The case for Israel’s security fence: 2008 update

Published: 7 September 2008
Briefing Number 221

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Key messages

•  Israel 's fence, wall, barrier – call it what you like – is ugly, it mars the landscape, it causes resentment to Palestinian civilians, disrupts livelihoods, and is a graphic reminder of Israel 's presence

•  But it's there for a reason. Palestinian terrorism disrupts Israeli lives and livelihoods. Israel did not want to build the security fence but was forced to do so as a last-resort measure in response to the sustained wave of indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians – Jewish and non-Jewish – by Palestinian groups, in which over 1000 Israelis were killed, and thousands wounded and traumatised

•  The right to live, and the right not to be blown up by a suicide bomber, is also a human right. Israel has a duty to uphold that right, and the fence has undeniably curbed those attacks

•  Its existence is a symptom of the ongoing conflict, not its cause. And in the context of a viable two-state solution and long-term peaceful coexistence (each of which is a goal of Israel ), the need for the fence would gradually diminish

The effectiveness of the fence

•  The fence has not been able to stop all Palestinian attacks, including missile and rocket attacks, and attackers going on the rampage, whether with a machine-gun or with a bulldozer…. but the number of attacks has been drastically reduced, and many attacks have been foiled

•  Jerusalem suffered many suicide bombings before fence construction began. Overall its citizens have experienced the equivalent of 77 attacks of the gravity of the 7/7 attack on the transport system in London . That's the context for the fence around Jerusalem (see Briefings 160 and 203)

•  The former French Foreign Minister has stated publicly that he changed his view on the fence when he found out how drastically the number of attacks had reduced (see Beyond Images – Stories the Media Ignores)

•  The head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group which is committed long-term to terror against Israel , said on Lebanese TV in 2006 that the fence makes suicide bombing operations more difficult to carry out. He stated: “The fence is an obstacle to the resistance, and if it were not there the situation would be entirely different….” (see Beyond Images Briefing 187)

Legal due process and Palestinian human rights

•  Since 2004, the Israeli courts have been legally obliged to balance the security needs of Israel with the human rights of Palestinians in assessing the route of the fence (see Beyond Images Briefings 138 and 156 in particular).

•  Construction of the fence has been stopped many times by Palestinians in cases brought before the Israeli courts by Arabs or by Israeli civil rights groups, and Israeli Government planners have frequently had to reroute the fence, at Israel 's expense. This process is continuing in 2008

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion on the fence

•  In June 2004 the International Court of Justice issued its Advisory Opinion on the security fence. That Opinion is used by those who say that the fence as “illegal”. One of the judges on the Court was Dame Rosalyn Higgins – and she is now President of the ICJ, which makes her the most senior international lawyer in the world. She described the ICJ Opinion as “hugely unbalanced” and “seriously flawed” in its grasp of history, and legal reasoning. Dame Higgins' view seriously calls into question the value of the ICJ Opinion (see Beyond Images Briefing 101)

Is the fence a ‘land-grab'?

•  The fence has no ideological or territorial rationale. The territorial ‘maximalists' in Israel almost all oppose the fence. Furthermore, far from annexing the West Bank, Israel 's government wishes to withdraw from most of the West Bank (the latest figure tabled by Israel is 93% plus a 7% ‘land-swap'), and negotiate a two-state solution with permanent borders

The fence as an ‘apartheid fence'

•  Thousands of Israeli Jews are outside the fence's route. Many are bitter about this. And the fence protects Israel 's Arab citizens, and other non-Jews in the country. This contradicts the label ‘apartheid fence'

•  Furthermore, civilian victims of terror attacks inside Israel have included citizens from 18 other countries, who were residing in Israel, or visiting, at the time of the attack: the UK, Ecuador, the USA, France, Australia, Greece, Ukraine, China, Bulgaria, Ghana, Rumania, Argentina, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Philippines, Turkey, Switzerland and Sweden (see Briefing 79)

•  A policy which succeeds in curbing such attacks cannot be described as an ‘apartheid' policy

•  The right to life, regardless of nationality, religion or race, is the greatest human right of all

Some back-up resources

•  For core arguments on the fence see the website home page: All Beyond Images Briefings / Israel 's security fence / all listed briefings