The Israel Defense Forces is to invest NIS 50 million ($1.3 million) into enlarging two West Bank crossings into Israel to ease passage for Palestinians and improve security, Channel 10 news reported Tuesday.
The crossings are at Qalandiya, north of Jerusalem, and Rachel’s Tomb near the West Bank city of Bethlehem to the south.
The move comes after a pledge by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in July to streamline passage through checkpoints.
Problems at the crossings had “clear solutions, both administrative and infrastructural,” he said.“Everyone suffers equally here, Jews and Palestinians, and this situation cannot continue.”
Qalandiya is the main checkpoint between the northern West Bank and Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Palestinians — including East Jerusalem residents cut off from the city by Israel’s security barrier — pass through daily on foot and by car to get to work, school, medical checkups and the like.
The crossing’s dreadful conditions have received much Israeli media attention over the years.
In April, Channel 2 presented “Like Animals”, a [Hebrew language] report showing hundreds of men, young and old, as they arrive at the crossing at 4 a.m. to ensure they can get to their workplaces in Israel on time.
The reporters followed the men as they passed through a small, narrow, metal passageway to reach Israel. A journey that should take half an hour can sometimes stretch to three or four hours due to procedures at the crossing, the report said.
The Qalandiya crossing has been a tinderbox for tensions between Palestinians and Israeli border police.
In July, a Palestinian man died as security forces faced off against some 1,000 Palestinians rioting at the site.
In April, civilian security guards at the crossing shot dead Maram Hassan Abu Ismail, 23, and her brother Ibrahim Saleh Taha, 16 — both from the central West Bank village of Surif. The guards said they suspected the two of planning a stabbing attack.
In July 2015, an Israeli colonel shot dead a Palestinian teenager who had thrown a rock at his vehicle at the checkpoint.The colonel, Yisrael Shomer, was cleared of all charges by the IDF prosecutor’s office in April.
The second checkpoint due for expansion is Checkpoint 300 outside the West Bank city of Bethlehem, near the Jewish pilgrimage site of Rachel’s Tomb. This is a key crossing into Jerusalem from the south and has also been a flash point for Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
In May, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced a two-year multi-million-shekel plan to upgrade West Bank crossings, in a bid to make the checkpoints more efficient and more secure.
Ya’alon said the program, expected to cost some NIS 300 million ($77 million), would decrease the waiting time at crossings by 30 to 50 percent and increase the amount of goods that could be transferred by some 30 percent.
“The plan is designed to increase the number of Palestinian workers who go through the checkpoints, as well as improving their conditions and standing up to the tests of quality and service,” Ya’alon said in a statement.
This plan would also “upgrade the technological level of the [security] measures found at the crossings,” he said.