Israeli Army Erects West Bank Checkpoints to Collect Palestinians' Personal Details

Palestinian drivers required to provide copy of ID, origin and destination of their trip. Many soldiers are questioning the new policy, which the army says is needed for security reasons

FILE PHOTO: Israeli border police officers stand guard as Palestinians wait to cross through the Qalandia checkpoint to attend Ramadan prayer in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, near Ramallah June 10, 2016.
MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

The army a few months ago began collecting the personal details of West Bank Palestinians, as part of its surveillance of public spaces. To this end, soldiers conduct patrols and set up temporary checkpoints. Young men who pass through are required to fill out a form.

To really understand the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Those who are required to fill out a form must report their name, age, telephone number, identification number, type of vehicle and license number, as well as submitting a photocopy of their ID and giving both the origin and destination of the trip that brought them to the checkpoint.

Women, children and old people are exempt from the form.

>> Israel sets up anti-terror database using Palestinian details collected at checkpoints

The checkpoints operate in the early morning, when large numbers of Palestinians are on the way to work, further exacerbating the usual rush-hour traffic jams. The soldiers at each checkpoint must submit at least 100 completed forms for each shift, while the quota for the foot patrols is 30.

Soldiers in compulsory service, not to mention soldiers doing reserve duty, have bridled at the new policy, questioning the invasion of privacy that it entails as well as the disturbance to daily life.

The practice has earned the name “bear hug” among the soldiers. A number of testimonies by soldiers on the practice were obtained by Haaretz, some of them recorded by members of Breaking the Silence.

“It’s something pretty new they told us to do,” said a soldier who recently completed his compulsory military service. “They bring you a piece of paper with their license-plate number, the telephone number and ID number of the driver, and the goal is to fill out [the form], not even to check the vehicles. They told us, ‘You do the check without filling in the pages – it’s not actually important, it doesn’t do anything.”

An officer in the reserves added: “The idea is that you write down the details: ‘X, Y and Z were in such-and-such kind of car, at such-and-such hour, heading in the direction of such-and-such place.’”

The officer described being pressured over the practice, “on the level of phone calls [asking] ‘Why don’t you have?’... They started demanding, ‘Give me 70 or 100 names every day.’”

According to a soldier who took part in patrols to collect personal details, “Usually you just make up the number, since it’s impossible to do so many checks.”

"Army forces perform checks in the West Bank based on an operational conception and in order to prevent terrorism, while striving to impinge as little as possible on the civilian routine," the Israel Defense Forces spokesman stated. "The drivers pulled over are asked some questions, for security purposes. In contrast to the claim, there is no quota the security forces have to meet."