Recently, the Shin Bet released its findings following interrogation of the terrorists who carried out the June 8 Sarona Market shooting in Tel Aviv in which four civilians were killed and six were wounded. Security officials succeeded in extracting intel from the perpetrators about the infrastructure of the terrorist cell, others who aided and abetted them, the safe house where they hid during the hours before the attack, and their source of weapons.
Being able to interrogate terrorists who survived the attack is critical for the Shin Bet to be able to assess the situation. In this case, the attackers involved in the Sarona Market killing did not offer much information that security officials didn’t already have, since the Shin Bet has many sources and in general is extremely well informed about terrorist infrastructure.
It turns out that the terrorists who carried out the Sarona attack were not part of a larger cell or network, but working on their own.
They were motivated by hatred, and the incitement they hear daily in their communities. Just like many other perpetrators of terrorist attacks, these two men had watched ISIS videos that brainwashed them into believing that as good Muslims, it was their duty to kill innocent Jews. Their weapons were homemade models that had been assembled in Hebron, and they crossed with their weapons into Israel unhindered.
The ease with which these two terrorists made their way into Israel is intolerable.
And the Israeli authorities are well aware of this common phenomenon.
On any given day, about 60,000 Palestinians with proper working permits given by the Israel security authorities enter Israel in order to work and support their families. At the same time, however, another 50,000 to 70,000 Palestinians enter Israeli illegally, mostly from the West Bank.
Some of them go in and out on a daily basis, whereas other sleep in makeshift homes arranged for them by employers or acquaintances.
The lion’s share of them enter Israel to work and bring money back home. A few dozen, however, enter Israel, sometimes with weapons, for the express goal of attacking innocent Israelis. Almost all of the attacks that have been carried out during the current wave of violence were carried out by Palestinians who entered Israel illegally from the West Bank.
It is important that this reality not be kept from the public. All Israeli leaders and politicians are aware that the security barrier that was built during the second intifada was successful in putting a stop to that wave of terrorism. But they also know that the barrier is currently completely ineffective. There are areas where it has been finished, and many holes have been made in the barrier that have not been repaired. In addition, the IDF and the Border Police are constantly blaming each other for being irresponsible in not maintaining the barrier.
Another no less disturbing is that the security forces are not doing enough to punish Palestinians who illegally enter Israel. The Israel Police and the Border Police catch tens of thousands of Palestinians who’ve entered Israeli illegally, and the harshest punishment they receive is that they are returned to the territories. The next morning, though, they can wake up and come back to Israel and go right back to their jobs. The authorities are also very lenient with Israelis who are caught employing illegal workers and with anyone involved with the transport of Palestinians who lack permits to be in Israel. If there is very little deterrence for employers; even if they’re fined, which only happens in the few cases that are brought to court, they go right back to employing illegal workers.
The transport and employment of illegal Palestinian workers has become quite a profitable industry in recent years. Palestinians who are in desperate need of work are willing to pay smugglers handsomely to get them across the barrier, to safe places to sleep, and to work. They do all of this so that they can work illegally and make meager salaries paid by Israeli employers who are breaking the law. These employers are not penalized very stringently and the procedures for arresting and incarcerating Israelis for transporting or employing illegal Palestinians are long and tedious.
There is a shortage of space in detention centers, costs are high, and security authorities have pretty much given up hope that they will be able to stop Palestinians from coming in or Israelis from helping them.
The Shin Bet and the IDF know where the weak points in the fence are located, and where Palestinians tend to climb over on a daily basis.
The police are acquainted with many of the Israelis involved in this industry – some of them have even been indicted in the past – but since they know the punishment is lenient, it is well worth their while to continue in this line of work.
So the question is, how do we prevent the next terrorist attack from taking place? We must first admit that in the current reality, illegal Palestinian workers play an important role in the economy.
Combined with the fact that these same individuals are in dire need of work, this means that there is very little chance things will change any time soon. If the authorities were to hermetically seal the border between the West Bank and Israel, the Israeli economy would suffer and many Palestinian families would soon be unable to feed their families.
The State of Israel, however, is in the midst of a war with the Palestinians, and allowing Palestinians from the West Bank to enter and leave Israel freely is just plain dangerous. In Turkey, for example, ISIS has been allowed freedom of movement, and this has enabled the terrorist group to carry out a number of deadly attacks recently. It is clear to everyone that the only way to prevent terrorist attacks is to seal a country’s borders.
The State of Israel must carry out a number of immediate steps in order to defuse the current threat and restore security to its citizens. First, the security barrier must be completed and hermetically sealed so that no one – illegal workers and terrorists alike – will be able to infiltrate Israel. This is the way normal countries function. This will make security checks more effective and help security officials ensure that only Palestinians with entry permits provided by the Israeli security authorities are allowed to enter the country.
Second, Israelis who transport, house or in any way aid illegal Palestinian workers need to receive harsh and costly punishment.
Third, Palestinians who are caught in Israel illegally need to receive harsh punishment, not just a slap on the wrist and a ride home. And last, we need to understand that as much as we are concerned about the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian community, our security comes first. We live in the jungle and in order to protect ourselves, we need to protect ourselves with a barrier, or to encircle the threat with a barrier.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.