Restrictions on Freedom of Movement – on the day-to-day petty harassment of the occupation
Nothing in the item posted here is new. But it is a useful reminder of how “Israel enforces severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank, using a system of permanent and temporary checkpoints, which are staffed, and physical obstructions, which are unmanned.” And of B’tselem’s excellent work in defence of human rights in the Occupied Territories. This page is just one of hundreds of informative pages on the B’tselem website.
The number of permanent checkpoints barely changed in 2007, averaging 102 a month. A December 2007 count found 99. Of these, 36 permanent checkpoints are the last control point between the West Bank and Israeli sovereign property, although most are actually located several kilometers from the Green Line. They are run by the army, the Border Police, or civilian security companies. The other 63 permanent checkpoints are located deep within the West Bank (16 of them inside the city of Hebron). These “internal” checkpoints are run by the army, 47 of them staffed around the clock and the rest intermittently. In addition to the permanent checkpoints, the army sets up dozens of temporary “flying” checkpoints every week.
Restrictions on Palestinians wanting to cross checkpoints vary from checkpoint to checkpoint and from time to time. At almost all of them, Palestinians have to show an identity card or crossing permit, which are checked in the manner customary at the particular checkpoint. Often, soldiers inspect vehicles and passengers’ belongings.
At some checkpoints, Israel occasionally prevents men of a certain age group, usually 16-35, from crossing. This restriction is especially common at the checkpoints in Nablus District. From time to time, Israel places a sweeping restriction prohibiting residents of a particular district from crossing staffed checkpoints by foot, or, alternatively, from crossing by vehicle. Restrictions of this kind are common in the Jenin and Nablus districts. At certain checkpoints, vehicles are allowed to cross only if they have special permits, which are generally given only to public-transportation and commercial vehicles.
In addition, Israel has closed off access roads to main roads with a variety of physical means, among them dirt mounds, concrete blocks, boulders, fences, trenches, and iron gates. The number of obstructions in place changes frequently, depending on political and security considerations; in 2007, they averaged 459 a month. Unlike staffed checkpoints, physical obstructions leave no room for flexibility in permitting crossing, as there is no one present to remove the obstruction in cases of emergency. In addition to blocking vehicle access, they also bar access from many pedestrians who cannot climb over or go around them – the elderly, ill persons, pregnant women, and small children.
This system of restrictions enables Israel to designate some of the roads in the West Bank for primary or exclusive use by Israelis, mainly settlers living in the West Bank. Israel prohibits Palestinian vehicles from even crossing certain roads. As a result of this prohibition, Palestinian traffic is restricted to those roads that remain open to use. Upon reaching a prohibited road, Palestinian drivers and passengers have to leave their vehicles by the side of the road, cross it by foot, and then find alternate transportation on the other side. Palestinians are forbidden to use, or are restricted in their use of, more than 300 kilometers of roads in the West Bank; Israelis are free to use these roads with no restriction whatsoever.
Prolonged checks and searches carried out by soldiers at some of the staffed checkpoints, and the accompanying degradation and long lines that result, deter Palestinians from using even some roads that are open to them. Consequently, there is light Palestinian travel on some of the main West Bank roads, and these roads are essentially used only by Israeli settlers.
The forbidden-roads policy is not set forth in military legislation or in any official document, except for the prohibition on travel on route 443, which was made by formal order after five years of prohibition and following a petition filed in the matter with the High Court of Justice. In response to B’Tselem’s inquiry on this point, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office stated that the restrictions are based on “oral orders” issued by soldiers. This lack of transparency adds a dimension of uncertainty to this policy. The result is that it is difficult to criticize such a policy and challenge its legality.
One of the main purposes of the policy to restrict Palestinian movement is to protect Israeli settlers. Given that the settlements are illegal, the policy only aggravates the situation: it comprehensively and disproportionately impedes the freedom of movement of an entire population in order to perpetuate an illegal enterprise. If the restrictions were intended to prevent attacks inside Israel, and not in the settlements, the policy would still be illegal because it is sweeping and disproportionate, giving it a semblance of collective punishment which is forbidden.
Furthermore, Israel’s policy is based on the assumption that every single Palestinian is a security threat, thereby justifying restrictions on his or her freedom of movement. This assumption is racist and leads to the sweeping violation of the human rights of an entire population on the basis of national origin. As such, the policy flagrantly violates international law.