In defense of the fence with Egypt

The Sinai fence can rightly be pointed to as an achievement. It illustrates Israel’s ability to accomplish major tasks relatively quickly when there is the political will.

Border fence with Egypt 370 (photo credit: GPO)
Border fence with Egypt 370
(photo credit: GPO)
Among Israel’s most impressive achievements in thwarting assaults on its internal stability in recent years has been the use of an old technology to confront new threats. The completion of the 230-km. border fence with Egypt is the latest achievement in this respect.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared Wednesday: “There has not been an engineering feat in Israel this large since the days of Herod.” Brig.-Gen.
Eran Ofir, paraphrasing Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, described the fence as an “iron wall.”
In harking back to Herod the prime minister pays homage to other great barriers, Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Britain, the Great Wall of China and Sebastian Vauban’s “system” of fortresses designed to defend France in the 17th century.
In Israel, the use of fences has been successful in preventing terrorists from the West Bank reaching the main population centers and has also been used to effect on the borders with the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
The latest section, however, is intended not only to confront terrorists that may try to infiltrate from a chaos-plagued Sinai, but also to put a stop to the migration from Africa.
In the past decade Israel became a destination country for economic migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers from Africa. While some of these people were bona fide refugees from the genocide in Darfur, many others were economic migrants who, having reached Egypt and not finding opportunity, sought a better life in Israel, or the possibility to make their way on to Europe.
Over time this African immigration became increasingly tragic and grew exponentially, until it reached a peak of an estimated 2,300 illegal entrants in January 2012. In December, only 36 people crossed illegally into Israel from Sinai.
Under Hosni Mubarak the Egyptian government ordered the shooting of migrants trying to cross into Israel, resulting in dozens of deaths. The chaos following Mubarak’s departure in 2011 emboldened Sinai Beduin to engage in a modern-day slave trade, in which people were enticed to leave Sudan with promises of lucrative pay in Israel. Upon making it to Sinai they were beaten, tortured and raped, while ransom was demanded from their families. Those who were not murdered were dumped on the border with Israel.
This put Israel is the unenviable position of needing to restrict the illegal immigration of people who had suffered unspeakable abuse. Israel, in the midst of social protests, did not foresee the problems that would result from the 60,000 migrants who made it here, and racially charged protests resulted in south Tel Aviv neighborhoods where many of the migrants ended up.
The completion of Sinai fence therefore represents an important deterrent. It is, however, only the first step.
The government that is formed after January’s election should act to standardize the process for recognizing and rejecting asylum applications from the migrants. Investments should be made in south Tel Aviv, in the areas around the central bus station, so that Israel’s largest bus station is no longer a place that some people fear to go to; a seemingly lawless ghetto and dumping ground for social ills and municipal neglect.
Every Western state confronts issues relating to immigration.
A future-oriented policy that seeks a long-term solution for the 60,000 illegal residents of south Tel Aviv will result in integration or return to their countries of origin, rather than creating a part of the city that, as in some suburbs of Paris, seems abandoned to criminality and poverty.
The Sinai fence can rightly be pointed to as an achievement. It illustrates Israel’s ability to accomplish major tasks relatively quickly when there is the political will. It should help standardize the relationship with Egypt’s new government and set in motion a peaceful time at the border. This government should rightly be congratulated for completing it.
Now, with elections looming, politicians should put forward their plans for the next step in dealing with terrorism from Sinai and with the undocumented migrants in Israel.