Reality check: The truth behind crossings in Judea and Samaria
May 6, 2013
The crossings and IDF checkpoints in Judea and Samaria have been the source of much confusion and debate worldwide. Crossings and checkpoints, while both provide important security benefits, are different. Crossings are facilities used by Palestinians to enter from Judea and Samaria into other regions of Israel. Checkpoints, on the other hand, operate during times of heightened security risk to prevent terrorists from executing their plans to harm civilians. The international media have often portrayed these security measures as a way to restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement and abuse civil rights. They have occasionally been referred to as ‘inhumane’. Despite attention on the region, most facts about the crossings and checkpoints are widely unknown. How many checkpoints are still active? Just how successful are they in preventing terror attacks? What type of security checks occur? Are Palestinians able to move freely? Today, the reality is far from what you may have heard.
How many crossings and checkpoints are there today?
There are some 15 crossings between Judea and Samaria and other parts of Israel. Some are used for the passage of people, others for the passage of goods. In addition to these crossings, 12 checkpoints are placed strategically throughout Israel’s Central Command region, and operate in time of need in light of security considerations.
Checkpoints – Preventing terror, saving lives
Capt. Barak Raz, spokesperson for the Judea and Samaria Division, describes the situation in Judea and Samaria as relatively stable.
“Today, we take into account incidents such as throwing stones, which can be fatal, and we also have the resources to improve road safety. Ten years ago, nobody was keeping track of all this because there was a terror attack every week.”
Last year marked the first year since 1973 in which no Israelis were killed in Judea and Samaria. Compare this to 2002, in which 47 terror attacks left 452 Israeli civilians dead.
Checkpoints have been used as a method to filter out and prevent terror attacks before would-be Palestinian attackers have a chance to enter Israel. As a result of such insidious methods as female suicide bombers hiding explosives under their clothing and the use of ambulances to conceal and transport terrorist weapons, routine checks have been intensified at all types of crossings.
The number of terror attacks has fallen drastically since the construction of the security fence in 2006.
The IDF has withdrawn the majority of its checkpoints in Judea and Samaria in a step towards beginning a positive cycle, Capt. Raz explains:
“The Palestinians have realized that the path of terror led them nowhere. We can explain this relative calm in three ways: the reduction of military presence during routine security tasks, an effective counter-terrorism strategy, and a clear economic incentive for Palestinians to maintain the calm. By reducing the number of checkpoints, we can provide much more freedom of movement, therefore improving the economic conditions and ultimately strengthening the security situation.”
From 40 to 12 checkpoints
The number of checkpoints in the Central Command went from 40 in July 2008 to just 12 in October 2012. Furthermore, these checkpoints are only used some of the time and the frequency of checks is dependent on the security threat at the time.
Barak Raz explains that the relative calm in the region has been brought about by the success of security measures which routinely prevent attempted attacks.
“Despite the calm, the willingness to carry out terror attacks is still present, but we are able to counter them better. This may seem paradoxical since there are fewer checkpoints. However, we use the 12 points as soon as we receive the warning of an imminent threat. Every vehicle at each location is then checked. In approximately thirty minutes, we stop the suspects and the situation returns to normal.”
Freedom of Movement
Separate roads are used to enter Palestinian and Israeli communities. It is important to remember that Israeli vehicles are prohibited from entering roads leading to Area “A” (the area under full civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority) just as Palestinian vehicles are not permitted to leave Judea and Samaria in order to enter into Israel.
Sign prohibiting entry to Israeli vehicles into Area “A”.
The main roads linking Palestinian cities, including Route 60, are freely accessible and free of security controls. A Palestinian civilian can travel from Jenin to Bethlehem without encountering a single military checkpoint.
Some people who have traveled the roads in Judea and Samaria and seen yellow barriers on the side of the road have mistaken them for checkpoints. Capt. Raz explains the surprising truth behind these barriers: they are used to save Palestinian lives.
“Today we face more and more problems with road safety. Many residents of Palestinian villages try to take shortcuts and enter onto main roadsfrom small dirt roads beside of their homes,” Capt. Raz explains. “This is dangerous for both Israeli and Palestinian drivers. Road accidents have become the leading cause of death among Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. To counter this, we installed the yellow barriers to restrict access [to the main roads] to other vehicles.”
Crossings: 9.4 million entries in 2012
Crossings are the main points of entry between Judea and Samaria and other parts of Israel. Ceratin crossings – such as Bituniya – are intended for the inspection and transfer of goods.
There are also crossings intended for the passage of Palestinian civilians such as those at Kalandia and Hashmonaim. These crossings have received much criticism for alleged violations of human rights. Is this criticism justified?
Who is allowed to enter and who is not?
Every Palestinian wishing to visit relatives or work inside Israel must contact the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
“Our role is to ensure the safety of every Palestinian civilian, that he or she has freedom of movement and economic access,” says Maj. Amos Zuaretz, Head of crossings in COGAT.
Obtaining an entry permit is a simple two-step process. Palestinians must first obtain a biometric card at any of the 31 COGAT offices in Judea and Samaria. The applicant receives the card – designed to ease waiting times at crossings – five minutes after filling out the form.
Next, one wishing to obtain permission to cross must apply to a Palestinian Authority liaison officer who makes contact with the Israeli authorities. The vast majority of applications are processed and approved within 24 hours.
There are 74 types of authorization, which vary according to the type of activity and permit duration. The two most requested permits are humanitarian permits and commercial permits.
What is the procedure at crossings once authorization is approved?
This is actually quite straightforward and would be familiar to anyone who has entered any airport in the world. Each person must first pass through a metal detector and pass their bags through a scanner, just as every Israeli citizen or tourist must at any of Israel’s train stations. At this stage, there is no physical contact with soldiers. Most Palestinians already know the procedure. Soldiers oversee everything from an isolated control room and communicate via intercom.
Left: Hashmonaim Crossing entrance. Right: Tel Aviv Central Train Station entrance.
After that, each person’s card is reviewed by a COGAT official who takes a digital fingerprint scan. Lastly, a soldier verifies that the permit is in order and authorizes entry.
“In 2012, there were 9.4 million entries at all crossings combined. This figure has been rising steadily since 2010,” says Maj. Zuaretz.
Identity and permit verification at the Hashmonaim Crossing.
When that person returns home later on, he/she simply passes his/her magnetic card through a scanner and walks through a turnstile.
If all goes well, there is no actual contact between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. The whole procedure takes five minutes once started. However, some crossings are widely used and lines can be long. An average of 15 thousand people use the Kalandia crossing each day and the majority of those people cross in the morning. In comparison, about 35 thousand individuals go through Ben Gurion International Airport every day. It is not uncommon to see relatively long lines like those at crossings in international airports.
Left: Hashmonaim Crossing exit. Right: Tel Aviv Central Train Station.
475 Attempts to Smuggle Weapons
The various crossings and checkpoints have proven to be effective barriers against weapons smuggling and the crossing of illegal workers. In 2012, the Military Police Corps recorded a total of 475 attempts to smuggle weapons into Israel and 1,147 illegal attempts to enter Israel with forged ID cards. The Military Police and officers from the Ministry of Defense responsible for crossings have thwarted many attempted attacks and arrested dozens of people in possession of explosives. Most recently, on April 30, 2013, a 31-year-old Israeli civilian was stabbed to death at Tapuah Junction – the intersection of routes 60 and 505.
Although the situation is better than in the past, the ongoing presence of these checkpoints remains necessary. The proof is in the numbers.