The Jalama/Gilboa crossing point was upgraded this week from pedestrians only to vehicular traffic. The opening of the upgraded crossing was attended by Silvan Shalom, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development; Avishay Braverman, Minister of Minority Affairs; Matan Vilnai, Deputy Minister of Defense; Tony Blair, Quartet special envoy; Moussa Kadura, Governor of Jenin; and Danny Atar, Head of Gilboa Regional Council. The crossing upgrade was aided by USAID.
The crossing has been used in recent years mostly by Israeli Arabs going to Jenin to shop. Since Israeli Arabs have been allowed to travel to Jenin, Tul Karem, Jericho and Bethlehem, these cities have seen a significant rise in retail trade, stimulating the local economies.
Permitting the passage of vehicles and not only pedestrians should facilitate movement of foreign diplomats and international organizations' employees and lead to increased numbers of Israeli Arabs entering the West Bank and increased commercial activity in Jenin and northern Samaria. It is estimated that 400 vehicles will cross daily, and 600 on the weekend. From January to July 2009, 78,000 Israeli Arabs entered Jenin, compared to 48,000 in the same period the previous year. Comparing October 2009 and October 2008 shows an increase of 30% in the passage of goods and people. As mentioned, a large part of these were Arab Israelis going shopping in Jenin. It is estimated that Arab Israelis visiting Jenin, Tul Karen and Nablus alone already account for NIS 8 million every weekend.
At the opening event, the speakers praised the outstanding cooperation that made the upgrade possible. Mr. Blair stressed that, although the move seems to be simple and normal, its significance lies in its symbolism. “You showed that it can be different,” he said.
The Israeli speakers reiterated Israel’s commitment to continuing the negotiations with the Palestinians. Minister Shalom took the opportunity to publicly urge Abu Mazen and Fayad to return to the negotiating table.
All of the participants took special note of the cooperation and special ties between Gilboa Council Head Atar and Jenin Governor Kadura. Atar talked about a venture to establish a joint industrial park, which would boost the regional economy and provide thousands of jobs. Kadura expressed his hope that the crossing will soon be open to free passage of both sides.