- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

RAM-ON, Israel Several Israeli villages began building their own security fence to separate them from the West Bank yesterday, using $1 million in donations from Jewish communities in the United States.

The farmers of the Gilboa region said they took action because the government's West Bank barrier under construction leaves their community, like many others in northern Israel, unprotected from Palestinian militants.

Progress on state-sponsored construction has been slow. Just a little more than 2 miles of fence have been completed in six months. Israel's frontier with the West Bank is 228 miles long.

The government has decided in principle to fence off the whole line but has not mapped the route in the north and south, deciding to start in the center, across from Israel's main population centers.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon initially resisted a West Bank barrier because it leaves Jewish settlements on the far side of the fence and because of concerns it could be seen as Israel's future border with the Palestinians.

However, a majority of Israelis support the fence construction as perhaps the only way to stop Palestinian suicide bombers. In 26 months of fighting, Israeli military operations in the West Bank have failed to halt such attacks.

In contrast, no assailants have been able to reach Israel from the Gaza Strip, which is ringed by a tall fence topped with barbed wire.

Mr. Sharon agreed to construction earlier this year, but for now along only a third of the frontier. The issue is expected to dominate the campaign leading to a Jan. 28 general election, with opposition leader Amram Mitzna calling for separation from the Palestinians, whether as part of a peace deal or as a unilateral move.

Workers yesterday poured cement into holes for fence posts and unfurled coils of barbed wire near Ram-On, one of several villages in the rolling hills of Gilboa in northern Israel, just opposite the West Bank town of Jenin. "A fence will save lives," read a sign next to the project.

Dan Attar, head of the Gilboa Regional Council, told reporters against the backdrop of the construction: "Where those who should be taking responsibility are lacking, we will be present."

The Gilboa Regional Council is planning to build a 15-mile fence, although the $1 million raised in a dozen Jewish communities in Connecticut, Minnesota and Washington state in recent months will cover only part of the cost.

Mr. Attar declined to name the donors, but said there was great willingness to give. With the money, the Gilboa council also is buying surveillance cameras, an ambulance and two patrol vehicles.

Raanan Gissin, a Sharon adviser, declined to comment on the private fence construction. The government's fence is more than 6 feet high, has concrete foundations, touch-sensitive springs and is topped with barbed wire. Alongside it runs a sandy track designed to reveal infiltrators' footprints.

Mr. Attar says he doesn't know why the government-sponsored fence is not extending to Gilboa.

Several other at-risk areas, including the town of Beit Shean in the northern Jordan Valley, also have been left out, prompting the mayor of Beit Shean, Pini Caballo, to warn that he would organize street protests to sway planners.

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