Numerous flaws at army crossings between the West Bank and Israel uncovered six years ago have yet to be fixed, a representative of the State Comptroller revealed during a Knesset committee discussion on Tuesday.
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Among other faults, it was noted that several gaps in the separation barrier were still open, including the one through which the gunmen who carried out the Sarona attack infiltrated Israel. According to an army representative, the state hasn't allocated funds for the construction of the barrier in that area.
The Knesset State Control committee's discussion, which concerned the illegal entry of Palestinians into Israel from the West Bank, was attended by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Deputy Police Commissioner Zohar Dvir.
Yossi Beinhorn, the state comptroller’s representative at the meeting, said that six years ago the comptroller’s office uncovered numerous flaws at crossings between the West Bank and Israel, multiplicity of authorities, lack of professional directives, understaffing and problems managing and monitoring permit holders. Most of these flaws had not yet been corrected, Beinhorn added,
Eisenkot told the lawmakers that over 50,000 Palestinians enter Israel illegally every day through gaps in the security barrier. About 4,300 are arrested every year, but only 1,500 are indicted, he said.
“The front in Judea and Samaria is a challenge to the IDF in recent monthsthe Palestinians see terror as a political and religious tool,” Eisenkot told the lawmakers, adding that the IDF has had significant achievements in rooting out terror.
Eisenkot said that the about 61,000 laborers cross into Israel from the West Bank daily, and another 40,000 work in industrial zones in the cities. In addition, some 50,000–60,000 are in Israel illegally.
Eisenkot called for improvement in procedures for granting work permits as well as more comfort at the crossings, and on the other hand, harsh penalties against employers who provide sleeping quarters and transportation for illegal workers.
“A balance must be created between the needs of the Palestinian economy and security requirements,” Eisenkot said.
“Permit holders were not terrorists in the latest wave and it seems to me not even over the past decade. We are making great effort to close the gaps but there are still about 100 kilometers without a security fence,” Eisenkot said.
Funding of 260 million shekels ($68.8 million) has been earmarked to complete two parts of the fence, in Tarqumiyah northwest of Hebron and in Jerusalem. Work has begun, Eisenkot said, but there are still gaps in the barrier in the area of Battir and Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem. The chief of staff said there had been only 14 cases of infiltration from the Israel-Lebanon border in recent years, calling this “an example to be learned from.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Zohar Dvir told the committee that the police were investing great efforts to reduce the number of illegal workers by arresting and taking to court those suspected of crimes against property or security related offenses. Dvir said that in 2015 some 4,300 illegal residents were arrested and more indictments were issued against employers as well. However, according to Dvir, penalties are too light – only in about 75 percent of criminal cases against drivers of illegal residents were the offenders given jail time, and usually only brief sentences. In 83 percent of the cases where a fine was imposed, it was lower than 5,000 shekels ($1,324), he said.
Col. Sharon Biton, head of the operations department in the office of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, described the procedure for receiving a work permit. Applicants must be at least 22 years old, married and without a record of criminal or security-related offenses. Permit holders cross at a specific crossing at certain hours, and are not allowed to sleep at their place of employment except in unusual cases.
Employers are also subject to procedures when applying for permits, Biton said. In 2015, 1,693,670 permits were issued, of which 800,000 are still valid, he said.
Brig. Gen. Eran Ofir, head of the unit that administers the area along the 1967 border known as the seam line, added that the security barrier in the area of Tarqumiyah on the Palestinian side and Metar on the Israeli side is now being upgraded to a 5-meter-high wall. He said areas of the barrier, specifically from the southern Hebron Hills to the Dead Sea, were still open. It was from that area that the three gunmen came who attacked Tel Aviv’s Sarona market in June.
Ofir said no funding had been earmarked yet for construction of the barrier in that area.
According to Lt. Col. Nir Yeshaya, of the IDF Operations Branch, there are regular pickup spots in many villages to drive people attempting to enter Israel illegally to a point near the barrier. Lookouts are stationed in certain places to make sure there are no soldiers present where crossing attempts are made. “We have identified the main people carrying out these activities and they have all been indicted. We believe that in 2016 about 1,600 indictments will be served. We have also confiscated vehicles used to transport them,” Yeshaya said.
Although the penalty for entering Israel illegally is between one and five years in prison, “according to the policy of High Court Judge Salim Joubran, the penalty will be only five months. In fact, most of the illegal residents are [in jail] for only a few days,” Yeshaya told the MKs.
Chairwoman MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid), said: “In the wave of terror striking us the illegal residents are frequently the terrorists. As of March, 44 percent of attackers within the Green Line were illegal residents. On the other hand, in many cases the illegal residents infiltrate because they can’t work otherwise, and getting a work permit is hard and complicated,” she said.