Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Exploding The Myth that the Israeli "Security Barrier" Prevents Terrorism

Ask any Israeli why there have been no suicide bombings in the last few years, and the answer will be clear – the "security barrier". When there wasn't a barrier, there were suicide bombings. Now there is a barrier, and they aren't.

That reasoning is a classic example of the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy. If A comes after B, then A is a result of B.

But are they right? And how can one tell? Well, if there were no other explanations for the drop in suicide bombing, then it would stand to reason that the barrier explains the drop.

But there are other explanations: increased and better military intelligence, a strategic decision of Hamas to enter the political arena, the crackdown by Fatah in the West Bank, etc., and the gradual dying down of the Second Intifada

So…how can one begin to assess the relative weight of the "security barrier" as a factor?

Let's look at one of the main centers of killings from 1995-2005: Jerusalem.

Since 2005, when the Israeli government approved most of the current security barrier route, there have been only two major incidents in Jerusalem with fatalities, neither of them suicide bombings. The first was the killing of the eight students of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva (March 6, 2008), and the second was the bulldozer killing on July 2, 2008. Eleven people killed. (The source of all statistic here is the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website here)

From 1995 to 2005, by contrast, over 250 people died in Jerusalem in over forty incidents with fatalities.

So there you have it…the "security barrier" works, right?

The only problem with the explanation is that there is no "security barrier" surrounding Jerusalem. The entire southern flank of the city is exposed. The whole "security barrier" project has been stuck for close to two years. South Jerusalem (where I live) and Gush Ezion are not protected by a "security barrier." And yet there have been no suicide bombings there.

Amos Harel has an important piece in today's Haaretz on the unfinished security barrier. (Read it here.) How unfinished? According to the article around 40%. The fence is bogged down because of legal difficulties, Israel's unwillingness to move the route to the Green Line except when forced by the High Court, and American's displeasure.

Of course, the original route of the "security barrier" was to have annexed effectively 20% of the West Bank to Harel. That was the beginning of the "Land Grab Wall," which the High Court struck down. Harel writes:

In practice, however, the route encompasses only 4.5 percent of West Bank land. The four "fingers" in the last map (and which Israel presented at Annapolis in November 2007) were never built, not at Ariel and Kedumim (where a "fingernail" was built, a short stretch of fence east of the homes of Ariel); not at Karnei Shomron and Immanuel; not at Beit Arieh, nor south of that, at Ma'aleh Adumim. Instead, with little publicity, fences were put up to close the gaps closer to the Green Line, at Alfei Menashe instead of at Kedumim, at Elkana instead of Ariel and in the Rantis area instead of at Beit Arieh.

About 50,000 people in these settlements remain beyond the fence. West of Ma'aleh Adumim the wall built along Highway 1 blocks the gap in the barrier and leaves the city's 35,000 residents outside of the barrier, forcing them to pass through a Border Police checkpoint in order to reach Jerusalem. The fact that the "fingers" were never built also damages these people's security because the state refuses to build periphery fences around them and declare their proximity to a "special military area."

In some cases, such as the roads built around the original barrier route at the Beit Arieh enclave, hundreds of millions of shekels were wasted on unused roads that may never be completed.

Large gaps remain in the southern West Bank. Between Gilo in south Jerusalem and Gush Etzion are tens of kilometers of barrier, work on which was suspended due to two High Court petitions - one filed by residents of Beit Jala, the other by villagers from Batir, Husan and Nahalin. As a result access to Jerusalem from the direction of Bethlehem is relatively easy - for commuters and terrorists both.

So where are all the suicide terrorists coming from the South? Are we supposed to believe that they get stopped on the way? By what? By the internal checkpoints that have been removed?

Israeli rightwing sources like to point to the statements of the Palestinian militant leadership that attribute the drop in suicide bombing to the security fence. You can read one such website here. Pardon me if I don't think that this is just self-serving bullshit by the Palestinian militants, who would like to pin the blame not on Israel's intelligence successes, and their difficulty to get volunteers, but on the "security barrier." It makes life easier for them and saves their credibility.

The "security barrier" makes suicide bombing difficult for them?

Don't they have a map of where the barrier hasn't been built, and probably won't be built?


fiddler said...

This myth was actually debunked some two years ago, basically, if unintentionally, by the Israeli police. I remember a report (late 2007, I think) about thousands of undocumented Palestinian workers being apprehended and deported to the West Bank every month. The unfinished wall was and is no more an obstacle than a sieve is to water. Yet at the same time there hadn't been a suicide bombing in many months. Thus the claim that the "security barrier" prevents terrorism amounts to no less than the barrier having psychic powers in that it let through thousands of "illegal" workers while blocking terrorists.

Uri said...

Excellent post. But do you mean "post hoc ergo propter hoc?"

Jerry Haber said...

Uri, golly, I HATE when I make mistakes in Latin. Serves me right for writing fast.

Anonymous said...

interesting post, but the drop in suicide bombings is not due to Hamas "entering the political arena" (was pushing opponents off buildings in or out of the political arena?)

Hamas has continued to ramp up the hate education that makes it impossible for any compromises.

Y. Ben-David said...

It must be remebered that it was the Left (or the 'progressives' or 'the peace camp' or whatever you want to call them) that demanded teh wall be built, hoping that it would then serve as the border of the Palestinian state and would force Israel to expell the Jews living beyond it. The Right opposed it for this reason.

The reason for the drop in the number of terrorist attacks is due to the IDF's breaking of the terrorist infrastructure in Judea/Samaria, starting with the Operation Homat Magen (Defensive Shield) in 2002. If the IDF were to stop its ongoing operations against this terrorist infrastructure, the attacks would resume, wall or no wall.