Fence security only partially heightened

Border Police presence up in some locations, security still lax in other places.

fence security 298.88 (photo credit: Rafael D. Frankel)
fence security 298.88
(photo credit: Rafael D. Frankel)
One week after Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued orders to plug the existing holes in the "Jerusalem envelope" portion of the security fence with temporary fences and a stronger security personnel presence, the instructions were only partially implemented. While no new physical barriers are in place around Jerusalem to thwart Palestinians attempting to infiltrate Israel from the West Bank, a stronger Border Police presence was on the ground on Tuesday at two checkpoints and two holes in the fence, first observed during an investigation by The Jerusalem Post on April 20. This reporter also viewed new construction on Tuesday on a concrete wall portion of the security barrier which separates Abu Dis from Jerusalem. Olmert's orders followed a Post report citing numerous examples of Palestinians entering Israel freely through holes in the security fence, as well as checkpoints manned by border policemen who failed to inspect the IDs of people coming through from the West Bank. That report came three days after a suicide bomber, who security officials believe entered Israel from the West Bank through holes in the Jerusalem envelope, blew himself up in a Tel Aviv restaurant killing nine people. The gaps in the Jerusalem envelope range from kilometers-long stretches to meter-wide holes in the concrete portion of the barrier. The government says construction on the fence has been slowed because of the more than 50 petitions to the High Court of Justice filed by Palestinians against the route. On Tuesday, at a checkpoint separating Jebl Mukaber, part of east Jerusalem and located inside the security fence route, and East Sawahre, an Area A Palestinian town, Border Police were strictly checking the IDs of everyone crossing into Israel from the West Bank. That contrasted sharply with the atmosphere on April 20, when Palestinians walked right past border policemen who let them through to Israel without any impediments. "We don't check them here, they can go freely," a Border Policeman said at the time. "That's the [Palestinian] territories, and that is Israel," a different border policeman said in the same spot on Tuesday, pointing to the east and then west. He spoke as a bulldozer drove by on freshly poured concrete, which he said was part of recent fence construction. "We're under orders to check everyone going through." When asked why the same policy was not enforced two weeks ago, he said: "You know how it is, everyone has their own way of doing things." Down the unfinished security fence road and across the wadi at a checkpoint between neighborhoods of Jebl Mukaber and Sheikh Said - a town whose position in relation to the fence lies in the hands of the High Court of Justice - the number of Israeli forces was now higher than during the previous report and border policemen were checking the majority of Palestinians crossing into Jerusalem. Security forces were also patrolling the wadi, between the two towns. However security was still porous. Since 2000, the army has blocked off roads connecting Sheikh Said and Jebl Mukaber, forcing Palestinians to drive to one side of the checkpoint with one car, cross the road block, consisting of three large bolders, by foot and enter another car on the other side to transport them as well as goods. On Tuesday, one Palestinian loaded electrical equipment including two large boxes into a car on the Israeli side of the road block. He then drove off in the car towards Jerusalem without his goods or his ID being checked by a border policeman who gazed on as he loaded the car. According to one border policeman at the checkpoint, "Every Palestinian is checked coming into [Jerusalem]," whether it is at the checkpoint or further down the road toward the capital city. However upon traveling the same route, this reporter encountered no additional layers of security. In response to that observation, the policeman said "it is part of our strategy to not always be seen." At least one older teenage boy was also observed walking into Israel without having his ID checked by Border Policemen at the same checkpoint. According to the policeman, "many" Palestinians who lack proper permits are caught every day coming back from Israel, indicating they entered into Jerusalem either without being checked by Border Police or by walking around the checkpoints in places where the fence is not yet complete. Additionally, though their orders, according to the policeman, were to check everyone coming in and out of Israel, during the half-hour that this reporter observed the checkpoint, the police were not checking people heading into the West Bank. Such people were not arrested, the policemen said. "What can we do? We just send them back home and tell them not to do it again." Meanwhile, at two gaps in the fence along Abu Dis, security was markedly tighter than previously observed. At one large gap, where no Israeli security presence was observed during the previous investigation, Border Police said that since Olmert's order were handed down, a contingent is now stationed there at all hours. Nearby, five workers watched by two private security guards flattened earth and laid concrete for a wall portion of the fence whose construction was stalled for months. At a smaller hole in the wall, a minute's walk up the road, Border Police were turning away every Palestinian attempting to cross into Jerusalem and directing them to a permanent crossing close to the Mount of Olives.