[JURIST] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website; BBC profile] on Sunday announced [press release] the construction of 70 miles of fence along Israel's border with Egypt in order to combat terrorism and illegal immigration. In explaining the purpose for the barrier, which has an estimated cost of more than $400 million USD, Netanyahu explained:
I decided to close Israel's southern border to infiltrators and terrorists after prolonged discussions with Government ministries and professional elements. This is a strategic decision to ensure the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel. Israel will remain open to war refugees but we cannot allow thousands of illegal workers to infiltrate into Israel via the southern border and flood our country.
Israeli police estimate [Guardian report] that 100 to 200 African migrants enter the country illegally every week from Egypt, mainly in search of employment. The fence is expected to run 30 miles southeast from the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder], and 30 miles northwest from the southern port city of Eilat. The gap between the two, around 100 miles in length, will be monitored [Haaretz report] by advanced surveillance equipment and radar. The influx of non-Jewish migrants into Israel has caused unease [NYT report] among Jewish Israelis, a group which comprises three-fourths of the Israeli population and wants to maintain the country as the world's only Jewish-majority state.
Netanyahu's announcement comes in the wake of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Egyptian authorities last week over the delay of an aid convoy from Al-Arish, Egypt and an attempt to close off the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Under pressure from the US and Israel, Egypt has begun construction of an underground barrier to prevent tunneling by smugglers. As much as 60 percent of Israel's borders are closed by physical barriers [Al Jazeera report], including its borders with neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, the Gaza Strip, and most of the West Bank. The construction of a barrier between Israel proper and the West Bank commenced in 2002, and has continued despite an advisory opinion issued [JURIST report] by the International Court of Justice [official website] in 2004 declaring the wall illegal under international law, and numerous domestic legal challenges [JURIST report]. In 2008, The Israeli Supreme Court [official website] ruled that the government must change the proposed route [JURIST report] for its West Bank security barrier, finding that the current plan encroaches too much on Palestinian territory.