With the West Bank barrier unfinished, the path for terrorists is wide open
Money for the project begun under Ariel Sharon's government stopped rolling the moment terrorist attacks became fewer (the paradox, being of course, that the barrier played a major role in that success).
The suspects in the murders of Kristine Luken and Netta Blatt-Sorek operated on a double border: both the one in south Jerusalem separating Israel from the West Bank and the invisible line straddling crime and nationalism.
They started with robbery, breaking-and-entering, and other thefts and added to that platform over the last year a series of terrorist attacks.
The suspects' excuse for the first of these attacks – the stabbing of an Israeli couple from Beit Shemesh in February of last year – was their desire to avenge the assassination of Hamas official Mohammed al-Mabhouh a few weeks prior.
But Shin Bet and Israel Police investigators have disclosed that the two murders were not carried out as part of a special continual plot. The suspects, according to a Shin Bet official, woke up in the morning, decided to kill Jews, and took advantage of the first chance that came their way.
Kafih Ghanimat, Ibrahim Ghanimat and Iyad Patpatah were not members of a terrorist network and were not taking any orders from Hamas' leadership in Gaza or Damascus.
The three were just veteran criminals, with access to weapons (they had been caught in possession of pistols in the past, though both the murders were stabbings), who lived illegally and undisturbed on the Israeli side of the Green Line.
The investigation hit a breakthrough the moment police decided to treat Luken's murder last December as a highly probably case of terrorism. The detailed and credible witness testimony given by Kaye Wilson, Luken's friend who was seriously wounded in the stabbing, led investigators to confirm that the assailants were Palestinian. This gave the Shin Bet a new source for investigating and deciphering and led to the arrest of the suspects in less than 72 hours.
That did not happen after Sorek-Blatt was murdered 10 months before. The police initially thought that her death was suicide, and when they began to think of it as a murder, their investigation focused on criminal intent. While Luken was killed near the Green Line, Sorek-Blatt was stabbed eight kilometers away – relatively further away from the West Bank.
The Shin Bet has a policy of acting with "restraining force". The security service focuses on issues related to defense alone, and hardly uses its power in criminal investigation unless there is some indication that the case is related to terrorism. It must take caution to ensure that it does not slip into fields outside of its own.
This, of course, provides no comfort to Luken's family or friends. Luken was an American tourist, killed just days after arriving in Israel. But in the big picture, this policy is immensely justifiable.
Both of these murders, as well as the other crimes to which the suspects have been linked, raise anew the question of infiltrations from the West Bank. The area between Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc is well known as the "illegal migrant path", where thousands of Palestinian job-seekers – as well as criminals and occasionally, terrorists – migrate on a weekly basis.
Nine years after then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government decided to erect the security barrier, only about two-thirds of the fence is actually standing.
The defense establishment's automatic reflex is to blame the problem on legal foot-dragging, but the real explanation has more to do with budgetary constraints. Money for the project stopped rolling the moment terrorist attacks became fewer (the paradox, being of course, that the barrier played a major role in that success).
As a result, construction of the rest of the fence has taken a sluggish pace. On the relatively fewer occasions that Palestinians do decide now to carry out attacks, the path into Israel through the Beit Shemesh corridor is wide open for them.