Palestinian market for stolen Israeli cars is both flourishing and deadly

The official estimates in the PA are that the number of stolen vehicles ranges from 70,000 to 80,000.

By Baruch Yedid, TPS

Halleli, Tov Roi, and Malachi Meudad, three Israeli children who were killed in a car accident in Samaria on Friday afternoon, were laid to rest on Saturday night together at the cemetary in Rehovot, as their two parents were still hospitalized in critical condition.

Their car collided with with another car from the Palestinian Authority near the Ofarim Junction in northern Samaria making an illegal U-turn. The car, an unlicensed “Mashtuba car” should not have been on the road. The teens in the car, Ahmad Salem and Ziad Ibrahim Shalesh, did not have drivers licenses. They too were killed.

The “Mashtuba” (“erased” in Arabic) vehicle market is flourishing in the PA and the demand for illegal cars that have been taken off the road in Israel and deleted from the Licensing Office’s databases is rising.

The “deleted” cars are also openly sold through Facebook pages, in lots and garages in Areas C and B and in the Jerusalem area.

Area C in Judea and Samaria is under full Israel, and Israel has security control in Area B.

The flourishing industry rolls in tens of millions of shekels and the growing demand for old cars is preventing the eradication of the phenomenon. The PA police estimate that more than 60 percent of the drivers with illegal vehicles that originate mainly in Israel are young people under the legal driving age or drivers without a license.

The official estimates in the PA are that the number of illegal vehicles ranges from  70,000 to 80,000. Other estimates claim that their number is 150,000 or more. For comparison, the total number of vehicles authorized by the PA is 300,000.

PA data shows that in 2017, 40 Palestinians were killed in road accidents involving “Mashtuba” cars while Palestinian insurance companies estimate that more than 3% of all reported accidents were caused by these vehicles.

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In the old car lots, vehicles can be purchased at ridiculous prices of NIS 500, a Palestinian source told TPS. A 1998 Hyundai car priced at $10,000 in the Palestinian market will be purchased by “Death Car Dealers” for only $500. The price of a Subaru Impreza in the junk market is $500 while an older Subaru is $10,000.

The demand for “Mashtuba” cars is enormous. Many of the illegal car owners are PA workers who leave for work in Israel in the early morning hours and return towards midnight to villages where there are no public transportation services.

Thousands of Arab workers in Israel own such vehicles and in the woods near the security fence or at the workers’ crossings, parking lots can be found with hundreds of cars driven by the workers who made their way to Israel.

In one of the operations near Highway 443, the Palestinian Authority confiscated close to 600 vehicles, but the lot was filled within a month with another 700 ”Mashtuba” cars. Palestinian car dealers testify that cars smuggled to them in the morning will be sold by night at prices ranging from NIS 500 to NIS 1,000.

The “Mashtuba” cars are even used by residents of villages to transport children to schools and a PA police source estimates that in the population concentrations in southern Mount Hebron, the Jordan Valley and northern Samaria, thousands of such vehicles move on dirt roads while drivers are careful not to get on asphalt roads or approach PA cities for fear of encountering PA police checkpoints.

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A PA officer told TPS that the PA police are working against the phenomenon and are conducting operations to confiscate the illegal vehicles. The vehicles are crushed at police stations in major cities and sold through the Ministry of Finance to the iron industry and the spare parts shops.

Last year, the PA sold 6,700 such vehicles at auctions to spare parts dealers at a cost of NIS 3.5 million. 1,040 garages and 530 old car dealers are legally registered in the PA, but hundreds of unlicensed dealers and garages are partners in the “Mashtuba” industry.

However, the officer noted that the police have been failing for years and are unable to cope with the scale of the phenomenon. The PA has recently set up a team to examine the possibility of regulating the illegal car market.

PA police procedures prohibit police officers from chasing illegal vehicles for fear that they will end in the deaths of drivers. PA police officers say that the chase usually ends with the drivers throwing the vehicle on the side of the road and fleeing on foot, and they often prefer to buy another vehicle within a short time, because the fine, NIS 700, is heavier than the price of the vehicle itself.

The “Mashtuba” phenomenon is very disturbing to the Palestinian Authority and its residents because many who have been injured in road accidents involving these cars, find themselves without insurance. The insurance companies claim that although the residents are not insured, the companies paid a total of $10 million to the victims of the accidents.

The Palestinian Authority prohibits the transfer of used cars from Israel to its territories but allows the sale of spare parts. According to car dealers, this allows hundreds of cars to be transferred from Israel every day under documents stating that they are spare parts.

According to several testimonies, it is possible to order a vehicle that is composed entirely of spare parts and to attach to it yellow license plates from vehicles stolen in Israel or an old PA license plate.

The phenomenon is very common in the PA rural sector and especially in Area C, in places where the Palestinian Authority is present only in a very limited way and is mainly engaged in policing missions of a security nature. The phenomenon is also very common in the areas of the Jerusalem area where Israel is not present and the Palestinian Authority is not allowed to act.

The Palestinian Authority alleges that Israel encourages the transfer of illegal vehicles to the PA’s territories in order to make room for the hundreds of thousands of new vehicles that hit Israeli roads. PA police say they cannot deal with gangs of car thieves in which Israelis and Palestinians are partners.

In the absence of a public transportation system, the dilapidated road infrastructure in the PA rural areas, the high prices of new cars in PA territories and the inability of the police to tackle the problem, the “Mashtuba” phenomenon will flourish in PA and thousands will continue to purchase particularly cheap vehicles, which cost the equivalent of one workday in Israel.

World Israel News staff contributed to this report.