Israel’s ban on Arab Israelis entering Jenin will seriously hurt businesses in the city and may escalate tensions in the West Bank, many merchants in the Palestinian city said this weekend.
The ban was imposed in response to Thursday’s terror attack in Tel Aviv, the third recent attack or attempted attack perpetrated by someone from Jenin. Israeli Jews have been forbidden to enter Palestinian Authority territory for years, but until now, Israeli Arabs have been allowed to enter freely.
The Jenin Chamber of Commerce said Israeli Arabs account for 70 percent of the city’s buying power, so the ban could cost merchants millions of shekels.
“In the run-up to Ramadan, the city’s merchants stocked up on food, furniture and any wares considered relevant to the holiday, so the entry ban is a serious blow to them,” said Amar Abu Bakr, a chamber of commerce member. “Saturday is always a very lively day, with thousands of cars entering the city from Israel … But yesterday, the city was utterly empty.”
He added that the ban will affect not only merchants, but also their suppliers.
On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces' Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced several new restrictions in response to the attacks. Aside from the ban on Israeli Arabs entering Jenin, residents of the city have been barred from visiting relatives in Israel over Ramadan, businessmen from Jenin have been banned from entering Israel and paving material can no longer pass through the checkpoints around the city.
Akram Rajoub, the Palestinian Authority’s governor of the Jenin district, accused Israel of “political terror” and collective punishment.
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“This has no security motive or effect,” he said. “Israel takes security measures against the Palestinians every day, including harming innocents, and there’s no judge and no justice. When settlers attack Palestinians, does anyone dream of punishing all settlers?”
If the decision isn’t rescinded swiftly, he added, it “will only increase the tension and frustration, and instead of creating deterrence, it will cause escalation.”
Nevertheless, workers from Jenin will be able to continue working in Israel as usual, though security checks at the checkpoints will be intensified.
Abu Ahmed, a fruit and vegetable merchant from Jenin who declined to give his full name, said Israel was letting workers enter because it didn’t want to disrupt construction work on the eve of the Pesach holiday. “Israel took care of the contractors first and foremost,” he said.
He added that he hopes Israeli businesses that work with merchants in Jenin will pressure the government to repeal this decision, “since they’ll lose money, too.”
Israeli Arabs who study at the Arab American University in Jenin will also be able to continue attending class as usual, COGAT clarified on Saturday after concerned students contacted both the university administration and Arab Knesset members. MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List) spoke to Defense Minister Benny Gantz about the issue, and Gantz agreed that students would be exempted from the ban.
Thousands of Israeli Arabs attend the university, comprising some 60 percent of its student body. Thus if they were barred from entering, the university would have had to cancel classes.