Five Israeli soldiers were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of accepting bribes in exchange for allowing Palestinians without permits to enter Israel.
The five soldiers all serve at the Te’enim checkpoint between Israel and the West Bank, near the town of Tulkarem. Channel 10 news reported that one was the commander of the checkpoint.
The soldiers allegedly accepted tens of thousands of shekels and drugs from an Israeli Arab man in exchange for turning a blind eye to the Palestinians illegally entering Israel. The man, Ziyad Hadija, a resident of the nearby Israeli Arab town of Qalansawe, is suspected by police of heading a human smuggling operation of unauthorized Palestinians.
Hadija was also arrested for his involvement in the affair, as was Fadi Hantash, a Palestinian resident of Tulkarem who police say shepherded the unauthorized Palestinians to the Te’enim checkpoint, from where Hadija ensured their entry to Israel by bribing the suspected soldiers.
A lawyer for Hadija told Channel 2 that his client denies all charges against him.
Hantash was arrested last week in his home near Tulkarem.
The investigation, which was carried out by both the Israel Police and the Military Police, was opened after a Border Police unit received intelligence regarding the smuggling of illegal Palestinians into the country.
Detectives carried out six months of undercover intelligence work at the Te’enim checkpoint, where they observed how the Palestinians were smuggled into Israel, as well as how the soldiers received bribes of drugs and money, with the soldiers going so far as setting up a bank account in which Hadija would deposit the bribe money.
The questioning of the suspects will likely be completed in the coming days, upon which the soldiers, Hantash and Hadija are expected to face severe charges, according to Channel 2.
In August, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said that an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Palestinians enter Israel illegally every day in order to work by exploiting weak points in Israel’s West Bank security barrier.
The IDF chief also said that over 40 percent of the terror attacks carried out during a roughly year-long upsurge in violence beginning in October 2015 were in some way connected to Palestinians who were in Israel illegally.
Last June, Palestinian cousins Muhammad and Khalid Muhamra of the southern West Bank town of Yatta killed four Israelis in a shooting attack at Tel Aviv’s popular Sarona Market after entering Israel illegally, with the attack leading to widespread scrutiny in the country over the ability of tens of thousands of Palestinians to enter the country illegally every day.