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>Israel Faxx
>PD Feb. 20, 1995 V3,#34

Some Palestinians Allowed to Enter Israel

By Patricia Golan (Jerusalem)

Israel on Sunday allowed into the country several hundred Palestinian workers -- the first since it sealed the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Last week, in hopes of reviving the peace process with the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to begin lifting the month-old closure imposed following a suicide bombing in Israel that killed 21 Israelis.

In his meeting last Thursday with PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat, Rabin promised the closure would be lifted gradually. Rabin said he was satisfied that the Palestinian Autonomy Authority was serious about cracking down on Islamic militants attacking Israelis. The authority headed by Arafat has arrested more than 100 alleged radicals, and set up a military court for security cases. The moves -- praised by Israel -- have enraged many Palestinians.

Only a few hundred of the initial 15,000 workers being allowed into Israel managed to get entry permits on Sunday. Only married men over the age of 30 are being issued permits. Before the closure, an estimated 60,000 Palestinians crossed daily to jobs inside Israel.

A 19-year-old Gazan was shot to death at the Gaza checkpoint, by Israeli soldiers, nervous about possible suicide bombers. An army spokesman says the victim failed to stop his car at army orders. Palestinian sources say the man was on foot and was only trying to sneak into Israel.

Members of both Israel's ruling Labor party and the opposition Likud party have called for retaining the closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They say allowing Palestinians in again exposes Israelis to more attacks.

Labor member of parliament Haggai Merom says that even though he knows the Palestinians have suffered economically because of the closure, security for Israelis is more important than economic considerations. "I even prefer that the State of Israel will put money and invest money in the Palestinian economy right now, rather than opening the closure and allowing thousands of workers to come into the State of Israel, and afterwards to face such terrorist activities as they did before."

The closures imposed after successive deadly attacks have not only prevented tens of thousands of Palestinians from earning a living, they have denied Israeli employers access to cheap labor. Israel has imported some 60,000 workers from abroad -- mainly from Romania and Thailand -- to replace the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, at Sunday's weekly Cabinet meeting, the Israeli government approved the expansion of three settlements around Jerusalem, overriding the objections of four left-wing ministers from the Meretz bloc. Meretz ministers believe any continued construction in the West Bank can harm the peace talks with the Palestinians.

A View from Ramallah

By Al Pessin (Ramallah)

(Jerusalem correspondent Al Pessin visited the West Bank town of Ramallah and filed this report on the economic impact of the closure.)

Ramallah is the West Bank's boom town, complete with traffic jams, thriving markets, construction projects on nearly every street downtown and new businesses opening daily. Wealthy Palestinians who have returned from abroad combine with international organizations to keep the local economy going even in the worst of times. But even here the impact of the closure can be seen among people browsing in the stores and looking at items in their display cases, but not buying.

One man, strolling along Ramallah's main street with his wife and five small children, looks through the window of a shoe store, but he is not buying. He says he used to buy all of his children new outfits for the festival at the end of the Muslim holy month, Ramadan.

That festival is now just one week away, and he says the children will have to do without new outfits this year. The man, who refused to give his name, says he used to work as a cleaner in Jerusalem, but has not been able to get to his job since the closure was imposed. He says he recently had to take a loan from a relative to keep his children fed. The man and his family are among the tens of thousands of Palestinians who suffer from these occasional border closures.

Israeli officials acknowledge the problem, but say they must close the borders for safety reasons at times of active terrorism. Palestinian officials say the closures are counter-productive -- not really giving Israel security and increasing anger against Israel in the territories, and potentially increasing support for the terrorism Israel is trying to stop.

Israeli leaders say they would like to lift the closure entirely, but they cannot until the Palestinian Autonomy Authority does more to fight terrorism -- and proves it will take such measures over time. Israel is also concerned about violence as Ramadan comes to an end. That means the closure will likely continue in some form for some time to come, bad news for Palestinian workers and merchants, and, they say, for the peace process as well.

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