As Soldiers Look Other Way, Palestinians Pour into Israel to Relax
Not all in the West Bank are happy, with business owners complaining that much-needed income is not coming their way
Palestinians from the West Bank city of Tulkarem streamed into Israel over the weekend – apparently unimpeded – and headed straight for the beaches, defying a lockdown by the Palestinian Authority and angering businesspeople concerned that money was being spent in Israel and not at home.
Others expressed concern that they would bring back COVID-19.
Their numbers were estimated to be in the thousands and perhaps tens of thousands. They crossed over without the usual permits or security checks on Friday and Saturday despite a PA-imposed lockdown on West Bank cities from Thursday night until Sunday morning. There was no medical screening.
The Israeli army apparently turned its back as Palestinians of all ages entered through openings in the security barrier and fence.
A tweet with the handle @Apuntes said no one knew why the Israelis were enabling Palestinians to enter, but added that “Arab-Israeli buses waiting for them on the Israeli side of the border took them to a number of [seaside] cities like Netanya, Jaffa, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Tiberias.”
The Israel Defense Forces, the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israel Police and the Israeli Health Ministry declined to comment, as did several Palestinian officials reached by The Media Line.
Some Palestinian activists and businesspeople claim that Israel let Palestinians in to boost the country’s ailing economy, saying this money instead could have been spent in the West Bank, where the economy is in a tailspin following repeated lockdowns and closures by the PA.
The PA renewed a coronavirus state of emergency and lockdown from 9 pm last Thursday until Sunday morning. During the week, cafes, restaurants, gyms and other places of businesses are allowed to open from 7 am until midnight, operating at 50% capacity and according to other safety protocols set out by the PA Health Ministry.
Nasr Abd al-Kareem, a professor of finance and banking at the American University in Ramallah, told The Media Line that Israel’s economy would not truly benefit from the visits.
“Considering that 50,000 Palestinians entered and spent about NIS 10 million [nearly $3 million], this doesn’t affect the economy of Israel, which is worth $384 billion and has $120 million in exports,” he said.
He notes that the day-trippers generally brought with them what they needed, adding that what they spent went to businesses owned by Arab citizens of Israel because most headed to Arab neighborhoods, where they would feel more comfortable.
“As for the Palestinian economy, if we divide the NIS 10 million between Palestinian cities, it would not add much,” he stated.
Abd al-Kareem believes that if the PA allowed Arab citizens of Israel to enter the West Bank, Palestinians cities could make that amount in a single day.
“Palestinian businesspeople are crying over nothing,” he continued. “[The] people [who crossed into Israel] have the right to visit their sea.”
Palestinian businesspeople are crying over nothing. [The] people [who crossed into Israel] have the right to visit their sea
Palestinians cheered on social media, noting that many of the visitors had never been to Israel before, including former prisoners and those prevented from entering due to security reasons.
Images showed women in their 80s and 90s at the beach in traditional garb. Some may not have been to those places since they became refugees in 1948.
Alex Coman, an Israeli economist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Adelson School of Entrepreneurship, agrees with Abd al-Kareem, saying most of the Palestinians went to public beaches and added little to the Israeli economy. He also believes they spent less than NIS 10 million in total.
He did point out to The Media Line, however, that some went to swimming pools.
“Every ticket to the pools is about NIS 80,” he noted, “which is significant for small businesses.”
West Bank Palestinians out for fun usually head to Ramallah’s amusement park, Jericho’s aqua park or Nablus’s Al-Badan falls, or to restaurants or historical and archaeological landmarks. Some families rent villas with a swimming pool or travel abroad. But those of lesser means are most deeply affected by the PA’s repeated closures.
Mahdi, a Tulkarem resident who asked that his last name be withheld, was one of the Palestinians who crossed into Israel.
“I’m a worker and I got married a year ago,” he told The Media Line. “I took my wife and went to the sea. Nobody stopped us from entering. There were soldiers, but they didn’t talk to us.”
I took my wife and went to the sea. Nobody stopped us from entering. There were soldiers, but they didn’t talk to us
He complains that the PA does not really care about him, so he has used breaches in the security barrier to work in Israel, where wages are higher.
“I started a family,” he said. “If I worked in the West Bank, I wouldn’t be making more than NIS 50 a day, and that’s not enough.”
Qadri Kasbah, a community activist in Tulkarem responsible for monitoring the Palestinian side of the barrier, told The Media Line that thousands crossed through illegal openings.
“Maybe they were more than 50,000, and no one could have stopped them, not even us,” he stated, adding that although the numbers are usually much lower, this was not a one-off event.
“Every day, people enter Israel to go to the beaches of Haifa and Jaffa, as if it’s something normal,” he said. “It has become a very normal thing for people to enter Israel through these holes.”
Grisha Yakubovich, a former head of the Civilian Department at COGAT, told The Media Line that the entry of Palestinians in large numbers was nothing new, claiming that two years ago during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, more than 2 million had entered Israel.
“Israel has a message here, that it’s not against the people and doesn’t want to hurt them,” Yakubovich stressed. “Instead, it wants them to satisfy their desires to visit the sea and the malls in Israel.”
He emphasizes that this has nothing to do with the ties the PA severed with Israel over recent moves and policies, including plans by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to annex parts of the West Bank under the aegis of the Trump Administration’s regional peace plan.
“These people are stressed,” he said. “Some of them have never visited the sea before.”
These people are stressed. Some of them have never visited the sea before