How do terror groups smuggle weapons, money and contraband between Palestinian Authority-controlled areas and Israeli towns and cities? One way is via a dirt path that runs from Chevron to an area south of Arad. Yediot Acharonot reporters in recent days tested claims by the IDF that the path, whose existence has been long-known to security officials, was closed down – but over the weekend, the path was found to be wide open.
It is this path, that runs in the hinterland south of Chevron into Israeli territory, that the terrorists who carried out a shooting attack at the Sarona Mall in Tel Aviv in June 2016 used to get to into Israel. In its experiment, Yediot reporters took with them a toy rifle, and drove from Chevron to the unattended border crossing. They were stopped not once – and the entire trip, on a road barely six miles long, took them 25 minutes.
The term “dirt path” is a bit misleading, as well, the report said. “Except for two spots, where the Civil Administration had attempted in the past to block the road, we did not come across what could be called challenging road conditions,” the report said. “We saw Palestinians making their way to and from villages along the route. A few kilometers before Arad, we were passed by an Arab vehicle with its license plates number rubbed out, coming from the direction of Israeli territory.”
Most of the path runs through an IDF firing zone, the report said. Fire Zone 918 is supposed to be off limits to civilians, but the area is home to at least 500 illegally built structures, located in 13 illegal villages. In 2017, the Regavim organization sued the state for failing to close off the path, and in June 2018 the High Court issued an injunction against continued illegal construction in the area. A hearing was scheduled on the matter for February, but the state told the court in January that the road had been blocked in three places. During their ride, the Yediot reporters were able to identify where the road had been blocked, but the closure had been removed by Arabs.
Responding to the report, Regavim chairman Yishai Hamo said that “despite our petitions that construction work in an IDF fire zone is illegal, nothing has been done to enforce the law. This is a significant security threat. Anyone can pass anything they want along this route.” The Union for Citizens’ Rights, which represents residents of the illegal Arab villages in the area, said that keeping the road open was essential “because it is a main thoroughfare for residents, used to transport food, water and medicine. It is the army’s duty to deal with smuggling of illicit and illegal items.”
A spokesperson for the IDF Unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, which is responsible for security in the area, said that “the issue of security on this path is well-known to officials and it has been blocked numerous times, most recently just three weeks ago. We also enforce regulations in Fire Zone 918 on a regular basis. We will continue to enforce regulations and use our authority as needed.”