Months after the Palestinian Authority stopped security cooperation with the IDF, officers in the West Bank have understood that the challenges they face are greater, including getting the coronavirus pandemic under control.
“During the first wave, there was still security cooperation between the two sides and the Palestinians were able to close villages and stop people from moving around,” Lt.-Col. Wafa Kherbawi, deputy commander of the Ephraim Brigade told The Jerusalem Post on a visit to the northern West Bank. “Now, during the second wave, there’s no cooperation and neither side has been able to stop the chain of infection.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced in May that the authority would end security coordination with Israel in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to annex parts of the West Bank as well as the Jordan Valley.
While talk about annexation has faded in recent weeks, the number of coronavirus cases on both sides has increased due in part to the cancellation of the coordination, which allowed PA police to enter Area C, home to 300,000 Palestinians and under full Israeli administrative and military control.
Kherbawi told the Post that during the first wave, PA security forces helped enforce health rules in Area C, putting up roadblocks and closing routes to villages, but no longer do so.
Under the coordination agreement with Israel, PA security forces were able to enter Area C if they contacted the IDF first. But after ties were suspended, PA police withdrew to Area A.
In late May, the PA eased the lockdown it had imposed in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, but it has since struggled to contain the second wave, which has spread across the West Bank with large spikes in Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah.
There are more than 7,820 active cases in the West Bank and more than 80 people have died.
According to Kherbawi, people have stopped being afraid of the virus because the economic fallout from the first wave has become too much to bear.
“People just want to work,” he said, driving along the separation barrier between Kfar Saba and Kalkilya.
Built in 2002 to reduce terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada, there are about 148 km. of fence and concrete barriers separating the West Bank from Israel.
With the majority of the barrier consisting of an electronic barbed-wire fence, there are daily infiltrations into Israel, and according to Kherbawi, there’s been a rise in illegal workers crossing into Israel through holes in the fence.
During the drive, Kherbawi pointed to several points along the fence that had been cut open to allow for people to cross into Israel.
“We are always concerned that illegal workers might carry out an attack,” he said, adding that most Palestinians who cross into Israel want to work rather than carry out terror attacks.
Nevertheless, troops are always on high alert and will be building a new section of the concrete barrier to separate Kalkilya from Route 444 outside of Kfar Saba.
With the economic fallout from the coronavirus being the top concern in both the West Bank and Israel, talk of annexation has fallen to the wayside, and concerns of violent rioting has decreased.
While IDF troops had prepared for violence in the West Bank, as well as terrorist attacks against troops and civilians during protests, that’s not the main concern these days.
“People have less energy to protest these days,” Kherbawi said.