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Settlers and army blocking West Bank roads to Palestinians

12:00 Feb 23 2024 Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT): Jerusalem and West Bank

Settlers and army blocking West Bank roads to Palestinians
Description
Photos: Published by 972Mag
Large boulders block the entry and exit of cars outside Beit Jala, occupied West Bank. (Yuval Abraham)

A dirt mound blocks traffic in the area of Mazmoria, east of Bethlehem, occupied West Bank. (Yuval Abraham)

Israeli soldiers close the Beit Furik checkpoint east of Nablus after a Palestinian attempted to run over soldiers, September 29, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers close a checkpoint in Huwara following a deadly shooting attack, August 19, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Israeli settlers and soldiers block a main road around Nablus in the occupied West Bank, April 10, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

Israeli soldiers close a metal gate at a military checkpoint in Beit Furik, east of Nablus, occupied West Bank, October 19, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

A dirt mound blocks the access road to the Palestinian village of Al-Mughayyir, near Ramallah, occupied West Bank. (Yesh Din)
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By Yuval Abraham for 972Mat
February 23, 2024

Since October, Mahmoud Amer’s village in the occupied West Bank has been under an effective blockade. He can’t leave by car, and every time he wants to leave on foot — whether to visit a relative or run an errand — or invite a guest into the village, he has to ask the adjacent Israeli settlement for permission.

“I call the settlement security coordinator every time the children go to school, or when my sister comes to visit,” Amer told +972 and Local Call. “We were told that if we left on foot without telling them, they would cause us problems.”

Amer lives in Khirbet Sarra, a small village home to about 40 people in the occupied West Bank, between Nablus and Ramallah. According to him, on Oct. 16 — a week and a half after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israel, and Israel launched its assault on Gaza — Israeli soldiers and “settlers wearing military uniforms” placed large boulders across the village’s sole entrance, completely blocking the way for traffic. “A car hasn’t entered the village in four months,” Amer said.

Far from an isolated case, the blockade of Khirbet Sarra is just one example of a widespread and dramatic phenomenon that has taken hold across the West Bank since October 7. Citing intensified security concerns and coming under pressure from settlers, the Israeli army has constructed or permitted the construction of makeshift barriers and checkpoints to prevent dozens of Palestinian villages, towns, and cities from accessing major West Bank arteries. In some cases, villages have been blocked off from every direction.

Major roads are now virtually inaccessible to Palestinians, almost exclusively servicing settlers. In order to travel around the West Bank, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are now forced to drive along unpaved, narrow, and winding roads.

“They created a separate route for the settlers — a ‘security lane’ — so there wouldn’t be Arabs,” said a taxi driver who transports Palestinians on both sides of a dirt barrier that Israeli settlers and soldiers erected on Route 398, near Bethlehem. Due to the blockage, he has to travel along an unpaved road that passes through crowded neighborhoods in southern Bethlehem, meaning a journey that used to take five minutes now takes more than half an hour.

All the Palestinian villages along this section of Route 398 have been cut off by makeshift barriers made out of dirt and rocks. “Anyone leaving Ramallah for Hebron must pass through here,” said a resident of Khirbet al-Deir, near Hebron, who runs a stall by the side of the road selling coffee and cauliflower. In the past, he told +972 and Local Call, the area was quiet; few people drove through it. Today, so much Palestinian traffic has been diverted from elsewhere that it has become a busy thoroughfare.

The main exit from Nablus, the northern West Bank’s largest city, has also been blocked: a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers restricts access to Route 60, the major road connecting Nablus to Ramallah and the southern West Bank.

Palestinian ambulance drivers told +972 and Local Call that they, too, are prevented from entering Nablus through the main entrance, and that their journeys are often significantly elongated as a result of being forced to drive on unpaved bypass roads. (An army spokesperson denied this, claiming: “The movement of ambulances or any humanitarian requirement is permitted on the main roads in the area and there is no order to block or delay their movement.”)

“It used to take me 20 minutes to get to the hospital in Nablus — today it takes me an hour,” said Bashar al-Qaryuti, an ambulance driver from the village of Qaryut. “A week ago, I picked up a severely injured man who had fallen. He was bleeding. I tried to take the fast route, but they wouldn’t let me enter Nablus. They forced me to drive through Palestinian villages.”

Nidal Odeh, an ambulance driver from the town of Huwara, said that the poor quality of the alternative roads exacerbates the suffering of the patients he transports. “They scream in pain because the bypass road through the town of Awarta is unpaved and full of potholes,” he explained. “They ask me to drive slower, but I’m already driving as slowly as I can. When I try to cross the road with seriously injured people, the soldiers at the checkpoint always turn me back.”

‘It reminds me of the Second Intifada’
In Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city, all exits to main roads have been blocked except for one, where access is restricted by an Israeli military checkpoint that is sometimes closed on weekends. “It creates huge traffic jams, because this is the only exit for 250,000 people,” Issa Amro, a human rights activist in the city, told +972 and Local Call.

Further south, in the city of Yatta, the primary exit for 65,000 residents is blocked, and all traffic is redirected to an unpaved sideroad that is barely wide enough for two lanes. The road connecting the villages east of Bethlehem to Hebron is also closed from the south; today, one sees almost exclusively Israeli license plates driving by.

“In many places in the West Bank, the idea is to create a total separation between Palestinians and settlers,” Roni Pelli, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, explained. “The main roads belong to the settlers, and the Palestinians receive a kind of extensive road system full of checkpoints.”

Israeli soldiers are stationed at many of these new roadblocks, and there have been several reports in recent months of soldiers shooting unarmed Palestinians who try to cross. One such fatal incident at the end of December was captured on video: Mohammed al-Jundi approached the unlocked yellow gate that cuts Beit Jala off from the main road passing near the settlement of Har Gilo; he tried to open the gate so a woman could drive through, at which point soldiers positioned behind a nearby rock opened fire on him.
. . .

‘We feel like we’re in a cage’
Although the authorities reportedly intend to remove many of the roadblocks in the leadup to Ramadan, there are still small villages in the West Bank that remain blocked from every direction solely because of pressure from settlers. One such village is Susiya, in the South Hebron Hills.
...
Collective punishment
Often, these measures are clear examples of collective punishment employed by the military in response to violence or protests. On the locked gate of Al-Arroub refugee camp, between Hebron and Bethlehem, soldiers pasted a notice with a message in Arabic: “To the residents of the camp, the gate is closed due to the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at the army and settlers.

“Whenever there is something like this, the gate will be closed for three days,” the message continued. “Don’t let the youngsters make trouble. Israel Defense Forces.”

According to the army’s “movement restrictions” protocol, a community can be besieged only when there is a “concrete security need,” and “no movement restriction may be imposed as a punitive or purely deterrent measure.” The roadblocks must be regulated by a time-bound order, and “sweeping movement restrictions must be avoided, and exceptional permits must be allowed for urgent needs.”

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