(photo credit: REUTERS)
An increase of two million Palestinians crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip and West Bank in 2017, the Defense Ministry reported on Wednesday.
According to the ministry, Palestinians entered Israel 15 million times through various crossings from Gaza and the West Bank in 2017, an increase from the 13 million in 2016. On average, over 60,000 people per day entered Israel for work, medical treatment, humanitarian assistance or commerce.
While it wasn’t clear if the major increase came from Gaza or the West Bank, a report released last week by the NGO Gisha – The Legal Center for Freedom of Movement – said that the past year saw the least legal movement of Palestinians in and out of the Gaza Strip since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.
According to the report, the number of exits by Palestinians via the Erez crossing in 2017 dropped by 51% compared to 2016. It showed that the monthly average in 2017 was only 5,963 exits, compared to a monthly average of 12,150 in 2016 and 14,276 in 2015. It also showed that the average monthly number of exits in 2014 was 6,270.
The number of valid trader permits dropped a significant 85% during this period, from more than 3,500 at the end of 2015 to only 551 in December 2017, according to the report.
The Defense Ministry’s Crossing Authority is responsible for operating the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossing points on the Gaza border as well as the border crossings in the West Bank.
According to a statement released by the ministry, infrastructure was upgraded with the help of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit at the Sha’ar Ephrayim and Gilboa crossings in the West Bank. In May 2017, the Te’enim crossing near Tulkarm was transferred from the IDF to Defense Ministry civilian control.
At the Kerem Shalom crossing, the sole commercial crossing into the Hamas-run enclave, a dedicated conveyor belt for transporting bulk materials, was completed.
The ministry also reported that some 160,000 trucks passed through Kerem Shalom in 2017, with a peak noted in April when 1,000 trucks passed through the crossing in one day. But, according to a senior IDF officer in the Southern Command, the number of trucks entering the enclave from the Kerem Shalom crossing has also dropped from 800-1,200 trucks per day to 300- 400 trucks.
Israeli authorities, including the Crossing Authority together with the Israeli Security Agency, COGAT, Israel Police and Israel Tax Authority, intercept illicit goods heading for Hamas on a regular basis at crossings from Israel into the Strip.
Security inspectors at the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings thwarted hundreds of attempts to smuggle contraband into the enclave in 2017, including an attempt to smuggle explosive material from the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing.
In October, authorities foiled attempts to smuggle thousands of military-grade gloves and shoes labeled as slippers destined for Hamas’s military wing in Gaza. According to the Defense Ministry, when security officials examined the innocent looking slippers, which had emojis on them, they found professional-grade Magnum military boots in a variety of colors.
Udi Shaham contributed to this report.