The military started putting up the fence in the northern Arava to prevent illegal crossings, but is reevaluating the route after complaints from Israel’s Parks and Nature Authority

Zafrir Rinat May. 7, 2021

The construction of the border fence in the Negev desert
The construction of the border fence in the Negev desert Credit: Roi Galili

The Israeli army is reconsidering the route of a border fence it began constructing in recent weeks in light of complaints from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and local residents over its harmful implications to wildlife in the area.

The fence, which would stand several meters tall and already spans across dozens of kilometers across the southern Negev desert, was intended to prevent undocumented crossings from Jordan. However, the authority asserts that the fence seriously endangers local wildlife, and resident called on the military to change the route.

After the army decided to construct the fence, the IDF Southern Command asked the Nature and Parks Authority to weigh in on the plan. The authority responded that such an obstacle prevents passage of wildlife and reduces their living space. The authority also asserted that the fence may injure birds that fly into it, and could lead to overhunting by predators, which use the fence to corner their prey.

The plan was for the fence to span from Hatzeva in the northern Arava to Menuha junction in the south, under the control of the IDF Yoav Brigade. The fence will be located hundreds of meters west of the international border with Jordan, bordering agricultural tracts known as “the peace road,” and along the nature reserve.

Ibexes in Israel's Arava region of the Negev
Ibexes in Israel’s Arava region of the Negev Credit: Nir Keidar

The fence lies along an ecological corridor connecting the northern Arava with the southern Arava regions in the Negev, and allows wildlife to cross the desert. A survey of the area along the planned route showed evidence for the presence of many species that cross the route between Jordan and Israel. Animals using this corridor to cross between the countries include wolves, desert hedgehogs, Negev foxes, numerous species of gerbils, jerboas, rabbits, desert monitors, which are an endangered species, and others.

The Nature and Parks Authority is demanding that the army reduce the damage by constructing an additional fence to the west of the new fence that would endanger fewer animals. It also seeks the placement of openings in the fence in sensitive areas where wildlife is likely to cross.

A particular demand concerns the Nubian nightjar, one of Israel’s rarest breeding birds. The authority wants to the army to acquire and install devices that keep birds away, based on its specifications.

Northern Arava residents launched a campaign against the fence, expressing fear that it would negatively impact the landscape and to the environment. Hundreds of the locals signed a petition, which was submitted to the army, calling for a reevaluation of the fence route.

On Thursday, residents met with representatives of the army and the Central Arava Regional Council, and participants agreed that the army would review the residents’ complaints and consider the option of changing the fence route.

The army commented: “The fence was placed in response to the issue of infiltrations and smuggling along the Jordanian border, and it plays a significant role in preserving safety in the area and its residents. The process began after receiving permits from the Central Arava Regional Council, the Southern Command and other relevant authorities. In light of the residents’ demand to reevaluate its route in certain places, the IDF Yoav Brigade commander will conduct a tour and hold a conversation with residents to explore the matter. The planning and construction of the fence was conducted in full coordination with the Nature and Parks Authority and according to its guidelines, including field surveys and setting conditions for its implementation.”