|Danny Tirza, architect of Israel’s security barrier, speaks to journalists participating in the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, October 16, 2017. (Photo: NRB / James A. Smith Sr.)
JERUSALEM (NRB) – The man responsible for building the controversial security barrier protecting Israel from Palestinian terror attacks – called an “apartheid wall” by Israel’s critics – prays three times daily for a future time when peace will allow him to remove the first stone from the barrier.
Danny Tirza, known as the “father of maps,” led two tours of three locations in Jerusalem along the security fence – widely criticized around the world as a barrier to peace – for participants in a first-ever Christian Media Summit, October 15-18, in Jerusalem. More than 130 participants from 35 nations gathered for the Summit, sponsored by the Israeli government seeking more accurate coverage.
A 30-year veteran of the Israeli army, Tirza was given the assignment in 2002 to determine the location and nature of the security barrier after a series of Palestinian terror attacks resulted in demands from Israeli citizens for greater security.
Tirza said his moniker came from Yasir Arafat, former head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and later head of the Palestinian Authority, during the period of time he served on the Israeli delegation for the Oslo peace negotiations. Arafat, Tirza said, intended the title as a joke because the word for “map” in Arabic is close to the word for “nonsense.”
|From the Anefa overlook in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood, looking toward the security barrier separating it from the West Bank. The barrier consists of multiple fences with a ditch between to prevent easy entry into Israel. In the upper left corner of the photo, the fence becomes a 27-foot high concrete wall separating urban neighborhoods. Since erecting the barrier, terrorist incidents in Israel have been reduced dramatically. (Photo: NRB / James A. Smith Sr.)|
Although he retired in 2007, Tirza continues to assist the government in explaining the rationale for the security barrier, which runs 451 miles, largely around the West Bank, 95 percent of which is made up of a series of fences; the remaining five percent is the concrete wall that is more commonly seen in media reports about the barrier.
Gaza, which is controlled by the terrorist organization Hamas, is closed to entry to Israel, except for humanitarian needs. Tirza noted recently a relative of the head of Hamas was permitted entry to Israel to seek medical treatment at a hospital in Ashkelon, Israel, that has been a target of terrorist attacks by Hamas.
The barrier cost 11 billion shekels to build and 8 million shekels are spent each year to maintain the fence, not including the manpower to guard and operate the structure.
From 2000 to 2006, before the security barrier was completed in 2007, there were more than 4,000 terrorist attacks from the West Bank, resulting in 1,562 deaths, Tirza said. Since then, there have been 35 terror attacks, with 29 deaths. In 2016 alone, 400 terror attacks were prevented because of the security fence, he said.
On the day before the October 16 tour of the fence, Tirza noted one checkpoint discovered three Palestinian terrorists hiding in a car’s trunk.
|Security terminal near the gate for vehicle entry to Bethlehem is one of 28 entry points for about 83,000 Palestinians from the West Bank who work daily in Israel. The facility, which cannot be accessed via vehicles, is designed with a curved opening in the roof in order to lessen the impact of explosions. About 1,000 workers can be processed each hour. (Photo: NRB / James A. Smith Sr.)|
“The fence is very effective for Israel,” he said. “It saved the lives of thousands of Israelis.”
Tirza noted the Palestinian Authority (PA) creates an economic incentive for terrorism because it subsidizes those jailed for terrorist activities with a monthly salary of 7,200 shekels, compared to the 1,500 shekels the average Palestinian earns monthly in the West Bank or even the average 5,500 shekels monthly earning of Palestinians working in Israel. Even worse, the PA pays terrorists convicted of murder 14,000 shekels per month for lifetime imprisonment in Israel.
In spite of the ever-present threat of terror, Tirza outlined many ways he and his colleagues sought to work with Palestinians to build the fence in a way that would be least disruptive to their daily lives.
“Not even one Palestinian house was destroyed or evacuated by building the fence,” he said.
“Most of the Arabs who live along the [fence] know me personally because I tried to negotiate with them and see how they can live with this fence,” he said. “This fence is not against normal people; it’s against the terror.”
Additionally, Tirza said cultural and religious sensitivities of Palestinians, as well as others, were carefully considered.
As one example, Tirza noted that in terminals in which Palestinians who work in Israel – about 83,000 each day – are subjected to security reviews before entering, bomb-sniffing dogs are separated from those being checked because it would be humiliating for Muslims to be in close contact with dogs. Instead, the air of the room holding the subjects is piped into the room with dogs.
“And it’s very, very effective,” Tirza said.
“Father of maps” Danny Tirza shows map of Israel to participants in the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, October 16, 2017. The purple line is the location of the security barrier which he led a team to build. His left hand is pointing at the Sea of Galilee in the northern part of Israel. (Photo: NRB / James A. Smith Sr.)
Asked why they would go to such lengths, he answered, “We care because all the time we are trying to balance between the security needs and the culture of the people, the day-to-day life of the people on the ground. We want to live securely, of course. But we do not want to humiliate anyone.”
Even the Supreme Court of Israel welcomed 124 Palestinian complaints about the fence, finding in five cases there was not a proper balance between security needs and rights of the people, Tirza said. In response, he said the entire barrier was reevaluated with changes made to satisfy the high court’s ruling.
The security challenges facing Israel are complicated by its small size – the entire nation is about the size of the state of New Jersey. It’s only 48 miles from Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean Coast to the Jordan River, the eastern border of the West Bank, he noted.
“You can see how close everything is. Israel is a very small country,” he said.
Even with the challenge of terrorism, Tirza noted, “The main thing that I think that you felt in Israel is a sense of security,” he told about 30 Christian journalists October 16. “We have to deal with a lot of soldiers, with a lot of people every night who have to keep this security. But we are living in a very nice place.”
Although a lifelong soldier responsible for building a security barrier to prevent terrorism, Tirza prays and longs for peace with Palestinians.
“The day will come, and I hope that this day will be as soon as possible – I pray for it three times a day, I’m doing my best, although I’m not an official anymore, but I’m doing my best to come to an agreement with the other side and to have peace in the city of peace,” Tirza said.
When there is no more terror, Tirza said he hopes he “will be the one that will take off the first stone of the wall in Jerusalem. I love this city so much. I have so many friends on the other side. So, really, I hope the day will come and there will be no need for this fence and we can take it off and live here normally and quietly with our neighbors, the Palestinians.”
At the invitation of the government, National Religious Broadcasters made recommendations for prospective invitees to the Christian Media Summit, although government officials were responsible for making the invitations and planning the summit.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series, “Dateline Jerusalem: Christian Media & Israel.” Part one, “First-ever Christian Media Summit Hosted by Israeli Government,” ran in the October 26 edition of NRB Today. Part three, scheduled to run in the November 9 edition of NRB Today, will focus on the participation of NRB members in the Summit.
By James A. Smith Sr., Vice President of Communications
Published: November 2, 2017