Israel's Increased Security Measures Are Stopping Some Palestinians From Getting to Work

Following the terror attack near Tel Aviv, Israeli troops have been deployed along the separation fence, manning gaps through which thousands of West Bank Palestinians pass through daily on their way to work in Israel

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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A worker passing through the Meitar Border Crossing on Thursday.
A worker passing through the Meitar Border Crossing on Thursday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

On Facebook pages for Palestinian laborers with names like “West Bank workers in Israel,” there were worried posts on Thursday morning. “Friends, what’s happening at the gaps in the fence?” said one post, getting a response saying that they were closed, with a picture of a military jeep nearby. “Things are really bad,” wrote another. “There are barriers and policemen,” wrote a third person.

There are estimates putting the number of openings in the separation barrier at several hundred. Thousands of Palestinians pass through them daily on their way to work in Israel. On Wednesday, in the wake of the attack in Bnei Brak and following many years in which the gaps were a fact known to all, six army battalions were deployed along the fence. They are not expected to remain there in the long run, only serving as a focused response following the escalation in the security situation.

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In August 2020, these breaches reached the agenda mainly due to their massive use by Palestinians on their way to the beach. On Wednesday too, similar video clips were posted, this time by Palestinians on their way to work. On Channel 13 News, there was footage of Palestinians coming in through the gap apparently used by the Bnei Brak attacker. Despite the reinforcements along the fence, the military knows that given the large number of such openings, the flood of people going through will continue.

Palestinians standing by the hole in the fence by the Meitar checkpoint on Thursday.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman toured some of the breaches on Thursday in the Sharon region, near the community of Matan, as part of a review of the barrier he has been conducting in recent months. The photo distributed by his office shows Engelman passing through a wide opening in the fence in the area. An announcement by the comptroller’s office said that the state spends 140 million shekels ($44 million) a year in maintaining the fence.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman passing through an opening in the fence on Thursday.

The gap near the Meitar border crossing, in the South Hebron Hills, was a known feature and close to the road, and a source of complaint by the area’s Israeli residents. Hundreds of Palestinian men from the Hebron area regularly passed through the breach on their way to work, with Israeli drivers waiting under some trees nearby to take them to work sites in Israel, based on demand. The location of the breach was not exactly hidden — only a few hundred meters from the official barrier, which is manned by security forces. That’s where Palestinians with work permits cross into Israel.

On Thursday, there were dozens of Palestinian men standing and waiting along the road leading from Meitar to the South Hebron Hills. They gazed at the wide opening in the fence, which until Wednesday was their unofficial gateway to working in Israel. Now, there were two soldiers there. “For two years I’ve been passing through the opening every day. There have never been soldiers there. Today I arrived at 4 A.M. and I’ve been waiting since then for them to leave,” said Khaled, a 26-year-old from the city of Yatta, who said he’s been working in Israel since he was 15, when he left school.

IDF soldiers by the hole in the fence on Thursday.

“On an ordinary day, four times as many people pass through the gap than through the official barrier,” said Mohammed, 22. He says he arrived there at 3 A.M. He started entering Israel through these gaps when he was 16, after leaving school. “If the soldiers remain here, we won’t have any work, and we’ll go home. What will we do then? I don’t know,” he says. Yussef (not his real name) added: “What will I do if they close these gaps? I have no idea. Maybe I’ll start stealing.”

An opening in the fence by the Meitar Crossing in 2020.

Earlier on Thursday, Mohammed and some of his friends went for a walk along the fence to see if there were other openings they could slip through. They said they encountered some soldiers and an army jeep that was patrolling along the fence. A drive along the road showed that it’s not just them. Groups of Palestinians were walking along the shoulders, looking for a way to get through. At one point, a small pickup stopped and a young man emerged, carrying some aluminum rods on his shoulders. “We need to get these to the other side. It’s hard to get a permit for goods at the barrier, so we transfer them through these openings,” said another Palestinian who emerged from the pickup, carrying a phone. On the other side of the phone, a man on the other side of the fence could be heard, an Israeli citizen who was guiding him as to the whereabouts of the soldiers. “The jeep is approaching you, now it’s moving away, now!!” said the voice. The man carrying the rods ran towards the fence and passed them through the opening.

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