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Mass entry of Palestinians into Israel calls for new approach to permit regime

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank who are normally barred from entering Israel got a glimpse of freedom during Ramadan as single entry permits were issued more liberally.  Many also infiltrated without being caught. What does that tell us about Israel’s security rationale regarding its permit regime and resumed construction of the wall?

Instead of security checks the gates were opened. Bethlehem checkpoint during Ramadan (Anne Paq / Activestills)

Frankly, it’s quite hard to believe just how many Palestinians from the West Bank got the unique chance to visit Israel over Ramadan. Some went through the checkpoints with permits valid for just one of the holiday’s Fridays. Haaretz reports that 300,000 entered Israeli borders, and many took the chance to pray in Jerusalem or visit the beach in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, some for the first time in their lives. With that in mind, Gideon Levy rightly asks why these very same people do not get permits more often, perhaps even permanent permits. Would they then turn into more of a danger than they were on the last Friday of Ramadan?

Yet not so much attention has been given to the masses who got in illegally at the same time. Countless reports from the Qalandia and Bethlehem checkpoints describe how instead of the regular security checks soldiers simply opened the gates wide and let everyone through – looking to make sure that only people of the authorized age groups were passing.

This is how political activists who are denied access to Israel for being a “security hazard” for their nonviolent resistance to the occupation had the chance to vacation in Tel Aviv for the day. Even some young men in their twenties, the IDF’s number one official risk group, were able to filter in. Some of those who were sent back by soldiers got huge ladders and simply jumped over the wall in broad daylight, something that is usually only done in the dead of night and at great peril.

Hundreds of thousands entered either legally or illegally and nothing bad happened (Activestills)

Rethinking the security narrative

While the numbers of Palestinians who made it through over these few weekends are astonishing, the mere entry of unauthorized people into Israel is in no way a new phenomenon. In recent months I published the 12-part series “The Wall,” and dedicated one of the chapters to the tens of thousands of workers entering Israel daily, almost half of them illegally. Yet another chapter examined the effects of the wall on Israeli security, and showed how the cessation of suicide attacks has been made possible, amongst other reasons, thanks to a decision on the Palestinian side, and how attacks can resume without the unfinished wall stopping them.

Events of the recent Ramadan only strengthened these points. Masses of Palestinians who are regularly denied freedom of movement were given it for a brief period of time – and nothing happened. No attacks on Israelis registered, or breeches in national security noted. And then Ramadan ended, and most of these people are now once again trapped in the huge prison compound that is the West Bank, while few of them continue putting themselves at risk of arrest or injury as they sneak into Israel for work.

This absurd state of affairs requires that Israelis rethink the security narrative of the conflict today, and the ongoing siege and permit regime. As the state recently announced that it would resume construction of the wall we must be more critical of this project and its extreme impact on civilian population, its enormous costs in a time of international economic crisis and its dangerous effects on the viability of future peace agreements and on possible international pressure on Israel. The masses that entered Israel this Ramadan could help us form the tools for such criticism.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Kolumn9

      This is a pretty silly argument. The attacks on Israelis during the past 20 years is the reason for the existence of the permit system. Would you make the claim that free entry of Palestinians into Israel during the second intifada would also not have led to attacks?
      .

      The argument that the wall or Israeli security measures did not stop suicide bombings is fundamentally unsupportable. It is just a blatant lie that is explicitly contradicted by the numbers of suicide bombers caught on their way to carry out attacks and who are now sitting in Israeli jails and by the numbers of planned suicide bombings that were thwarted by Israeli forces. It is also contradicted by the statistically significant steep drop in suicide bombings and resultant casualties as Israeli security measures took root, which consisted at their core of controlling the access of Palestinians (civilians and terrorists) into areas where they could attack Israelis.
      .

      The argument that the Palestinians eventually made a choice to stop suicide bombings does absolutely nothing to undermine the position that Israeli security measures in themselves were responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of Israeli civilians. The failed suicide bombers sitting in Israeli jails are testament to this incontestable fact.
      .

      And accordingly, if the only thing stopping a resurgence of terrorism against Israeli civilians is a decision by the weak and divided Palestinian leadership, then shouldn’t Israel be taking every possible measure in order to defend its citizens from future attacks rather than listening to the advice of people like you and Gideon Levy in making itself more vulnerable?
      .

      This is indeed an absurd situation. Israeli lives were put at risk and many lost due to security concessions championed by people like Gideon Levy. Israeli security measures were eventually reasonably successful in preventing suicide bombings and in forcing the Palestinians into changing their tactics. Here comes along Gideon Levy and starts making noises about his dissatisfaction with the resulting situation in which Israelis are reasonably secure. It is almost like functionally it offends Gideon Levy that Israelis aren’t being blown up by buses on a regular basis. Like he is still smarting from being proven absolutely wrong in his incessant predictions during the second intifada that only more concessions would stop the suicide bombings and that security measures would never work. Is he willing to admit that he was wrong? No. Of course not. Is he willing to continue making the same failed arguments that have consistently blown up in our faces in the past 20 years? Yes. He has built his career on this, why stop now?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ed

        I think you’ve failed to respond to the key point in the article which is: if the entry of Palestinians into Israel is so dangerous, how come they regularly enter Israel illegally and nothing happens? And how come when they are exceptionally allowed to enter for Ramadan, still nothing happens?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          The key point is that at the present moment the Palestinian groups have no interest in starting up a new round of violence. As such, at present, no there isn’t much risk in larger numbers of Palestinians entering Israel. That can change at any moment and it is unreasonable, as Haggai and Gideon Levy are suggesting, to change structural security processes on the basis of a temporary pause in violence when all parties are acutely aware that a new outbreak of violence is just around the corner.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn, the wall is a joke. A determined assailant has no problem getting around it. It has huge gaps – and I’m talking about segments considered completed.
      *
      Furthermore, it’s been a long time since folks were arrested trying to enter Israel with explosives. Believe me, they trumpet every large knife they find on someone.
      *
      The point is that since Israel has obviously zero intention of truly separating any part of the West Bank from Israel, it should resume the reality that existed prior to Oslo. Remember that?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Rechavia, the wall is no joke. In case of an outbreak of violence current vulnerabilities can be filled with manpower while construction completes and as Haggai points out construction is restarting. Your remaining argument is baseless. Israel has no intention of returning to the pre-Oslo situation and is most certainly interested in separating from the large populated Palestinian areas that take up about 30% of the West Bank.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Bluegrass Picker of Afula

      People get trained by the combination of carrots and sticks. In this case, being trained to remember that everything between the River and the Sea is a Hebrew-speaking Kingdom. It’s the same way you train tzfonbonim that in the Army, when you’re told to do a matzav shtaim… you do it. You are allowed to complain all day long, but you do it.

      >> A determined assailant has no problem getting around it.

      it’s not there to stop determined asssailants.

      It’s like the lock in the door of Rechavia Berman’s house. It’s there to keep the honest people honest.

      Reply to Comment
    4. K9, above, is partially right, I think. Hard to brutal, Israeli security measures, including the Wall, retarded actualized suicide bombings. But Haggai is right that an uncompleted Wall, allowing thousands to cross daily, plus the mass crossings during Ramadan without incident, imply something has changed in the social support of latent bombers. It is not easy to keep the mind set for bombing; I suspect the daily ideological support, with socio-economic upkeep, has dwindled. And I would not disdain, without further knowledge, the ten year genesis of nonviolent protest associated with the Wall.

      We need to hear from Palestinians, activists and not, on the bombings, and talk of bombings, and what responses it generates. I think Haggai is right that something has changed. I also think that Dahlia is right that at some point violent acts will occur, and one must prepare for that; science cannot blind itself to possibilities unwanted (think of global warming in the US….)

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The Palestinians got beat down until they got exhausted of fighting. None of the Palestinian groups are at the moment interested in restarting hostilities. That is the only thing that has changed.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Prometheus

      Greg,
      “We need to hear from Palestinians, activists and not, on the bombings, and talk of bombings, and what responses it generates.”

      A while ago I’ve addressed this issue, however it went rather unnoticed.

      The truth is that no-one is interested in hearing from regular Palestinians who en masse could not care less about what state – independent or not, Muslim or Jewish – they are living in as long as they have jobs to support themselves and could provide more or less decent living for their children.

      Reply to Comment
    6. rose

      “The attacks on Israelis during the past 20 years is the reason for the existence of the permit system”.
      The attacks were not the “point zero”. They were a (unacceptable) consequence of previous expulsions, violences, segregations…

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        We can argue about point zero ad infinitum. There was no permit system from 1967 until the violence of the first intifada and then there was a permit system put in place that got harsher as Palestinians resorted to tactics like suicide bombings.

        Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        Above all, bombings were responding to assassinations and non-targethed slaughter. I am not saying that it was a correct response, just that the link was very clear.

        In West Bank, IDF abandoned assassinations as far as I can tell. The last attempted assassination killed “a wrong person”. This is the best explanation why there are no more suicide bombings in Israel. Keep in mind that a motivated individual can wreck a lot of havoc with gasoline (even very young yeshiva pupils).

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          The IDF has no need for targeted killings in the West Bank anymore because it has the cooperation of the PA and can arrest terrorists at will in any point in the West Bank without encountering organized resistance. This has only been the case since the PA/Fateh has stepped in to clamp down on suicide bombings and restart cooperation with the Israelis as a response to the failure of the second intifada and the brutal suppression tactics of the IDF. To argue that there are no suicide bombings because there are no targeted assassinations is to put the cart before the horse.

          Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          Piotr-
          Your history is a little bit off. The biggest wave of bombings occurred at the HEIGHT of the “peace process”. They started right after Israel began its withdrawals when Arafat arrived in the territories. The Oslo gang in Israel expalained this seeming inconsistency (i.e. violence increasing as Israel increases its concessions) by claiming that the terrorism was carried out by “enemies of the peace process”. This, of course, was a lie and they knew it. Arafat gave the go-ahead on all waves of bombings. The next big wave occurred after the Rabin murder when Israel pulled its forces out of the West Bank cities. The next wave of bombings came in the wake of Barak’s election and concessions at Camp David and Taba.
          The reasons for this? It is simple. The more Israel gives up, the more the Arab terrorists say that “you seem, Muhammed was right, the Jews are weaklings and cowards, these concessions they are making prove it, so if we increase the terror, that will accelerate the Israeli concessions ever further.”. The terror is an inseparable part of the “peace process”. Even Shimon Peres stated that you can’t have both ‘peace’ and ‘security’ at the same time.

          Reply to Comment
          • someone

            XYZ,
            You’re right about the timing of the majority of bombing attacks, but I can’t agree with your analysis of the reasoning for that. I don’t think it had anything to do with Israel giving anything up. I think it moreso had to do with an imposed leadership agreeing to separation and concessions during the Oslo process.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Blake

      All of “israel” is really the Palestinian land. The impostors are allowing them onto their own land? How generous.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        No, all of “Palestine” is really the Land of Israel.

        These arguments are stupid. I hope you realize that.

        Why are we impostors?

        Reply to Comment
    8. It is rather facile to say bombings have stopped because orders have been given; nor is it true that all bombings were ordered by Arafat in his day. The question, at present, is what reasoning exists on the lived ground of Palestinians dealing with truncated possibility. To claim they do not think but ever await orders reveals, I think, an attempt to make them less than they are.

      I do not know what is thought on this ground. I am pretty sure most commenters at this site know not either.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Greg, we already discussed this. There is a very wide gulf between thinking and acting. Suicide bombings are a complicated organizational challenge, especially when facing restrictions on transportation and a determined opposition in the form of the IDF and the Shabak. Suicide bombings stopped when PA/Fateh was forced to act to stop their own suicide bombers and to act in coordination with the Israelis to destroy Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s organizational framework in the West Bank.

        Reply to Comment
        • I suspect the social structure underlying the bombings is more fine grained than you think:

          http://www.eco.uc3m.es/~acabrales/research/gregEER2288.pdf

          Even if one demolishes that structure, it might recur. I think it important to know what thought there now is on the ground. I will not trivialize minds living struggle, nor more would I those of the Dispora past. If you give Palestinians the respect of mind you may find hope otherwise overlooked.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Greg, I see the site is back up. I don’t know how your paper has relevance. The willingness of societies under stress to sacrifice human life in war is something nearly universal to the human condition, and societies that are unwilling to do so don’t survive. This doesn’t require a paper. This is one of the reasons why I truly hate reading papers by economists who go into political science or social science. They produce unreadable materials and generate no additional understanding.
            .

            There is some confusion about the reason why suicide bombings were so horrific. It wasn’t the ‘suicide’ part of it, which is misunderstood due to Western prejudices on the issue, but that it targeted civilians explicitly. It was the willingness of the Palestinian groups and bombers to directly and explicitly target children, women and other civilians with the full support of their societies. It was a clear expression of homicidal hatred on the part of an entire society for every and any member of another. The very act of a Jew living and breathing in Israel was a crime that in that society was considered punishable by death.
            .

            That outlook hasn’t changed. What has changed is the willingness and inability to organize attacks, almost entirely on the basis of reasons of self-interest as a response to the failure of the tactics and the brutal retaliation.

            Reply to Comment
          • First, I was more of an evolutionary biologist than economist. Second, it is false to say models are of no help if they disagree with your world view.

            On Charlie Rose, Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet, recounted this story, taking place at a London conference during the second Intafata. A Gazan pediatrician, who he consider a friend, said to him, “Now we are your equals! You have F-16s, we have suicide bombers!” Ayalon said he was shocked; from this incident he decided some new path must be found. The Gazan was not involved in suicide bombing. He appropriated the events in his discourse as a weapon. That is your univocal Palestinian nation (of a sort).

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Greg, First, the model doesn’t disagree with my worldview, it just doesn’t provide any additional information in its seven pages. Second, support for the murder of Israeli civilians within the borders of Israel was 75%+ at the height of the intifada and it is at about 50% right now. I repeat, it isn’t the suicide bombings as a tactic that is shocking but the willingness and support for explicitly targeting and killing Israeli civilians with the support of an entire society consensus where those 25% that are opposed are almost entirely excluded from the public sphere.

            Again, between the two of us it is you that is looking for simplicity. You find it in assigning the capacity to carry out suicide bombings to individuals and then look for societal changes to undermine this phenomenon. Even if we were to accept your premise the recipe is entirely unrealistic considering the different impact of any possible measures across the individuals of a society. Additionally as we already discussed suicide bombings are not the result of the willingness of individuals to sacrifice themselves, but the result of an organizational structure that makes them possible. Without the support of such a structure they stop. Whether there is one structure or ten the structures themselves must be either eliminated, coopted or deterred from carrying out attacks, because as I already stated, the motivation for attacking Israeli civilians is very high in Palestinian society and the legitimacy for such action is reinforced by the treatment of the killers of Israeli civilians as heroes by Palestinian society as exemplified by the respect paid to them by such relatively moderate politicians as PA President Abbas.

            Reply to Comment
          • As to the model, it is not about warfare as such. It asks how suicidal altrusim can be sustained without coercion. Key is the existence of multiple, autonomous groups. The conclusion reached is that one group can strike at a universal predator to induce a response which hits mostly other groups; suicide bombing was as much inter group competition within the Bank as it was against Israel. If true, one can ask how to alter the predator response to vanquish the group competition component of the bombings within the Bank. There is no Palestinian nation is single resolve; nor a single commander ordering all events. You want a simple enemy; evolutionary biology suggests it is not there.

            More: you will have to give respect to the new voices in the Bank rather than disdaining them as less than yours. And that, indeed, employs risk. While you make Jews the perfect sufferers, a mirror narative is forming among Palestinians. You are both going to have to give room–unless, indeed, you want their expunging throughout the Bank.

            Reply to Comment
    9. Maybe the permit system could be integrated with consumer electronics by means of a ‘Visit Israel’ app on smartphones. Israel is reputed to have one of the best software industries in the world.
      This would of course just be a ‘temporary measure’, until the permit system gets abandoned completely.

      Reply to Comment
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