“No one is taking care of the issue. This will end with a tragedy,” an area resident warned.
The fence in the region, which lies between the Tarqumiyah checkpoint and the Shekef community, near Kibbutz Beit Guvrin, was completed in 2007 and cost hundreds of millions of shekels. The fence itself is equipped with technological devices that are supposed to indicate whether anyone has made contact or attempted to cross the fence, and then give the precise location for forces to rapidly deploy to the scene and intercept the infiltrators.
But the Israel Defense Forces has neglected the fence over the past few months, both in terms of security operations in the area and in maintenance of the fence itself. This change has not gone unnoticed on the Palestinian side, and some have been quick to capitalize on it. Residents from the villages in the area — mainly Idhna, but also Tarqumiyah and Bayt Ula, noticed the breach in the fence and turned it into a bountiful source of income. Every night dozens of Palestinians infiltrate Israeli territory, with most infiltrations ending in criminal acts.
The result is that in the last month alone, 16 tractors, dozens of cattle and many pieces of agricultural equipment have been stolen. In the most serious incident so far, which took place last week, a group of Palestinians assaulted a farmer who was on his tractor crop-dusting near Shekef. The Palestinians hijacked the tractor and took the farmer with them. When the abductors, who were primarily interested in the tractor, saw that the farmer was a Thai worker, they beat him and left him in a field, where he was spotted by security forces. “This could have easily been a Jew, in which case it would not as likely have ended in just a beating,” Ofer Ben-Shabbat, a shepherd from nearby Kibbutz Beit Nir said.
74 man-made breaches in the fence
Ben-Shabbat, along with fellow kibbutz member Dudi Ashkenazi and Yiftach Tzuk, a cattle herder from Aju, took us on a tour of the fence on Wednesday. During the drive, we decided to count just how many breach points there were along one representative kilometer. The results were astounding: We counted 74 entry points along the fence, including 17 man-sized holes and five holes big enough to allow vehicles and agricultural equipment to be smuggled in. “Billions were invested here, and the damage now done will cost millions to fix,” Ashkenazi said, “it would be better to just leave the gates open, that way at least it would stop the damage [to the fence] from vandalism.”
In recent days the Palestinian thieves have become more audacious, cutting the fence’s electrical cables — the very ones intended to issue an alarm when someone has reached the fence so as to prevent infiltrations. Kilometers of cable have already been cut and are being sold for large sums in the West Bank. Another source of income for the thieves is ammunition, collected by Palestinian teens. The IDF has firing zones near the fence, as well as a central training base in the area. The area is littered with shell casings and ammunition that is picked up by the Palestinian youths and sold to dealers in the West Bank.
This criminal security breach is known to all members of the defense community. “We talked to everyone, the army, the Defense Ministry, Border Patrol, the police and the Shin Bet,” Tzuk said. “Bottom line, nothing is happening.” Currently, local residents have taken the majority of guard duty and security on themselves.” They have received some assistance from the New Israeli Guardsmen, an organization dedicated to protecting Israeli farmers in remote locations, which has increased its activity in the area.
Still, even this modicum of self-defense is asking for trouble, according to those involved. “We could be in mortal danger and fire back, and then we could face trial like [the Israeli farmer who was tried for shooting at intruders in 2007] Shai Dromi,” Ashkenazi said.
The IDF, which is in charge of security on both sides of the fence, is the organization that is supposed to be solving the problem — and is also responsible for maintenance of the fence. The Shin Bet has warned multiple times that the breach in the fence constitutes a “wink” to terrorist groups. The problem has yet to be solved, and Ashkenazi warns that “it will end in tragedy.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit released a statement saying: “The fence breach problem is known and is currently being taken care off by the IDF. In the past couple of years, routine repairs have been made to the security fence, but [hostile] elements continue to return and damage it. The IDF is continuously working to close the gaps in the security fence and in ongoing security operations, both covert and in the open. Work has been underway over the past days to find a solution to the problem.”
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=9021