Daily Israel Report

Report: What Really Happened to the Warning System in Itamar

Veteran investigative journalist Hagai Huberman reports the real story of Itamar’s security fence.


By Hagai Huberman
First Publish: 3/20/2011, 12:52 PM / Last Update: 3/20/2011, 1:44 PM

INN

Veteran investigative reporter Hagai Huberman reported on the real story of Itamar’s security fence in Be'sheva, Arutz Sheva's popular weekly Hebrew newspaper. INN translated the report.

So what really happened to the warning system in Itamar, the one that was put in place after the terrible terror attacks during the height of the Oslo War (2000-2006, also known as the Second Intifada)?  How could a system whose entire raison d’etre was the prevention of illegal entry to the community fail so miserably? The question troubled quite a few security echelons this past week, in the light of the heinous slaughter carried out by one or two terrorists armed with knives.

Anyone who thinks that a fence serves as more of a psychological preventative than a physical one received a corroborating jolt this past week. The terrorists got through a fence that sounded an alert twice, as they came in and as they left, and were not identified at any of the crossovers.  Those who believe that a fence can prevent terrorist attacks felt corroborated by reports that claimed that the security fence in Itamar, despite past terrorist attacks, was far from perfect.

At the height of the Oslo War, 15 residents and guests of the community were murdered in the space of two years. Among the worst incidents was when in the spring of 2002, terrorists penetrated the Hitsim Yeshiva High School and murdered three students. A month later came the attack in which four members of the Shabo family were butchered as well as the security guard Yosef Tuitto who tried to save them. Tuitto’s place was taken by Shlomo Miller, who was shot dead by a PA security officer on August 13, 2004 while driving on the road leading from central Itamar to nearby populated hilltops.

A high-level security source in the Shomron (Samaria)reveals that the IDF refused to fund essential security equipment around the Itamar fence because the government’s legal department claimed that the fence was illegal, since a part of it was on private Palestinian land. The upkeep of the security fence around Itamar was thus funded with great difficulty by the Shomron Regional Authority. The IDF, which has responsibility for security everywhere in Israel, could not fund it.

According to the same source, part of the fence itself was originally built with funding from the Department of Civil Defense, and the security apparatus around it was supposed to be kept in working order by the Defense Department. When the attorney general’s offices claimed the fence was illegal, the Department of Civil Defense stopped keeping it in operative condition. This refusal prompted the Samaria Regional Authority to allocate funds to complete it and to even offer to pay for upkeep at an annual cost of 100,000 shekels ($30,000). The Regional Authority so far has allocated hundreds of thousands of shekels to keep up the fence’s electronic system and the road around it.

When the heads of the community demanded that the IDF construct its own system of security, the IDF answered that it would only do so if Itamar would take down the present fence and allow the IDF to build a new one. This was untenable and therefore not implemented. 

The distance from the fence to the community’s houses is up to half a kilometer, but the infiltration point was only about 250 meters (80 yards) from residents’ homes. Nevertheless, that is “enough distance for a proper security fence and observation system to identify the object immediately," says another top level security source in the Shomron.  According to this source, an efficient fence would necessitate appropriating land all around the perimeter of the town. Today the community builds on every millimeter of state land. Construction of a proper security fence necessitates army expropriation of land.  Had the army agreed to build an additional fence, which it  could have built easily, that would have kept animals from approaching the security fence and causing endless false alarms, the reason the guards, who saw no evidence of damage to the fence (as the terrorist/s jumped over it and hid), thought an animal had touched it.

The army also refused to help fund technological upgrading and installation of advanced capabilities for the surveillance camera bought with donations collected by Shlomo Miller, the resident in charge of security who was later murdered by terrorists. The upgrading would have made it possible, through the use of thermal sensitive devices, to differentiate between an animal touching the fence and someone going over it.

Those devices were not in place because of the legal decision. The IDF is up on state-of-the-art developments, and that is why it was given the responsibility for care of security apparatus surrounding the homes of Israeli citizens. 

As for the failure to call the army, even though the alert was considered a false alarm, residents said that the IDF has reduced the number of soldiers guarding Itamar and Elon Moreh, so that even when they are called, it can take a long time for them to arrive.

But the long and short of it is that the Attorney General’s office termed the Itamar security fence Illegal, so the IDF stopped funding and repairing it. Civliians and civilian authorities did their best to do it on their own, but it was not good enough.