highest toll in attacks in such a short time since 2006.
On Tuesday, a Palestinian terrorist killed five people in Bnei Brak. Earlier attacks in Hadera, on Sunday, and Beersheba, last Tuesday, killed six Israelis.
Responding to the spate of violence, Bennett has called on licensed Israeli gun owners to arm themselves in public amid what he described as “a wave of murderous terrorism,” noting that “there is no limit to resources” that should go toward tackling terrorism.
He said that the military forces stationed in the West Bank and along the seam line were reinforced with 15 battalions, “a very considerable force.”
Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy has announced that the Knesset plenum will hold an emergency meeting next Wednesday to address the wave of deadly attacks.