Israel’s Walls

Do They Work?

A Palestinian attacks the West Bank barrier near the town of Abu Dis, October 2015.  Ammar Awad / Reuters

On January 28, in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to construct a wall on the U.S.–Mexican border, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” Netanyahu was right. Although it is hard to say whether Trump’s plan for a wall along the U.S.–Mexican border is viable, Israel’s border-security projects were both popular and successful at achieving most of their stated aims.

Israel has built three major barriers over the past 15 years, and despite provoking heated debate and international criticism, its experience with them has been mostly positive. The first, a separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, helped contain a Palestinian suicide bombing campaign in the mid-2000s. The second, a border fence on the Egyptian–Israeli border finished in 2013 (which Netanyahu referred to in his tweet as a “wall”), completely put a stop to unauthorized African immigration. And a third fence, hardly noticed by the international community, secured Israel’s border with Syria after the latter descended into a devastating civil war.


Each of Israel’s three barriers was built at a different time in response to a different threat. The most important of the three, because it directly helped to stop a deadly terror campaign, is the West Bank barrier. Israel began considering the possibility of building a fence along the “Green Line” (which marks Israel’s borders up until 1967, excluding East Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights) in the 1990s. At the time, the Oslo Accords, which promised peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, were in the process of being implemented, but groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad had begun to send suicide bombers from the Palestinian territories into Israeli cities. No actual construction work on the fence was done, however, because Israeli governments feared that doing so would be perceived as a

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