The IDF is investigating a Monday morning incident in which Palestinian security forces confiscated handguns from an Israeli archeologist who was briefly detained at a Palestinian-manned COVID-19 checkpoint in Area C of the West Bank.
“The confiscation of weapons from the residents by the Palestinian police was in violation of accepted procedures and will be investigated appropriately,” a spokesperson for the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, PA security forces have IDF authorization to operate in Area C. They are there to help enforce COVID-19 related regulations for Palestinians which are designed to halt the spread of the disease.
This includes setting up Area C roadblocks to limit Palestinian movement between cities and villages.
On Wednesday morning the Palestinian security forces in Area C halted an Israeli vehicle at such a checkpoint not far from the Hermesh settlement in the Samaria region.
The right-wing NGO Regavim which publicized the incident said that its field coordinator Eitan Melet and two Israeli archeologists were on their way to the Tel Parsin site in northern Samaria to investigate damage done to the remains of the Biblical city of Parash at the site.
The trip was part of their work on the nonprofit archeological project “Preserving the Eternal,” dedicated to the preservation of ancient sites from private excavations and looting. Regavim said Civil Administration oversight of these ruins has been lax, particularly since 70% of the Civil Administration’s Archeology Inspection Unit was furloughed due to COVID-19.
“The city of Parash has never been excavated by archaeologists – but it has been thoroughly and aggressively excavated by local Arab looters and grave-robbers, because the State of Israel does not take responsibility,” Melet said.
But the trio never made it to the site because they were stopped by Palestinian security forces, which confiscated a gun belonging to one of the archeologists and briefly detained the group.
COGAT said that the archeologists had sought and failed to receive IDF permission to visit the site precisely because of the Palestinian COVID-19 roadblock.
“A preliminary investigation of the incident indicates that the Jewish residents who came to the archaeological site today did so without an approval,” COGAT said.
“On April 30, 2020, they submitted a request to the Menashe Regional Brigade for coordination of their entry into the site – but it was refused because, among other reasons, the Palestinian security services, with the approval of all the Israeli security authorities, had placed a ‘coronavirus roadblock’ on the access road to the site,” COGAT said.
Upon stopping the vehicle with the archeologists, Palestinian Security services contacted the IDF and transferred the archeologists to them at an Israeli checkpoint near the Dotan settlement.
COGAT noted that it had not instructed the Palestinian security forces to confiscate the weapon.
Melet said of the incident, “The Palestinian police officers demanded that we get our of our vehicles, and we refused. These were unpleasant moments, but the situation was more infuriating than frightening. After contacting the IDF, and with the mediation of Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, the Palestinian policemen decided to ‘hand us over’ to the IDF at the nearby Dotan checkpoint.”
COGAT said that it regretted the misinformation that had been publicized about the incident.
“Agenda-driven parties have chosen to defame the activities of the Civil Administration by spreading false information even as the Unit’s officers are constantly working – in this specific instance as well – to maintain security and preserve the fabric of life for all the residents of Judea and Samaria,” the COGAT said.
Regavim said in response that the “archaeology team did not request a permit to visit the Tel Parsin site - because there is absolutely no reason to request a permit to do so.“This is not a restricted area, and it is fully accessible to any Israeli who wishes to visit it at any time. Thus, the Civil Administration did not deny them a permit, nor did they violate the Civil Administration’s instructions in any way,” Regavim said.It added that its team “traveled to the site, which is located in Area C, via an Israeli road, also classified as Area C, which passes near Hawara - classified as Area B. This is a completely normal situation in the “Swiss cheese” of jurisdictions created by the Oslo Accords.”Regavim continued, “The “confusion” regarding the permissibility of the team’s visit may stem from a request the archaeologists made to the Civil Administration to visit a completely different site - a site located in Area A which would have required special arrangements; in fact, the team did not visit this restricted area, precisely because their request for a permit was denied.” In the aftermath of the incident with the Palestinian police Regavim returned to the Tel Parsin without any further incident, it said.Regavim added that its report on “this incident made no statement regarding the Civil Administration’s handling of this situation.”