Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

West Bank crossings and checkpoints explained

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West Bank crossings and checkpoints are often portrayed as simply something that inconveniences or 'humiliates' Palestinian residents - or as violating Palestinian freedom of movement.  The reality is that they exist to protect Israeli civilians from terrorist attacks and they have been highly successful in doing so. Since additional checkpoints and crossings were put in place during the Second Intifada, the incidence of terrorist attacks on Israelis has dramatically decreased. Israel has also foiled a number of attempted terrorist attacks at crossings and checkpoints.

Many people do not realise the difference between crossings and checkpoints. The crossings are essential border posts which monitor West Bank residents entering Israel. Meanwhile, checkpoints exist within the West Bank to restrict the free movement of wanted terrorists or of arms and explosives. While the former should be uncontroversial given that border crossings are something every country with a land border has - the latter can hamper Palestinian freedom of movement. That is why, in recent years as security conditions have improved, Israel has greatly eased security restrictions in the West Bank, removing most checkpoints and streamlining procedures at both the remaining checkpoints and border crossings. According to the Israel Defence Force's (IDF), checkpoints in the West Bank have been reduced from 40 to 12 - some only in operation sporadically, when intelligence exists of a particular threat - while entry permits into Israel have also increased significantly, with 9.4 million entries by the West Bank's 2 million or so residents in 2012.

The IDF has posted an information page "Reality check: The truth behind crossings in Judea and Samaria", which further explains what checkpoints and crossings are, why they exist, and especially, how they work - including the process for West Bank residents to obtain a permit to enter Israel:

How many crossings and checkpoints are there today?

There are nearly 40 crossings between Judea and Samaria [West Bank] 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

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...

The number of terror attacks has fallen drastically since substantial construction of the security fence was established by 2006.

The IDF has withdrawn the majority of its checkpoints in Judea and Samaria in a step towards beginning a positive cycle...

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...

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.

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...

Crossings: 9.4 million entries in 2012

Crossings are the main points of entry between Judea and Samaria and other parts of Israel. 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...

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)...

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.

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.

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.

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.


Sharyn Mittelman


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