The crossings and IDF checkpoints in Judea and Samaria have been a source tension and debate across the globe. The international media often portray these security measures as a way to restrict Palestinians’ freedom, but the facts show that the crossings and checkpoints respect human rights while keeping Israel safe from terrorism.
How many checkpoints are still active? What type of security checks occur? Are Palestinians able to move freely? Today, the reality is far from what you may have heard.
Checkpoints – Preventing terror, saving lives
Today, there are nearly 40 crossings between Judea and Samaria and other parts of Israel. Some are used for the passage of people; others are used for the passage of goods. In addition to these crossings, 13 checkpoints are placed strategically throughout Israel’s Central Command region, and operate in time of need and in light of security considerations.
‘Crossings’ and ‘checkpoints’ are terms with different meanings. 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 to prevent terrorists from carrying out their plans to harm civilians.
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 substantial construction of the security fence was established in 2006.
Captain Barak Raz, the former IDF spokesperson for the Judea and Samaria Division, recently described the situation in Judea and Samaria as relatively stable, especially compared to the height of the Second Intifada in 2002, when 47 terror attacks left 452 Israeli civilians dead.
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 January 22 2014, IDF forces discovered an improvised firearm and ammunition concealed in a young girl’s book-bag during a routine inspection in the Jordan Valley.
From 40 to 13 checkpoints
The number of checkpoints in the Central Command went from 40 in July 2008 to just 13 in February 2014. Furthermore, the frequency of these checkpoints being used is dependent on the security threat at the time.
Capt. Raz explains that the success of security measures assists in routinely preventing attempted attacks.
“Despite the calm, the willingness to carry out terror attacks is still present, although we are able to counter them better…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.”
Crossings: 10.9 million entries in 2013
Crossings are the main points of entry between Judea and Samaria and other parts of Israel. On average, 45,000 entries are permitted daily between Israel and Judea and Samaria.
Certain 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 the 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.
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 2013, there were over 10.9 million entries at all crossings combined. This figure has been rising steadily since 2010, with an 18.3% annual increase from 2012,” says the head of crossings in COGAT.
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 international airports.
Although Israel’s security situation is better than in the past, the ongoing presence of these checkpoints remains necessary. The proof is in the numbers.