Israel to Upgrade West Bank Checkpoints, Shortening Wait Time

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Palestinian workers from Hebron at Tarqumiya Checkpoint.Credit: Emil Salman

The government is to upgrade the checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel, so that more Palestinians will be able to enter Israel for work.

The Defense Ministry said the move, which will cost some 300 million shekels ($78 million), will also shorten the amount of time Palestinians must spend waiting in line to get through the checkpoints.

Thousands of West Bank Palestinians pass through each checkpoint every day, in order to reach their workplace in Israel. Altogether, some 60,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel.

However, to ensure that they make it through the checkpoint in time to reach work, they must get up in the wee hours – since they usually wait at the crossings for hours, in very crowded conditions, until it’s their turn for a security check.

Palestinians frequently complain about the long delays, overcrowding, heat and other unpleasant conditions, and these problems have also been reported in the media. Consequently, Israel’s finance and defense ministries set up a task force to try and solve these problems.

Defense Ministry data shows a steady rise in the number of people crossing through these checkpoints in recent years. In 2015, for instance, over 11 million Palestinian crossings into Israel were recorded, up from just eight million the previous year.

The Defense Ministry said the upgrade was the joint initiative of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, in cooperation with Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. But it has support from virtually the entire coalition, up to and including one of the most right-wing cabinet members: Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi).

Just last month, Ariel said in a radio interview that the way Palestinians were forced to stand and wait for hours “without shade or water” was “a disgrace and shame on Israel and the defense establishment.

“You should see how [Palestinian laborers] stand waiting to enter Israel,” he continued. “People stand there in subpar conditions, in the summer in the heat; in the winter in the rain. What prevents us from fixing this? What, 50 million shekels is our issue?”

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