IS ISRAEL'S SECURITY BARRIER UNIQUE?
By Ben Thein
EU countries are not the only ones to display hypocrisy. Several states voting to condemn Israel themselves have built barriers on disputed land, often as a response to terrorism. Israel's decisions rest on firm precedent. India, for example, has built a barrier along its line-of-control with Pakistan. Following a number of violent confrontations with Yemeni soldiers and tribesmen, the Saudi Arabian government unilaterally began constructing a barrier on land disputed by its southern neighbor. Morocco has built a barrier against Algerian infiltration in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Ironically, while both British foreign minister Jack Straw and Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gül condemned Israel's security fence, both their countries have built their own barriers to combat terrorism. In Cyprus, it is the U.N. itself that, at significant hardship to the local populace, sponsored a security fence reinforcing the island's de facto partition.
The idea of physical separation between Israelis and Palestinians predates the current Palestinian intifada. A brutal 1992 terrorist murder of a teenage girl in Bat Yam helped motivate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to negotiate the Oslo accords. Physical separation was not yet on the table. But in 1994, in response to a suicide attack in Tel Aviv, Rabin declared, "We have to decide on separation as a philosophy." 
While Rabin's assassination sidetracked the barrier plan, Prime Minister Ehud Barak revived the idea. Shortly before the collapse of the July, 2000, Camp David summit, Barak gave a speech arguing that separation would both guarantee security and preserve the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. Barak continued to state that "a physical separation" would be "essential to the Palestinian nation in order to foster its national identity and independence, without being dependent on the State of Israel."  However, it would be a Likud government that would actually bring the goal to fruition. On February 21, 2002, following a rash of suicide bombings, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared his support for the barrier. Whatever resistance there was in his government was swept aside the next month after Palestinian terrorists killed 80 Israelis and wounded 600 in twelve different suicide attacks. On April 14, 2002, Sharon's Security Cabinet approved a plan to build three "buffer zones" in areas where terrorists had frequently infiltrated Israel;  construction began two months later.  While the West Bank security fence is long by Israeli standards at about 500 miles when complete,  it is, nevertheless, small in comparison to other barriers in existence.
The Pakistani government's reaction to India's barrier-building was harsh. Islamabad accused India of violating both the U.N. charter and the two countries' cease fire agreement. In July, 2003, Pakistani military spokesman, Shaukat Sultan, declared:
But the Indian government disagreed, citing its right to defend itself against terrorism. After all, since 1989, more than 40,000 people have perished in Jammu and Kashmir in terrorism and insurgency-related violence.  And, just as Israel has found its barrier to be a successful deterrent, so, too, has India. According to the chief-of-staff of the Indian army, Nirmal Chand Vij, the number of terrorists inside Jammu and Kashmir plummeted almost 50 percent in the year after the barrier's construction. The fence stopped almost 90 percent of infiltration attempts.  India's vote against Israel's West Bank barrier  may have undermined its own position, a fact that was not lost on at least one Pakistani senator. In a July debate in the Pakistani Senate, Ishaq Dar suggested that Islamabad parlay the ICJ ruling into a move to condemn India's fence construction along its line-of-control. 
Violence erupted in 2002. In the Saudi border town of Jizan, Saudi border guards confronted Islamists smuggling weapons from Yemen. Thirty-six Saudi soldiers died in the ensuing firefight.  Following additional violence along the border, the Kingdom decided unilaterally to build a security barrier along their border with Yemen. Saudi officials claimed that this barrier would stem the weapons flow and almost daily attempts at infiltration by Islamist insurgents from Yemen.  Talal Anqawi, the head of Saudi Arabia's border guards, dismissed any parallels to Israel's security barrier, telling the Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat:
If Anqawi sought to create a litmus test for the permissibility of barriers, he failed. While the ICJ referred to Israel's security fence as a "wall" throughout its decision, less than 5 percent of the barrier is actually concrete slab. The rest is a network of fence and sensors. While the Saudi government presses the U.N. to sanction Israel to force compliance with the ICJ decision, the Kingdom, through its own actions and statements, has actually created a precedent for Israel. Saudi statements labeling Israel's security barrier an "internationally wrongful act" and demanding its "destruction,"  illustrate the hypocrisy of both the Saudi and ICJ positions.
The Turkish stance is more surprising, given its own positions vis-à-vis two other barriers, both of which are built on disputed land. In 1939, Turkey annexed Hatay, a province populated primarily by Turks but claimed by Syria. Syrian maps still depict Hatay as part of Syria.  Throughout the 1980s and through most of the 1990s, Syria supported the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan, PKK) in their terrorist campaign for a Kurdish state in Turkey. The Turkish government responded by fortifying their frontier including those portions around Hatay still hotly disputed by the Syrian government and by constructing a high fence along the length of the border and laying over 500 miles of minefields.  While no serious international lawyer questions the status of Hatay a 1937 League of Nations referendum recommended separation from Syria the Turkish government's condemnation of Israel's barrier may provide the Syrian government with unwanted ammunition, should they decide to pursue more seriously their complaint against Turkey.
Turkey's experience with barriers extends beyond the Syrian frontier. When Cyprus became independent in 1960, its constitution was intended to balance the interests of the Turkish minority with the Greek majority. In 1974, the Greek government supported a coup that installed an ardent Greek nationalist who promised to unite the island nation with Greece. Turkish troops intervened, enforcing a division of the island. In 1983, the Turkish sector formally proclaimed itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus but was recognized only by Turkey. The green line separating the two sides stretched 120 miles. The UN-monitored buffer zone varies in width from less than 20 meters to more than 4 miles. Five villages lie in the buffer zone, and approximately 8,000 people live or work in a no-man's land. Hardest hit was Nicosia, the capital, where some streets remain divided by cement partitions. Ironically, while the UN has condemned Israel's wall for inconveniencing Palestinians, in Cyprus, it was the UN itself that constructed the barrier in order to preserve peace and security. 
A somewhat analogous case exists on the periphery of the Arab world. Until November, 1975, Spain controlled a 100,000-square-mile stretch of desert on the northwest coast of Africa. Upon the Spanish withdrawal, both the governments of Morocco and Mauritania, as well as the indigenous (but Algerian-supported) Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro) laid claim to what became known as the Western Sahara. On October 16, 1975, the ICJ pushed aside Moroccan claims to the contrary and ruled that the local Sahrawi tribes had the right to self-determination, without regard to Moroccan claims of traditional suzerainty.  The subsequent low-intensity conflict has been long and bitter. The Spanish government initially sought to supervise a joint Moroccan-Mauritanian administration, but withdrew from the arrangement the next year. Mauritanian forces, bloodied by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, gave up the fight in 1979, allowing Morocco to take almost complete control of the region. The Polisario Front launched attacks on both Moroccans and Sahrawis, causing a refugee exodus into Algeria. 
Amid the shadow of continued Polisario terrorism, in 1983, the Moroccan government began construction of a massive 1,500-mile, 3-meter high barrier of sand and stone. The Moroccan army laid more than one million land mines along the barrier, all of which was constructed on territory claimed by a non-state liberation movement. Approximately 120,000 Moroccan soldiers guard the line. The barrier has been remarkably effective at providing security for Moroccans once harried by Polisario terrorists.  Some Sahrawis have not been as fortunate. The barrier divides communities; Sahrawi accessibility and mobility is severely constrained. While the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on June 30, 2004, that Israeli planners needed to take, not only security concerns, but also Palestinian hardship into account when constructing the barrier, the Moroccan government has labored under no such constraints.
Despite having taken far more aggressive actions in response to a terrorist threat that is considerably less severe, the Moroccan government, nevertheless, filed a written statement to the ICJ objecting to Israel's security barrier. The Moroccans accused Israel of "annexation of Palestinian territory" and demanded the barrier's dismantling. 
Straw's statement ignores, not only the success of the Indian, Turkish and Moroccan barriers, but also the United Kingdom's own experience. 
The British government partitioned Ireland in 1921, largely along sectarian lines. While twenty-six counties gained independence as the Republic of Ireland, six other counties remained in Great Britain. Beginning in the late 1960s, the Provisional Irish Republican Army initiated a terrorist campaign to reunite Ireland, in the course of which more than 3,500 died and 30,000 were wounded.
The British government's response to the terrorist campaign was the creation of a "peace line" dividing Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast. In some places, barriers traverse backyards and separate houses. Some of the barriers are more than thirty feet high. Exposing Straw's hypocrisy, Belfast's barriers have actually proliferated during Prime Minister Tony Blair's administration. In 1994, there were 15 of them; a decade later there are 37.  But, the "peace line" has been effective from a counterterrorism perspective. Prior to the barriers' construction, it might take a dozen policemen to secure any given neighborhood. After the British government erected the barriers, two policemen could do the same job.  The Daily Telegraph, generally the British broadsheet most sympathetic toward Israel, pointed out the hypocrisy of the British government's position toward Israel in a February 24, 2004, editorial:
And there is little doubt that the security barriers work. Suicide attacks in Israel declined 75 percent in the first six months of 2004, compared to an equivalent period in 2003.  The Israeli government is not alone in this conclusion. Many of the most vocal critics of Israel's security barrier have employed the same defense. Their immunity from ICJ and UN criticism illustrates both the politicization of the International Court of Justice and the inherent bias of the United Nations. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's criticism of Israel's security barrier,  especially when juxtaposed with his silence regarding the region's other security barriers, illustrates the double standard. 
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the ICJ decision, however, is that it creates a precedent that allows terrorism to trump security. Israel will not be the only victim. The Turkish government, which vociferously condemned Israel, unwittingly undermined its own security with regard to Syria. Some Pakistani politicians already seek to use the ICJ's decision on Israel to undermine India's self-defense. While separate peace processes proceed in Cyprus, Western Sahara and Northern Ireland, it was the dampening of terrorism made possible by the security barriers that allowed the space for diplomats to resume negotiations. On a number of levels, the ICJ decision was a ruling against peace and security, not only in Israel, but also across the region and elsewhere.
The Israeli-Arab Conflict
The Middle East & the Arabs
Radical Islam & Islamic Terrorism
War & Peace in the Real World
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
Ben Thein, a student in international relations, economics, and business management at Clark University, was an intern at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The foregoing article by Ben Thein was originally published in Middle East Quarterly, Fall, 2004, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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