Flying in Face of Previous Government's Decision: Temporary Route of West Bank Fence Puts Beit Iksa on 'Wrong Side'

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The security fence places the West Bank Palestinian village of Beit Iksa on the Israeli side of the security barrier. The route is based on an Defense Ministry decision that runs counter to plans approved by the cabinet of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. As a result, residents of the village, which is just north of Jerusalem, can enter Israeli territory without any significant restriction.

The arrangement is also contrary to earlier recommendations within the Defense Ministry. Sources say the current path of the security fence is temporary and will not remain in place when a permanent barrier is constructed. Nonetheless, tens of millions of shekels have been invested in the present location of the barrier and in the paving of the road adjacent to it.

The placement of the barrier in relation to the village has been controversial for years. In the original route approved by Ariel Sharon's cabinet in 2003, the village was to be on the Israeli side of the fence. The position was reversed by the Olmert government in 2006. Beit Iksa faces the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot and is less than a kilometer from Highway 1, which leads to Tel Aviv. The ambivalence on the issue relates to the sensitivity of the location, which commands a view of several major roads.

Another possible consideration is that there are Jewish-owned parcels of land around Beit Iksa, some of which were acquired about 80 years ago. Placement of the village on the Israeli side of the barrier might enable the future construction of a Jewish neighborhood.

The Shin Bet security service and the police had opposed the current route, contending it would give thousands of Palestinians free access to Israel and ease arms smuggling and other criminal activity such as unsupervised transport of West Bank produce. About four years ago a terrorist wearing an explosives belt who was caught on Highway 1 told his interrogators he entered Israel through Beit Iksa.

Despite the 2006 Olmert government decision, nearly a year and a half ago, the Defense Ministry began constructing the security fence northwest of the village, thereby placing Beit Iksa on the Israeli side of the barrier. A facility was also built there to would allow future Palestinian pedestrian traffic to and from the village.

In response, the Defense Ministry said the route approved by the government had not yet been approved by the courts. "Until proceedings have concluded," the ministry said, "the defense establishment and the police have decided that the security situation had to be addressed on an urgent basis. It was therefore decided to build an operational temporary fence to bar infiltration and hostile attacks in the Jerusalem area.

On Sunday, in the course of a trip along the current route, an electronic fence and parallel paved road could be seen, an arrangement similar to regular segments of the barrier. Access to Beit Iksa this week was not under any security supervision, although there was an intermittent police presence in the area. The patrol road ascends and descends repeatedly and is exposed to possible attack from the other side of the fence.

Reserve Col. Shaul Arieli, who has dealt extensively with the issue of the security barrier, told Haaretz that "the defense establishment describes the fence as temporary, but in practice, it involves a huge expenditure of money and is detrimental to security. And all of us also know that there is nothing more permanent than [something deemed] temporary."