Delayed Ambulances and Traffic Holdups: Israeli Army Blocks Entry to West Bank Villages Since Start of Gaza War

12:00 Mar 19 2024 Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) الأراضي الفلسطينية West Bank: Nablus district

Delayed Ambulances and Traffic Holdups: Israeli Army Blocks Entry to West Bank Villages Since Start of Gaza War Delayed Ambulances and Traffic Holdups: Israeli Army Blocks Entry to West Bank Villages Since Start of Gaza War
Photos: Published by Haaretz
The blocked main entrance to the Palestinian West Bank town of Duma, last week. Credit: Moti Milrod

A roadblock at Khirbet Sarra last week. Credit: Moti Milrod

'We're stopped from going through checkpoints even in emergencies' says a volunteer medic, as West Bank Palestinian residents report having to use dangerous dirt roads and notify settlements in order to travel since Oct. 7

by Hagar Shezaf
Mar 19, 2024 1:21 pm IST

More than five months since October 7 and the start of the Gaza war, the Israeli army is still blocking the main entrances and exits to many Palestinian villages in the West Bank, causing substantial delays in travel and access to medical care as well as financial losses.

The entry road to the Palestinian town of Duma in the northern West Bank has been blocked by Israel Defense Forces since the outbreak of the war. Residents cannot drive their vehicles on the steep and rocky track that now serves as a roadblock, and are forced to use circumventing dirt trails to leave the village. Duma's villagers say that vehicles sometimes get stuck, and that the junction connecting the dirt road to the main road is dangerous.

Duma council head Saliman Dawabshe explains how the roadblock affects it residents. "If you have to take a sick person to [the nearby city of] Nablus, it takes hours. There are also teachers who come from outside the village to teach here, and when the roads are closed, sometimes half of them don't arrive."

Dawabshe notes that settlers and Palestinians are subject to different legal enforcement, pointing to a new road built from an Israeli outpost in the area to the nearby highway. "If I had come here with my work tools, the army would have arrived within five minutes," he adds. Indeed, during a visit by Haaretz to the dirt road that has served as the main entry to Duma, the army quickly arrived to check why cars had stopped there.

"It's emotionally exhausting, this situation," says Ramadan, a Duma worker who lives in Qusra, the entrance to which has also been blocked by an iron barrier. He travels by car using a different dirt road, which Duma residents use to go to the main road, and which is in even worse condition and more dangerous than the road which has become the temporary main entrance.

"What used to take a short time [to travel] now takes a long time," Ramadan says. "It's also dangerous because of both the roads and the settlers, and fuel also costs more."

Another Qusra resident, taxi driver Farid Ali Hassan, says that the roadblocks have greatly harmed his access to his job. "Before the war, it took 25 minutes to drive from Duma to Nablus. Now, it can take more than two hours – or even four – because of the roadblocks, traffic jams, and blockages at the [village] entrance."

Hassan explains that because of the uncertainty and long travel times, people are travelling less. "I drive [and the roads are] empty from Nablus to Duma," he says. "In the past, we would charge each passenger ten shekels, and now we charge 15 shekels because of the roadblocks and long routes, and gas also costs us more."

Hassan says that before the war, he'd earn 300–400 shekels, and he now makes 150 shekels. Nablus – the district's major city – provides services for the neighboring villages, such as trade and a hospital. But people are struggling to reach these services because the Hawara crossing, on the main road to the city, has been closed since the outbreak of the war, and they have to travel using side streets.

"At Hawara, we turn right to a village called Udala, and then go to Awarta, to Rujeib, and from there, to Nablus," says Dawabshe abut the journey. People sometimes detour as far as the Jordan Valley to reach Nablus.

The longer trips also delay ambulances from arriving at their destination. "We're prevented from passing through the Hawara crossing even during emergencies," says Bashar Krayoti, a resident of Krayot in the West Bank Nablus district and volunteer medic.

Krayoti says that soldiers prevent ambulances from taking the shorter route to their destinations, causing them to make much longer journeys. Residents also have no way of knowing which roadblocks will be open or closed every time they depart, Krayoti adds.

The Israeli army announced ten days ago that it was loosening restrictions minimally at the entrance and exit to Nablus, saying that it would allow Palestinian trucks and Israeli cars to pass through the Jit crossing at one of the city's entrances, which would ease traffic in the area.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and MK Tzvi Succot from the Religious Zionism party criticized the decision, and Succot even joined one of the demonstration that settlers organized at the site in order to block the opening of the crossing. During a visit there last Tuesday, vehicles were allowed to leave after being stopped at the checkpoint, but entry to the city was still blocked with an iron gate.

In late October, civil rights organizations and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights reached out to the IDF on the matter, saying that access to seven more villages had been blocked – sometimes completely – and that the hermetic roadblocks were preventing the delivery of water and other goods. The letter stated that some roadblocks had been lifted, but that access to some villages was still completely blocked.

Khirbet Sarra, for example, is a tiny village with 30 residents near the southern West Bank settlement of Shvut Rachel. Since the start of the war, the villagers of Khirbet Sarra have been forbidden from entering it by vehicle, and have had to park their cars at Krayot, two kilometers away, and go by foot from there.

"Before October 7, we'd travel freely. Afterwards, the security forces of the settlement and army told us that it was forbidden to come here by car," says villager Mahmoud Amar. But even when the villagers want to leave by foot, they must notify the IDF security coordinator of the nearby settlement.

"Everyone who leaves must notify [the IDF], and if we don't notify them, they cause problems," says Amar. The Israeli army said that the brigade commander for the region would summon the security coordinator for Shvut Rachel in order to clarify the matter.

The IDF said that "The security forces operate in the [West Bank] district in accordance with the prevailing situation assessment, in order to provide security to all the residents. In light of this, there are flexible checkpoints, and movement is monitored in different areas of the district."

"As for the Jit checkpoint, in light of the current situation assessment and distribution of traffic between the different checkpoints in the district, it was decided to allow the transit of Palestinian trucks and vehicles with Israeli license plates, subject to review," the IDF added. "At this time, the departure of private Palestinian vehicles will not be permitted. The other incidents will be checked and investigated."

Haaretz reports that Duma has been blocked by Israeli forces since 10/7/2023
Villagers from Sarra heading to Shvut Rachel have to park here and walk.
Qusra's entrance blocked by Israeli army.since Oct 7, reported by Haaretz 3/19/2024
Haaretz reports Israeli forces loosening restrictions on entrance to Nablus 3/19/2024
Israeli forces reported easing restrictions on movement through Jit crossing into Nablus 3/19/2024
Villagers from Sarra reported forbidden from entering by car 3/19/2024
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