37 Palestinians Shot Trying to Sneak Into Israel Since 2020, UN Says

Figures have soared from just three in all of 2018 to 23 last year and 14 since the beginning of 2021; workers pass through breaches in security barrier

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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Palestinians entering Israel through a break in the West Bank separation barrier in August.
Palestinians entering Israel through a break in the West Bank separation barrier in August. Credit: Meged Gozani
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Soldiers shot and wounded 37 Palestinian workers trying to cross into Israel throgh breaches in the separation barrier since the start of 2020; 23 were shot last year, the United Nations said. In the first two months of this year, 14 were shot under the same circumstances.

These figures constitute a sharp rise in recent years, from three in 2018 and 14 in 2019. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs provided the data at the request of Haaretz.

Reports regarding breaches in the barrier grew last year, mainly near the village of Far’un, adjacent to Tulkarm.

Thousands of Palestinians sneaked into Israel in August to go to the beach, while soldiers turned a blind eye. Visits to the beach have ceased since then, but Palestinian laborers continue to take advantage of the breaches in the fence in order to enter Israel.

Over the past year, the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank have been closed to Palestinians, with the exception of those who work in essential industries in Israel, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The loss of income has contributed significantly to the economic deterioration in the West Bank.

Analysts say tens of thousands of Palestinians without work permits enter Israel every day in search of casual employment. In February, the Border Police arrested in a one-day operation 56 Palestinian workers who had entered Israel through breaches in the fence.

A 25-year-old man from Tulkarm who gave only his first name, Ahmed, was shot in the leg last month as he and other workers tried to cross the fence near Far’un. His wife is pregnant with their first child. “We know it’s illegal to go through the breaches, but it’s our only way to work. We have no work anywhere else,” he said. “The soldiers hid amid olive trees next to the breach. We didn’t see them before they shot, and no one said to me first ‘go back’ or something like that.”

The soldiers treated his wounds while waiting for a Palestinian ambulance to bring him to a hospital. He has been unable to work since the shooting; he said his doctors told him he needs another two months to recover. “That means two months without income, and I have a mortgage and debts,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.” He said he can’t obtain a work permit because as a teen he was caught several times trying to sneak into Israel.

Muawiyah from the Nablus area, also 25, was also shot in the leg trying to sneak through the fence, in his case two months ago. Since his recent graduation from a West Bank university, Muawiyah, who doesn’t have a work permit, has worked in construction in Israel. He recently got engaged but the wedding has been postponed, in part because of his injury.

“We enter through the breach all the time, and no one ever said anything to us, and certainly never shot at us,” Muawiyah said, adding that there was no warning before the shot was fired. He said he didn’t realize at first that he had been shot, and afterward he ran back toward the fence. Only later was an ambulance called for him, and he was hospitalized for three days. He, too, hasn’t worked since being shot.

Data provided by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which present similar figures to those of the UN, show that the shootings have not been consistent over time. According to reports that reached the nonprofit, all the injuries resulting from shootings occurred between May and August. In 2019, B’Tselem documented 17 injuries as a result of shootings at the security barrier. All 17 happened between October and December. “Shooting from an ambush at people experience day-to-day difficulties is not defending the homeland,” B’Tselem said.

In a written response, the spokesperson’s unit of the Israel Defense Forces said: “There has been a steep rise in the destruction of and creation of holes in the security barrier in the seam line in Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank. Throughout this period, the security forces have continued to thwart a variety of attempts to destroy this barrier.”

The statement said that forces engaged in these activities are instructed to comply with rules of engagement, including each stage of the protocol for apprehending a suspect, for anyone damaging or vandalizing the security barrier. “Damaging or vandalizing the security barrier is a grave offense and a concrete threat to security,” the statement said. “Security forces will continue to act to thwart all terror activity and to prevent damage and vandalism of the security barrier.”

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