Gaza Barrier Can't Withstand an Assault by Mob, Fencemaker Says

  • Magal says fence is meant to detect infiltration, not stop it
  • Israel fears weekly protests will end with mass breach attempt

Thousands of Palestinians marching on the Gaza Strip’s border could trample the 10-foot-high fence that separates the Hamas-ruled territory from Israel, according to the company that built the barrier.

“It would take about 30 seconds to cross,” said Saar Koursh, chief executive officer of Magal Security Systems Ltd., which built the Gaza fence and is vying to work on the wall President Donald Trump wants to erect on the U.S.-Mexico border. “This fence wasn’t built to stop riots like you see now. It was built to give real-time indication if somebody is trying to cross the border.”

Saar Koursh

Source: Magal Security Systems Ltd.

As the Palestinians’ “March of Return” protest approaches its May 15 crescendo, when organizers have threatened a mass breach of the border, Israel says it will reinforce its troop build-up with tanks, drones, snipers, and crowd-dispersal techniques.

Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, is testing a potent new weapon in the protests -- nonlethal resistance. In six weeks of demonstrations meant to dramatize the Palestinians’ plight as refugees, leaders hope to galvanize 100,000 Gazans to storm the fence on the mid-May date of the Nakba, the commemoration of Palestinian exile that coincides with the birth of the State of Israel.

ICC Checking

Israel has come in for international condemnation after sharpshooters killed more than 30 Palestinians when border protests over the past two weeks turned violent. Palestinians say Israel has committed war crimes by shooting unarmed protesters, and the International Criminal Court said it’s checking the matter.

Palestinian protestors on the Gaza-Israel border.

Photographer: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Israel says it has targeted only instigators who have fired at troops, thrown rocks and firebombs, planted explosives and sought to breach the fence. The ICC said it is also checking whether Hamas used peaceful protesters as human shields for militants to carry out attacks.

Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in the 1967 Middle East war, ultimately withdrawing its military forces and all 8,000 Israeli civilians in 2005. It still controls the Gaza border and imposed a naval blockade on the territory, citing security reasons since Hamas took power.

Gaza’s economy has been devastated by wars, Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on its borders and a festering conflict with the Palestinian Authority, which Hamas routed from the enclave in a violent 2007 takeover. The World Bank for years has warned of a humanitarian crisis in the territory as residents get only a few hours of electricity a day, most groundwater is undrinkable and unemployment has reached 44 percent. Economic growth dropped to 0.5 percent last year from 8 percent in 2016, the bank said in a March 20 report.

Barrier Upgrade

The Defense Ministry hired Magal to fortify the 25-mile (40-kilometer) frontier with Gaza after the 2005 pullout. Since then the barrier has been upgraded with high-tech and low-tech means including barbed wire and dirt berms, fiber-optic and microphonic sensors embedded in the fence, radar, closed-circuit TV cameras and video analytics, Koursh said.

Palestinians protest in front of Israeli soldiers by the border fence.

Photographer: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

“When you combine several technologies all together with the military, then you have an effective barrier, a system in place that can deter, delay and detect,” he said.

Magal’s U.S.-traded shares jumped in late 2016 as Trump talked about a Mexican border wall. They’re down 14 percent over the past year but have surged 35 percent since hitting a low in late October. Koursh said Gaza has become a showroom for the company’s “smart fences,” as customers appreciate that the products are battle-tested.

Palestinians, in contrast, accuse Israel of turning the tiny coastal enclave into the world’s largest open-air prison. Tens of thousands are willing to march on the fence May 15, even knowing that some may be shot dead, said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University.

“When I look at some of those young Palestinians trying to cut the fence and infiltrate Israel, I see that they don’t care anymore,” he said. “They’ve decided that they’re already dead.”

— With assistance by Saud Abu Ramadan

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.