Palestinian police wage war on stolen Israeli car traffic

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


At the police officer's gesture, the bulldozer smashes its shovel into a blue Hyundai -- the latest of thousands of cars destroyed by Palestinian police every year.

The car's owner and her children protest, but receive little sympathy.

"This car has not been legally registered since 2007, despite its Israeli licence plates," the officer, who declines to give his name, tells AFP.

"I asked her to produce documents and she couldn't present any."

The operation is part of efforts to combat a large underground car market that sees vehicles stolen in Israel or deemed unfit for the roads there transported into the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian authorities are concerned in part because crimes are often carried out using such unregistered cars still carrying their old Israeli plates.

Throughout the West Bank, vacant lots covered with stacks of hundreds of cars crushed by bulldozers bearing Israeli plates are an indication of the police crackdown.

Two vehicles of armed police and two bulldozers were involved in the recent roadside demolition at Al-Ram, a Palestinian area on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The officer heading the operation said he had seized 100 vehicles lacking documents in a day.

Many are crushed on the spot without a longer trial, before being taken away to landfills.

In 2016, 16,000 vehicles met the same fate, Palestinian police said, with 5,000 in January and February in the small territory occupied for 50 years by Israel.

Some of the cars were stolen from Israel and illegally brought into the West Bank for resale to Palestinians.

Others were declared unfit to run on Israeli roads, where annual tests check the condition of the vehicles in circulation.

They are removed from Israeli registers, and their owners are supposed to scrap them.

But instead they are often transported to the West Bank, where they pass into Palestinian hands at unbeatable prices, sometimes just a few hundred dollars.

- 'A landfill' -

Israelis and Palestinians are still struggling with an inextricable conflict over the land, and Israel has built an imposing security barrier that runs through the West Bank.

Heavily guarded checkpoints closely monitor what goes into Israel, including cars, but controls are far looser going in the opposite direction.

Palestinian police are not allowed to operate on the other side of the checkpoints, as they remain under the exclusive control of the Israeli army.

The Israeli guards show less concern in stopping vehicles with Israeli yellow plates, allowed to enter the West Bank, than those with Palestinian white plates, which are banned from entering Israel.

Holders of Israeli identity papers -- Palestinians from east Jerusalem or Arab Israelis -- can use this blind spot to drive the cars to the West Bank.

Cars deemed illegal in Israel are thus able to crisscross the West Bank freely, causing a headache for Palestinian police, spokesman Louay Ezrikat said.

"Most of the crimes and offences committed in the West Bank, such as thefts or attacks, are carried out using unregistered vehicles with yellow plates," he said in his office in Ramallah.

A policeman recently died after being hit with such a vehicle when the driver refused to stop for a check.

Of the 15 Palestinians killed on the road in January and February, seven died in accidents involving unregistered vehicles, he added.

The ministry of religious endowments recently set the topic of such cars as the theme of the sermon at Friday prayers in all mosques in the West Bank.

Ezrikat points a finger at Israeli authorities, who conduct strict checks on what enters Israel but have little concern for what leaves.

"All of these vehicles enter from Israeli-controlled checkpoints, which allow Israeli individuals to make the Palestinian territories a landfill," Ezrikat said.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the issue was well known to them and they cooperated fully with their Palestinian counterparts, including regular arrests.