A nun hurries by the security barrier toward the checkpoint from Jerusalem on her way to pray by the spot where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)
IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said on Tuesday that some 50,000-60,000 Palestinians illegally infiltrate Israel daily from the West Bank, but only 4,300 of are arrested each year.
Speaking at the Knesset State Control Committee, Eisenkot said there is a huge gap in funding to finish the West Bank barrier, but that building the wall was not the only issue – the entry-permit approval process must also move faster.
The IDF chief said there are 101,000 Palestinian workers who legally arrive in Israel every day, and “from those with entry permits there have not been terrorists in the recent wave, and I think, even going back a decade.”
Committee chairwoman MK Karin Elharar noted that 44 percent of the terrorist attacks that have killed dozens and wounded some 300 in recent months have been connected to illegal infiltrators.
“We are making great efforts to close off the open border areas, [but at the same time] there are still 100 kilometers without a security wall,” Eisenkot said. “Two parts are lacking NIS 260 million to be built in the Turkumia and Jerusalem areas.”
He said work has started there, but there are still huge gaps around Battir and Gush Etzion.
Col. Sharon Biton of the Civil Administration unit that issued permits said 1,693,670 permits were issued in 2015 moving at the current “slow” speed, but that only 800,000 of them are still in effect, showing that part of the issue is the temporariness of many permits or jobs.
Some Palestinians apply for permits, but wait so long for an answer that they eventually forget the application and just cross illegally, he said, adding that punishments should be more severe for Israeli employers of Palestinians without permits and others who help them cross the border illegally.
Of the 4,300 infiltrators arrested year, some 1,500 are indicted, an increase, but one that has not kept up with the wave of terrorism, according to Lt.-Col. Nir Yishaya, head of operations for Central Command. The punishments handed down, he added, tend to be only a few days to five months despite a relatively new law permitting sentences of up to five years.
In the past, the IDF has admitted that most illegal infiltrators are released the first time they are arrested, and merely warned without being indicted as a matter of policy.
Comptroller Defense Division Head Yossi Beinhorn said all the problems listed were identified years ago in comptroller reports, but that little progress has been made.
There is no certainty that the issues will be readily addressed in the near future either, as completion of the West Bank barrier is a political bomb with the Palestinians and much of the world, since it could be viewed as setting borders around Jerusalem and cutting off Palestinians in the West Bank from east Jerusalem.
Deputy Police Chief Zohar Dvir told the committee that the police are working hard to combat infiltrating Palestinians, including those involved in lower-grade crimes such as theft or violence that is not nationalistic.
Echoing one of Eisenkot’s themes, he complained that even when the police arrest those assisting infiltrators, 25 percent do not receive jail time, and many who do receive short sentences. Furthermore, he said, 83 percent of the fines for those assisting infiltrators were under NIS 5,000.
Earlier in the day, Eisenkot toured the North with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who was provided with a review of security challenges on the northern front from IDF Northern Commander Maj.- Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and Maj.-Gen.Tamir Heyman.