A day spent with Palestinians, as they waited for hours in the wind and rain in the hope that the Shin Bet security service would clear them for the privilege of applying for Israeli work permits
On February 13, a rainy, foggy Tuesday, it was the turn of the Hebron-area village of Beit Awwa to take part in the clean-up operation declared by the Israeli authorities. Starting at 6 A.M., hundreds of men aged 20 to 65 gathered at the Tarqumiya checkpoint behind the bars of the security-check facility for people entering Israel.
Once an hour, up until 10 A.M., a Palestinian employee of the Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration, a striped scarf around his neck, collected dozens of ID cards, placed them in a small plastic basket, and brought them into the offices on the other side of the exit lane, with its forest of iron rods and turnstiles. Four armed soldiers were posted at the edge of the facility to prevent the hundreds of men from entering.
Officially, it was an operation to reconsider the status of those previously denied entry into Israel for security reasons; the term “clean-up operation” derives from the argot of the checkpoints and Israeli policy of restricting movement.
“You’re clean,” soldiers of the Civil Administration or Shin Bet security service personnel tell people if the computer screen doesn’t produce reasons for denying them an exit permit. “Clean” has lost its moral meaning and become a purely technical term. Someone who’s been declared “clean” is then entitled to embark on the arduous bureaucratic path of submitting a request for a permit to work in Israel or for a merchant’s exit permit.
In the past few months, Palestinians who had been denied permission to enter Israel or to go abroad have been invited to report to the District Coordination and Liaison Office (or DCL, a branch of the Civil Administration) and submit their IDs for rechecking. The invitation is delivered in two ways. During nighttime raids on villages, soldiers paste on walls or otherwise disseminate Arabic-language notices of the date and place of the operation. Similar announcements are also published on the Facebook page, in Arabic, of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
Residents were apprised of the Beit Awwa operation on the night of February 7. Those who did not hear the soldiers as they entered (one person said he had been awakened by the sound of the stun grenades that the soldiers fired on entering the village) or didn’t see the notices that were pasted on windows or left in the mosque, saw the copy that was publicized within minutes on the social networks. The announcement states, in part: “Operations to lift security denial will continue in the region in accordance with the degree of noninvolvement of the district’s inhabitants in terrorist actions and in incidents of stone- and Molotov [cocktail]-throwing.”
In Tarqumiya, on that same rainy and cold February day, the Palestinian employee of the Civil Administration returned the green ID cards to their owners in batches, between 12:30 and 5 P.M. The first bunch of documents returned in each batch had all been declared “clean.” The eyes of the recipients grew moist. The others congratulated them and awaited their turn. The checkpoint jargon evolved in real-time: “Now he’s handing out the dirty IDs,” people joked in order to hide their disappointment and affront, or they said, “We need to wash.”
There was also much confusion. By the time some of the IDs reached their owners, it was no longer clear whether they were “clean” or “dirty.” In a similar operation conducted at the DCL office in Gush Etzion, south of Bethlehem, the “clean” documents were returned together with a note to that effect, according to a resident of a different Hebron-area village who had been summoned there. Here in Tarqumiya there were no such notes.
“The operation is a Shin Bet initiative,” a source in the Civil Administration told Haaretz. “We’re just supplying logistical assistance.” From clips on the COGAT Facebook page, it can be inferred that the initial check of the documents, via the computer screen, is done by DCL soldiers. Another inference that can be made is that residents from several dozen Palestinian villages have already been invited to take part in the operation.