In 2002, the Government of Israel formally approved plans to build a security barrier or fence as a defensive measure to prevent Palestinian terrorists from reaching their civilian targets inside Israel. The decision to build the fence was reached following over two years of relentless terrorism by Palestinians suicide bombers who targeted Israeli buses, cafes, shopping centers and other gathering points for Israeli civilians. Over 1,000 Israelis were killed, and thousands severely injured in these attacks. Israel felt it had no choice but to take strong action to stop these terrorists from entering Israel from their operation centers in the West Bank. Throughout this period, the Palestinian Authority did little to prevent these attacks or to abolish the terrorist infrastructure despite its commitment to do so in agreements with Israel.
The 440-mile security barrier, being constructed in phases, is comprised 94 percent of chain-link fence and 6 percent of a concrete barrier. The entire barrier is a multi-fence system which incorporates ditches, barbed wire, patrol roads and observation systems. Contrary to anti-Israel propaganda, a very small section of the is concrete, or can be described as “a wall.” The concrete sections are primarily in the area of the Palestinian cities of Qualqilya and Tulkarim, the locus of many terrorist operations, where there is a history of snipers shooting at Israeli civilians, and the outskirts of municipal Jerusalem.
The security fence has significantly reduced terrorist attacks in Israel. According to the Israeli government, since it has been operational, there has been a dramatic decrease in Palestinian terrorism – not because there have been no attempted attacks, but because the security barrier has impeded terrorists from reaching Israeli cities, or has forced them to take more circuitous routes, leading to their capture.
The fence has caused hardship for a number of Palestinians located on or near its route; however, Israel has made alterations to the initially planned route to ensure it affects a minimal number of people, given the population density and demographic complications that define the area. The Israeli Supreme Court has issued rulings on the barrier’s route, ordering it changed in areas where it would lead to unnecessary hardship for Palestinians. More challenges and route changes are anticipated.
In July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a non-binding advisory decision on the Israeli security fence. The Court announced that Israel violated international law in the routing of the security fence and called on Israel to dismantle sections built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In its decision, the Court completely dismissed the arguments of Israel, along with those of 22 other nations who submitted written briefs, while accepting without reservation the arguments of the Palestinians and their supporters. The issue of the fence was brought before the ICJ by a Palestinian-initiated resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2003. The resolution sent the issue to the ICJ for an advisory opinion on the question: “What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The Palestinian Authority and supporters had attempted to have the Security Council pass such a resolution, but when these efforts were unsuccessful, they turned instead to the General Assembly, where anti-Israel resolutions are routinely supported by the majority of member nations. The resolution passed 90-8, with 74 countries abstaining. There was extensive controversy regarding the ICJ’s involvement in this issue and their non-binding advisory opinion. Israel and its supporters argued that issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the security fence, should be settled through bilateral negotiations, and not be predetermined or imposed by the ICJ or other international bodies. Furthermore, they argued, the countries who lobbied for the UN resolution to send the issue of the fence to the ICJ were more interested in scoring public relations points against Israel than in seeking constructive opportunities to promote reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians.