Unable to return to Gaza, hundreds of laborers detained by IDF in the West Bank

Their Israeli work permits revoked, many Gazans seeking to stay in PA-ruled areas were apprehended and are being held in IDF facilities awaiting war’s end

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

File: Palestinian workers enter Israel after crossing from Gaza, on the Israeli side of Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
File: Palestinian workers enter Israel after crossing from Gaza, on the Israeli side of Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel has been holding an unknown number of Gazan laborers in West Bank military facilities since October 7, after Hamas stormed 22 southern border towns and communities and massacred over 1,400 Israelis.

The Gazans, whose work permits have meanwhile been revoked, are mostly being detained at the Anatot base northeast of Jerusalem, according to an army spokesperson, who added that they cannot be returned to Gaza for the time being.

Their numbers are estimated to be in the hundreds, with Channel 12 claiming there may be as many as 4,000.

Before Hamas’s attack, Israel issued 17,500 daily permits for Gazans to work in Israel, mostly in agriculture and construction. Jerusalem had been considering increasing the number to 20,000, on condition that Hamas would halt border riots.

Erez, the only land border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, was destroyed by Hamas terrorists on October 7 and has been hermetically sealed ever since. The IDF says that all stranded Gazan laborers were rounded up and transferred to Anatot shortly after the war’s outbreak. Palestinian media and Israeli NGOs have reported, however, that many of them managed to cross into the territories of the Palestinian Authority and sought refuge with local residents. Over the subsequent days, the IDF reportedly sought to locate all Gazans in the West Bank and transfer them to the detention facilities.

Anatot is the only base that the IDF stated it has been using, but the Israeli NGO Gisha also mentioned use of the Ofer detention facility north of Jerusalem, as well as other military bases in the West Bank.

The Palestinian official news agency Wafa reported that 50 Gazan laborers were arrested in Hebron on October 17, and an additional 40 on October 23, while 50 were reportedly detained as they were sheltering in the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem on October 19. Several Gazans were also detained during a raid in the town of al-Ram, north of Jerusalem, on October 22, Wafa said.

The Gazans’ detention does not legally amount to an arrest, and will persist until the situation in Gaza allows for their return. The detainees have not been allowed to seek legal representation, and it is unclear whether their internment under the present conditions is lawful.

Security forces have been investigating whether any of the laborers provided information to Hamas regarding Israeli towns and communities surrounding Gaza, thereby helping them in their deadly mission to locate targets and maximize the impact of their onslaught.

Several Israeli human rights groups sent a letter to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara on October 12, lamenting the fact that no charges had been presented for holding the laborers in custody, and asserting that their “most fundamental rights, particularly protection for their rights to due process, legal counsel, and judicial review,” were being violated.

The letter, signed by the Center for the Defense of the Individual, the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights and the Adalah Legal Center, alleged that the measure was an act of vengeance, forbidden during hostilities according to international law, and that all Gazan laborers had been admitted into Israel and received work permits following “diligent screening” by Israel’s security.

Palestinian workers are seen at the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, as they wait to enter Israel for work, on March 13, 2022. (Attia Muhammed/Flash90)

War between Israel and Hamas began on October 7 when the terror group abruptly launched a ground, air, and sea assault from the Gaza Strip on the Jewish state. Under the cover of a barrage of thousands of rockets, over 2,500 gunmen crossed the border and rampaged murderously through southern towns, killing more than 1,400, most of whom were civilians.

Some 200,000 Israelis have been displaced from both the south and the north, which has also come under rocket barrages from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.

Israel has responded with intensive strikes on Hamas targets, while vowing to destroy the terror group and remove it from power in Gaza, where it has ruled since 2007. Gaza civilians residing in the north of the Strip have been told to evacuate, and the IDF has massed troops ahead of an expected ground incursion.

Israel has repeated its calls for people to leave northern Gaza, including by dropping leaflets from the air. It is estimated that 700,000 have already fled. But hundreds of thousands remain and Hamas has urged them to stay put.

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