For years, Israel’s critics have excoriated the Jewish state’s plans to build a temporary barrier on its border with the West Bank.
It was counterproductive, they would say. It would not protect Israelis, and it would cause undue hardship for Palestinians.
Last week, the critics were proven wrong.
The Central Command of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) revealed that there has been a “significant escalation on the ground in terms of the threat levels and the number of attempts to dispatch suicide bombers.”
Despite that, only 11 Israeli citizens were killed by homicide bombers who had infiltrated the “green line” separating the Israeli mainland and the West Bank – the fewest such casualties since 1991.
Certainly a number of Israeli strategies can be credited with the improvement.
First, the IDF has made significant progress in dismantling Islamic Jihad, the terrorist group that is strongest in the northern regions of the West Bank. Last year, 33 Islamic Jihad members were brought into custody, crippling an organization that had managed to kill 23 Israelis the year before.
Second, the IDF has done a much better job intercepting financing from nations like Saudi Arabia that send funding to terrorists in the West Bank. Often, the families of so-called martyrs receive grand rewards from the governments and individuals throughout the Middle East. IDF officials estimate that there has been a 75% drop in transfers into the West Bank.
But a great deal of credit needs to be given to the temporary barrier, or fence, that the Israelis have constructed along the green line.
Too few people truly understand the geography of Eretz Yisrael. Tel Aviv, the thriving commercial center of Israel, is just a few short miles from the West Bank. Jerusalem is literally on the border. And for years, Palestinian terrorists could wake up in a city like Kalkilya, located less than an hour away from Tel Aviv, pack themselves with explosives, and drive into Israel to blow up a bus full of innocent Israeli citizens.
The images of destruction and havoc are seared in the memories of Jewish communities in Israel and around the world. Palestinian terrorists targeted the most innocent in Israeli society: mothers and children riding public buses; young people dancing; students eating at restaurants like Sbarro in Jerusalem. In each case, the attacks were meant to provoke the Israeli government into striking back.
The fence has changed all that.
No longer can a terrorist easily wander into Israel unnoticed. No longer are buses of Israeli children a mere half hour away from the home of would-be terrorists. A fence separates them.
The fence certainly is not a perfect solution. Terrorists have at times found gaps in the barrier, and managed to kill innocent Israelis. At times the Israelis have had to strike back with force.
But given its success rate – fewer Israelis have died despite an increase in terrorist activity in the West Bank – it has proven to be the type of non-violent remedy needed to protect innocent Israeli citizens from the terrorist groups that would murder them. And so the fence has managed to put a cog in the cycle of violence that has plagued Israel for years.
Let us hope that someday the fence is unnecessary. Someday maybe the Palestinians will take responsibility for the terrorists among them. Someday the leaders of the Palestinian Authority may no longer vow to wipe Israel off the map. Someday the Palestinian electorate will no longer be inclined to vote a terrorist organization into power, leaving Israel without a partner for peace.
Until then, the fence’s critics should stand down. The fence is not a barrier to peace – it’s a barrier to terrorism. And until Israel’s neighbors can guarantee the safety of its citizens, let us hope that Israel continues to promote effective security policies like building the fence. It has saved lives on both sides of the conflict, despite its critics.