Some Palestinian Cars Allowed in East Jerusalem

In recent weeks it has been reported that for the first time in more than a decade, Israel is allowing some Palestinians from the West Bank to drive their cars into Jerusalem. Looking at the headlines, this may appear to some to be a major shift in Israeli policy (Haaretz: For first time in 15 years, private Palestinian vehicles to be allowed into Israel; Jerusalem Post: For first time in 15 years, some Palestinian vehicles can enter Israel). 

In reality, Israel is not changing its policy of prohibiting private Palestinian vehicles from entering East Jerusalem or Israel. Rather, it is creating an exception for a specific and very narrow category of vehicles: those driven by Palestinian medical personnel working in medical facilities in both East and West Jerusalem, and specifically those working at irregular or on-call hours. And it should be noted that the permission appears to be limited to driving to and from the place of work. Some press reports have alluded to the possibility of further permits for Palestinian businesspeople from the West Bank, but there is no indication of when this would happen or what the criteria would be.

Second, the decision to grant permits for Palestinian medical personnel to drive into Jerusalem is good news, given the difficulties medical facilities on both sides of the Green Line have often faced in getting their Palestinian staff, including doctors, entry into Jerusalem to serve their patients. These entry issues pose serious problems both for Israelis and East Jerusalem Palestinians, given that the one sector in Jerusalem where they are treated equally is the health sector. At the same time, the ability to access Jerusalem is an even more acute issue for Palestinian medical facilities – like the Augusta Victoria Hospital – which serves not only East Jerusalemites but Palestinians from the West Bank (when they can get permits to enter Jerusalem for treatment).

And third, this decision underscores the degree to which Israeli blanket restrictions on Palestinian vehicular access to East Jerusalem are as much if not more about politics as they are about security (the same can be said for its longstanding limits on Palestinian access to the city for individuals without cars). For 15 years, Israel has barred these medical personnel from driving into Jerusalem, ostensibly for reasons of security. Nothing has happened now – at a time when Jerusalem has recently proven more volatile than ever – that makes these medical personnel less of a security risk. Easing access to Jerusalem for Palestinian medical personnel is good – but it is hardly a major deviation from the blanket Israeli policies which contribute to sealing Palestinian East Jerusalem from its environs in the West Bank.