Palestinians attempting to cross into Israel on Tuesday were turned away by tear gas and smoke grenades, Palestinian media said, putting an end to a brief relaxing of the rules that saw thousands of Palestinians enter without permits for beach outings, with tacit approval from the Israeli authorities.
Israel Defense Forces soldiers reportedly stood by and watched over the past week as West Bank Palestinians streamed into Israel through the security fence.
The IDF declined to comment on its reported decision to block the entry of Palestinians on Tuesday, and on the previous reports on allowing the visitors into Israel.
Palestinians had been crossing through holes in the security barrier by Faroun, a village in the West Bank close to Tulkarem, for weeks. Reports in Palestinian media identified them as workers seeking to cross into Israel illegally to reach their jobs.
Over the past weekend, however, thousands of Palestinians crossed over to visit Israeli beaches in Netanya, Jaffa and Haifa, among other locations. While the trips may have begun spontaneously, the crossings seemed to become increasingly well-organized, with bus services taking West Bank Palestinians from the openings to beaches around the country.
فيديو عند فتحة فرعون على الخط الاخضر ، شوفو كمية الناس والباصات ..
نص الضفة صارت جوا بالداخل
— مش هيك (@meshhek) August 7, 2020
Many were quoted as saying that at no point did they feel threatened — not at the crossing point, nor in the Israeli cities. One Palestinian visitor told Haaretz that military jeeps turned on their headlights in the evening to help direct the families back to the hole in the fence on their way back.
After Tuesday’s closure, however, Palestinian tour companies, many of which had been offering travel deals on social media to West Bank residents to “seize the opportunity to live it up a little,” began posting that the openings were no longer accessible.
Some believe the move was a form of nose-thumbing by Israel after the Palestinian Authority stopped all its coordination with the Jewish state in late May — including coordinating permits for Palestinians to enter Israel — in protest of Israel’s yet-unfulfilled plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry condemned the weekend beach trips, expressing concern that the movement of so many across the border on crowded buses could lead to more coronavirus infections.
“The trips and visits beyond the Green Line to Israel are a main reason for the spread of the virus,” the PA Health Ministry said in a statement.
After a difficult Eid al-Adha holiday, marred by a collapsing economy, some restrictions on gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic and without the permits Israel normally issues for entry during the holiday, many Palestinians seemed inclined to brush off the warnings.
Seemingly in response to the mass crossings, the IDF announced on Monday that it would strengthen its presence in the West Bank, noting in particular that Israeli forces would be sent to reinforce the security barrier.
Israeli police had already begun cracking down on Palestinians entering by Monday, detaining over 60, the Haaretz daily reported.