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?

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

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