Throughout 2014 there have been repeated instances of young Palestinians attempting to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip by breaching the border fence, but the practice seems to have become more common since Operation Protective Edge ended in August.
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According to Israel Defense Forces data being presented here for the first time, since the beginning of September there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of Palestinians being apprehended each month along the border fence.
Before the Gaza operation, an average of 13 Palestinians were caught trying to cross the border each month. Ten attempted to cross during the military operation itself. But since the beginning of September both the IDF and Israeli communities near the border have reported an uptick, with 66 Palestinians attempting to enter. All told, 170 Gazans have been caught trying to breach the border fence this year.
The heads of the Gaza border communities appealed this month to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to erect a new fence that would further discourage these attempts. They said the current fence can be cut using wire cutters or climbed over.
An IDF officer said that every Palestinian who has made such an attempt has been apprehended by the army or other security personnel, including the security officers of Israeli communities along the border. The army does not believe any Gazan has managed to sneak in undeterred.
Most of the Palestinians trying to cross the border have been young and unarmed. When minors are caught after crossing over, a rare occurrence, they are returned to the Strip. Adults trying to infiltrate are questioned by the Shin Bet security service, sometimes on the site, to determine their reasons for trying to get into Israel. Security officials say that only rarely does the questioning reveal a terrorism connection.
After questioning the gate-crashers are turned over to the Southern District of the Attorney General’s Office. Between the end of Operation Protective Edge in late August and the beginning of December, more than 15 Palestinians were charged with crossing the border illegally.
In marked contrast to previous years, most of the Palestinians who tried to enter Israel in 2014 simply wanted to get out of the Gaza Strip, security officials say. This was even true in the case of a Palestinian who was apprehended a month ago in Israeli territory, near the southern Gaza Strip, while carrying a fragmentation grenade. Even though he was carrying a weapon, the IDF did not believe he planned to carry out a terror attack in Israel. “Even if they are carrying a knife, it’s not to attack, but for ‘defense’ along the way,” a security source said.
The IDF tends to refer to these infiltrators as “desperate.” The harsh economic conditions in Gaza, the lack of steady electricity and water supplies and the hope for a better future — even if they end up in an Israeli prison — are all reasons for Gazans to try to enter Israel, defense sources say.
“In general they are running away from something in Gaza, whether for family reasons or economic ones, and they realize the longer they stay in an Israeli prison, the better off they are,” explained an officer in the area. “The fact some of them are caught with knives only extends their prison stay. In 99 percent of the cases they aren’t coming here to commit a hostile act.”
Because Palestinians have been approaching the border fence regularly, the Israeli forces in the area are now prepared. As part of what they call “the distancing procedure,” soldiers follow a protocol for firing at Palestinians seen approaching the fence: First they must fire warning shots in the air, and only if these are ignored do army regulations allow them to fire at the Palestinians’ legs.
On Friday five Palestinians who were demonstrating near the border fence in the Jabalya area were wounded by IDF fire. The army said the five were wounded in the legs. In late November, Fadal Mohammed Halawa, 32, was shot dead by troops when he approached the fence in the Jabalya area. Then, too, the IDF said soldiers had shot at his legs.