Jews and Arabs Were Told to Use Separate Lanes at West Bank Crossing

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A civil complaint has revealed that for a long time soldiers acted in contradiction to official rules, with separate lanes for Jews and Arabs West Bank checkpoints. Following the complaint, the office of the chief of staff and the Israel Defense Forces' Central Command has clarified that every Israeli citizen has the right to use any lane at the crossing.

In early March this year Ziyad Abou Habla was driving in the direction of Israel via the Jabara (Te’enim) Crossing south of Tul Karm. Abou Habla, who was the only civilian at the checkpoint at the time, drove toward the only manned inspection post. When the soldiers identified him as an Arab he was told to turn around and drive via a different lane, claiming that the lane he wanted to use is meant only for security vehicles and settlement residents.

Abou Habla refused to comply and told the soldiers that there is no written rule on the subject, but after a prolonged argument, and because the officer at the checkpoint had his ID card, he was forced to turn back and cross via the lane designated for Arabs. In addition he complained that the female soldiers conducting inspections at the crossing made fun of him and laughed at him.

Immediately after the incident Abu Habla, CEO of the Economic Council for Arab Sector Development, sent a letter to Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and to the ombudsman at the State Comptroller’s Office, complaining about both the humiliating attitude and the separate lanes for different categories of citizens. The ombudsman also contacted the office of the chief of staff, which in August replied that the soldiers at the checkpoint were mistaken when they instructed Abou Habla to switch to another lane, and that “the IDF takes a serious view of any behavior that harms civilians, and is working to prevent these incidents in future.”

Late last month the ombudsman sent Abou Habla another letter, from the public ombudsman at IDF Central Command headquarters, which said that “Arab and Jewish civilians are permitted to cross freely in any one of the lanes. It has been decided that at any given time there will be three lanes in operation at the crossing, in order to prevent overcrowding.”

A letter sent to the comptroller’s office also reported that the IDF's Samaria Regional Division conducts frequent visits to the checkpoint to ensure that “there is no delaying of civilians without a substantial reason.”

A few years ago, the Samaria Regional Division had a policy of separation between settlers and other civilians, mainly Arabs, at seam-line checkpoints in the Tul Karm and Qalqilyah area, implemented by pasting a “resident" sticker on the front windshield of the settlers’ cars, to enable them to shorten their waiting time. The IDF spokesman told Haaretz that “the use of the resident sticker was abolished about two years ago, and travel on the lanes at the crossing takes place without any distinction between Israeli and Palestinian citizens. In the wake of the civil request an investigation was conducted, and the regulations at the Te’enim crossing were clarified as necessary. At the seam-line crossings in Judea and Samaria there is no separation of lanes.”

Palestinian residents of the West Bank are not allowed to use these crossings, which separate the West Bank from Israel, and anyone with an entry permit to Israel is required to use separate checkpoints.

Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

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