In the wake of the global pandemic, unemployment in the Palestinian Authority has risen. Israel issues about 140,000 work permits to West Bank Palestinians, but without a source of livelihood, many illegals also cross the border.
Early this week, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz submitted a request for an additional NIS 360 million budget allocation to the Ministry of Defense for approval by the cabinet. Most of the funding is slated for closing breaches in the separation fence, although it is not clear whether the terrorists who perpetrated the Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv attacks penetrated Israel via these breaches. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addressed the issue at the beginning of the cabinet meeting. "We place special emphasis on the seam line area," he asserted. "It's no secret that it has been completely porous for years. In the immediate term, we're intensifying efforts to close breaches in the fence. In parallel, Defense Minister Gantz will present the cabinet with a comprehensive plan for addressing the problem thoroughly, as well as the issue of illegal workers."
The State of Israel spent almost NIS 9 billion on the construction of a 700 kilometer barrier/separation fence, which was begun in 2002 and completed more than a decade later. The barrier - mostly fencing of various levels of quality, and partly a wall, as in the area north of Jerusalem - reduced greatly the number of terrorist attacks in Israel after the second intifada, and lowered the crime rate.
But over the last decade, despite a budget allocation of NIS 140 million a year for fence maintenance, road systems, and securing seam line settlements, there are dozens of breaches. Through these openings, tens of thousands of Palestinians without permits enter Israel every day - the illegal labor force. How many exactly? There are no exact figures, and the numbers change with the seasons. A conservative estimate puts the average at 10,000 to 15,000 per day, others estimate between 40,000 and 50,000. Many work in agriculture, where employment permit oversight is less stringent than in the construction industry. Catering and cleaning services are also major employers of illegal entrants.
A market built on middlemen
The employers of these illegal entrants are middlemen or labor contractors who in most cases take care of transporting them from meeting points near the fence inside Israel to their workplaces. The middlemen are paid by the farmers, restaurateurs, or others, and remit a portion to the workers. The amount paid depends on the middleman, and on the worker's level of experience. A construction worker with a permit is paid between NIS 5,500 and 8,000 a month, while an agricultural laborer with a permit usually receives the minimum wage. A worker without a permit will receive NIS 3,000 in the best case, and just NIS 1,000 in the worst.
The average salary in the Palestinian Authority is only about NIS 1,800. At the same time, unemployment is high, and about 15-17% of the population do not work. Because of the pandemic, unemployment has risen within the Palestinian Authority. Israel, which is crying out for workers of all kinds, is an attractive source of employment.
Israel issues about 100,000 entry permits to Palestinians from Judea and Samaria, and another 40,000 for those working in industrial areas and settlements in the Judea and Samaria area itself. At the same time, 20,000 permits are issued to workers from the Gaza Strip, a recent rise from 14,000 permits. The Gaza Strip border is highly secure, and almost anyone trying to pass illegally is caught within minutes. But, as mentioned, this is not the case with Judea and Samaria.
A.M.L., a labor contractor, describes the smuggling routine as follows: "At five-thirty in the morning I wait in my van on a dirt road, about 400 meters from the fence, where it's cut open. The first fifteen that come through get in, and anyone who's five minutes late, doesn't. From there, we drive to the orchards in the southern region, on main roads, because there are border guards sometimes on the side roads. The workers start at 6:00 am, and continue until about 5:00 pm. And if there's a lot to do, sometimes even until 7:00 pm."
According to A.M.L., the farmers don't even ask whether the workers are illegal. "My deal with him is about the number of workers and wages per head," he says. "He thinks they're Israeli Arabs from the north, and that's what they say if anyone asks. Everyone has a story ready about where he's from in the north."
A.M.L. also addressed the question of whether he thought or suspected that he might be transporting a terrorist. "I don’t take those kinds," he says. "I only take people I know, or who are recommended by someone there that I trust, and drive straight to work. I don't drop them off anywhere else, and I have someone on the ground watching over them, so they won't go anywhere."
Are gaps being left in the fence intentionally? According to one version that has been presented on some media, deliberate non-maintenance of breaches is intended to serve as another source of income for the Palestinian economy and Palestinian families, with the theory that a good economy creates peace.
This concept doesn't really work to stop the terrorist operatives themselves, most of whom are not in need, and whose motivations for terrorism are purely nationalistic. The intention is to prevent other civilians from being attracted to and supporting terrorism, as well as joining demonstrations and mass riots. At this point, the thesis has proven itself, as the masses have not been going out to confront IDF soldiers at checkpoints or city outskirts.
"Anyone really determined will get into Israel"
A security source told "Globes" that with or without breaches in the fence, anyone determined enough will be able to get into Israel; no closure can be entirely hermetic. But are breaches intentionally not being repaired? According to him, no, because the idea is that the fence should be effective in all respects, preventing crime and, of course, nationalist actions. Why then are there so many breaches? Because the issue is not top priority. By the way, among those passing through gaps in the fence are permit-holders who prefer it over the congested official checkpoints.
Last week, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman made a tour of breaches in the Sharon region separation fence, and said: "The separation fence, which has been declared a very significant solution for Israeli citizens against terrorists, is broken and ineffective. It is very important to invest resources and see how we can prevent breaches. Despite our investment, thousands of Palestinians pass through with and without permits, without any control, including vehicles entering. This is how a terrorist can get from Jenin to Bnei Brak in no time. We are carrying out an audit to assess the operational response, maintenance and control, subsequent to government decisions."
No real way answer
The IDF will increase its forces around the separation fence and has even deployed units in temporary positions in places where large breaches are located. This deployment will probably continue throughout the Passover holiday week, but will not be able to continue much longer than that.
The breaches in the separation fence were and still are known to all Israel's security forces, and there is no clear answer as to why the fence has failed, despite the considerable sums devoted to it. Turning a blind eye, whether because the matter is given low priority, or out of an oblique intention to help Palestinian workers, also helps negative elements, certainly criminal and probably terrorist. Even if it turns out that the Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv terrorists did not enter through a gap in the fence, but in another way, the breaches invite terrorism.
Sleepy Jenin has become terrorism central
"The Jenin paradox." That's what the defense establishment calls the situation in the "terror capital" - a city whose economy is considered one of the most stable in the West Bank, a prosperous agricultural center, and a commercial center that has grown significantly over the last decade, with a growing number of factories selling to Israel and exporting internationally, and with tens of thousands of workers going each day to work in Judea and Samaria, and in Israel proper. Nevertheless, the city has also become the epicenter for terrorism in the West Bank, including the terrorist attacks in Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv, and one that the Palestinian Authority cannot confront, and probably does not wish to.
Fatah's consistent inconsistency
On the one hand, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attacks. Meanwhile, he attacks Israel for entering West Bank cities and clashing with terrorist organizations. And of course, the policy of compensating terrorists and their families cannot be ignored.
Governor of Jenin Akram Rajoub displayed this inconsistency perfectly when speaking to Kan radio channel Bet. Visiting the Dizengoff terrorist's mourning tent, where he held forth, Rajoub stated that he did not view the attacker as a terrorist, and blamed the attack on what he termed "crimes committed by IDF forces." A major reason for this was that the terrorist, Raed Hazem, was affiliated with the Fatah movement, which controls the Palestinian Authority, and with which Israel signed the Oslo Accords. This is not the first time that Fatah terrorists have carried out attacks, and usually indicates both an escalation in nationalism within the organization and weakness on the part of the leader.
The weakness of both Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority are made obvious in Jenin. The Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and the Islamic Jihad Squads work together to carry out terrorist attacks against IDF soldiers and civilians. The Gilboa Prison escape last fall, all of whose participants were from the Jenin area, was an instigating factor - along with increased propaganda on the part of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas against a Palestinian Authority that does not oppose Israel over the Temple Mount, the cause of 2021’s Operation Guardians of the Walls. The warming of relations with the Lapid-Bennett-Gantz-Meretz government actually contributed to this criticism.
To return to the economy and the Jenin paradox, Jenin benefited greatly from the 2009 measures that eased access restrictions for Israeli Arabs entering the West Bank, bringing prosperity to the sleepy farming town. Meanwhile, Israeli Jews are still not allowed to enter anywhere in Area A that is controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
At the beginning of the previous decade, there were fewer than 1,000 businesses registered in the Jenin District Chamber of Commerce. By 2017, the number reached 3,000, and in 2019 there were more than 4,000. The city had one large mall at the beginning of the previous decade; the number grew to 13 modern malls by the decade's end. In 2016, 860,000 vehicles entered Jenin from Israel, and in 2019 the number exceeded one million. The city has become a shopping hub for Israeli Arabs, who spend hundreds of millions of shekels there every year. According to Mohammed Kamil, Director General of the Jenin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, annual turnover exceeds a billion shekels. Goods are cheaper than in Israel. For example, Nike sports shoes that in Israel cost about NIS 800, sell for NIS 500 in Jenin, and food prices are significantly lower, too. The month of Ramadan is the most significant for visits by Israeli Arabs, which in that period are double the number for an average month.
Losses in the tens of millions of shekels
The measure announced by Major General Ghassan Alian, head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), to close border crossings to Israeli Arabs as well, is a severe blow to the economy of Jenin in particular and of the northern West Bank in general, representing lost weekly income to businesses in the tens of millions of shekels. In addition, it is not yet clear what will happen to thousands of Arab-Israeli students studying at the Arab-American University (AAUP), who are also a source of income for the city through apartment rentals, and regular shopping for food and clothes.
Entry permits to Israel for businessmen traders from the area have also been suspended. On the other hand, workers from the area will be allowed to continue entering Israel to keep centers of employment in the agriculture and construction sectors from being damaged. The goal is to exert economic pressure that will cause the Palestinian Authority to act against the terrorist organizations as it does in other cities, and to stop expressing the kind of support for them offered by Governor Akram Rajoub
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 12, 2022.
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