Gilboa towns build DIY separation fence

 

David Ratner, Ha’aretz, 17.12.02

 

 

Residents in the Gilboa region waited two years for a separation fence to be built. Now, after having sent repeated entreaties to the government and having received assorted, unfulfilled promises, they have decided to "take the law into their own hands," and build the fence themselves.

 

Yesterday construction work for the separation fence started in the area running between Moshav Ram-On and villages in the Jenin area. The construction work on the 12-kilometer long fence is being funded by the Gilboa regional council.

 

ON OUR OWN: Workers stretching barbed wire in the Gilboa

area as local towns start building their own separation fence.

(Photo:Baz Ratner)

 

Danny Atar, Gilboa council mayor, characterizes the fence as a defiant challenge to a government which, he claims, is not doing anything on behalf of a separation fence in the region, and has left council residents vulnerable to possible infiltration attacks perpetrated by terrorists from the Jenin area.

 

Compared to the separation fence being built by the Defense Ministry, this Gilboa fence is relatively permeable. Nonetheless, council residents argue, their new fence will cause a potential intruder to think twice about trying to cross into the region. Any terrorist who tries to cross the electric fence can expect a 6000 volt shock and the intrusion will also set off a warning light at the regional council's command center.

 

Pistol-carrying local farmers moved about a tent which the Gilboa council pitched yesterday near Moshav Ram-On. Encouraged by well-wishers, the council residents spoke exultantly about their initiative.

 

Atar didn't mince words. "This is a message to the government," the Gilboa council chief declared. "There is total anarchy in the public sphere, with regard to security for citizens of the country."

 

Atar invited Beit She'an Mayor Pini Kabalo yesterday to observe the work on the fence. Kabalo, however, was not reticent about voicing criticism. "Hats off to Atar for attaining this fence," he stated in a glum tone. "But there aren't budgets in Beit She'an, not even for something this cheap. Two types of fences have been created: there are rich people who pressure the Defense Ministry to establish a fence in various spots, and there is a council like Atar's which builds a fence on its own initiative - and then there are residents in Beit She'an who don't have any money at all, and so terrorists who come across a fence at the Gilboa council will move along and reach a place where there is no fence, right across from Beit She'an."

 

Atar dismissed skeptics who suggested that the new Gilboa fence is a gimmick. He hints, however, that the fence is a symbol of collapsed hopes for trade and neighborly relations with the Palestinians. Pointing to a road adjacent to the fence, he says: "We paved that road four years ago, and called it the `economic path' - it was supposed to be the major thoroughfare for goods moving freely between communities in the Gilboa region and Jenin, in a time of peace. At the time, we would meet with Jenin's governor, and talk about joint development. Today, the governor of Jenin is the head of preventive security in the city, and the economic path has turned into a road for security patrols."

 

Neither was the defense establishment enthusiastic over Gilboa's independent stance. "With all due respect and understanding for the reasons which compelled the Gilboa regional council head to take this step, the initiative does not serve the general interest of protection against terror attacks for the region's residents," Defense Ministry officials said yesterday. The Ministry-sponsored separation fence features a 50-meter wide safety zone replete with ditches, watchposts, and electronic surveillance equipment, brining the cost of the fence to NIS 1 million per kilometer - 23 times the cost of the fence being erected by the Gilboa council. A little over three kilometers of the Ministry's elaborate fence have been built so far, while another 150 kilometers are still under construction.