Major Tariq, a senior commander in the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), works in one of Israel's most sensitive areas. Stationed at the Erez Crossing – just steps away from Gaza – he and his soldiers face the constant threat of attacks from Hamas terrorists. Since 2005, Hamas has launched 8,000 rockets from Gaza at populated areas in Israel’s southern region.
Despite the danger, Maj. Tariq works every day to help Palestinians cross into Israel from Gaza. As a result of his cooperation with the Palestinian Authority – which also works with a division of COGAT in Judea and Samaria – about 400 Gazans travel into Israel each day through the Erez crossing.
"The majority of requests are related to health problems," Maj. Tariq said of civilians traveling through the crossing. Several times each day, Maj. Tariq and his staff direct the Palestinians to Israeli hospitals that can treat their conditions. IDF officials estimate that some 100 Palestinians seeking medical care travel into Israel each day.
Although Palestinians can receive medical treatment in Gaza, many turn to Israeli hospitals for more advanced care. "It is important to note that there are 27 hospitals in Gaza. Gaza's population has the ability to receive medical care on site," Maj. Tariq explained, adding that Israeli hospitals can handle complex health problems that Gazan hospitals are incapable of treating."When a child is sick, injured and needs prompt treatment, we take all precautions and measures so that the child can pass through the crossing as quickly as possible," Maj. Tariq said, explaining that all Gazans in urgent need of medical care receive the highest-priority treatment at the crossing. "IDF soldiers ensure that an ambulance arrives and brings the patients to a nearby Israeli hospital, where they receive necessary medical care," Maj. Tariq added.Many other Gazans cross into Israel to visit relatives living in Judea and Samaria. Each month, IDF officials help more than 3,000 Palestinians pass through the crossing to visit their families. This month, as Palestinian Muslims observe the holiday of Ramadan, higher numbers of travelers are visiting Israel to celebrate the holiday with family members.
Maj. Tariq, who comes from a Druze community in Israel's north, grew up speaking Arabic like many other members of his unit. His fluency allows for a direct line of communication between the IDF and Palestinian travelers. According to Maj. Tariq, he often speaks directly with Gaza residents to understand their needs on an individual level.
Native speakers of Arabic like Maj. Tariq are not the only soldiers who can speak with the travelers in their native language. The unit requires all of its members – from new recruits to commanders – to complete a course in Arabic. This policy ensures that all of the unit's soldiers are prepared to communicate with Gazans directly to discuss their specific requests.