Year by year, the number of soldiers transferred to the occupied territories increases. more than half of the personnel in the army and with them countless checkpoints. The situation depicted in the diagram on the left demonstrates a harsh reality. The life of a Palestinian person is dictated by barriers and obstructions, not all of which are predictable in advance.
Today, every Palestinian person who leaves his home for any need or interest knows that there will be a barrier on his way, that will not allow him to leave the settlement at all, or that he will be forced to stop there: on his way to work or to look for work, on his way to his agricultural lands, on his way to school, to visit family in a nearby village or a distant city, to meet with doctor or for hospital treatment beyond the checkpoint.
Hundreds of checkpoints and blockades are scattered throughout the West Bank (645 in 2023 according to the UN agency OCHA). 23 of them are intended for crossing into the State of Israel (only 9 of them are on the Green Line). 49 checkpoints are constantly manned by Israeli forces or security companies civilians, 139 manned checkpoints from time to time, 304 roadblocks, dirt mounds and road gates, and 73 dirt embankments, road fences and ditches. In Hebron alone, 80 internal checkpoints are set up.
The crossing points to Israel serve over 100,000 men and women a day (mainly to get to work). The State of Israel has made an effort to match some of the largest ones with the appearance of a civilian border crossing, with terminals, inspection tunnels for documents, biometric and electronic means of identification, conveyor belts for checking hand luggage, etc., as well as armed security guards.
The hundreds of small, permanent, or temporary checkpoints and blockades, scattered within the West Bank, disintegrate the territorial continuity of the Palestinian settlement and do not allow the residents to lead a normal life with free movement from place to place.
A bit of history for the X/Y/Z generations:
After the outbreak of the Second Intifada (2001) and in view of the mounting number of terrorist attacks, the Israeli authorities decided to prevent Palestinians from freely entering Israel and to restrict their movement throughout the West Bank as well. The first checkpoints were put up in Jerusalem, and even inside residential neighborhoods. Like them, many checkpoints were created throughout the West Bank and around large Palestinian cities, preventing free entrance and exit, and travel among other locations in the West Bank. Most of the “Ring Checkpoints” were dismantled towards 2010, but many others remained.
In addition, the Separation Barrier was planned and erected, transgressing the ‘green line’ border and in fact annexing lands owned by Palestinians, in order to expand the settler-colonies. Indeed, as the settler-colonies project intensified and grew, so did the number of checkpoints and barriers inside the West Bank.
During its early years, the controlled passage of Palestinians at the checkpoints was administered solely by the Israeli Civil Administration and army. Gradually, the checkpoints were privatized, their operation remained in the hands of the Border Police, regular police, and army, but the ‘security’ responsibility was given over to civilian security firms controlled by the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
So things are carried out as though the checkpoint is active
The ‘flying’ checkpoint that used to be present at Anabta Junction has disappeared. In its stead there is now a wide-open gate, Two cabs arrive from both directions and stop, the passengers disembark and exchange cabs. Why do the cabs not continue on their way, after all the checkpoint stands open? The driver said that 10 minutes ago it was closed, perhaps they might close it again soon in a little while, who knows. So things are carried out as though the checkpoint is active.
(From MW report,12/12/2005)
So how am I supposed to pass my cheese through?!
At the Beit Furiq Checkpoint, a Palestinian cheese producer approaches a soldier and asks to get through with his cheeses, for they spoil in the sun. The soldier says, “You can’t, your vehicle does not have a permit to enter Nablus”. The Palestinian answers: “Here, see? I have a license from the Ministry of Agriculture that I am allowed to get cheeses through. I have sheep, I make cheese and sell it in Ramallah, for Knafe pastry (pointing to dozens of pails filled with cheese). How do I carry all of this to Ramallah now, on my back?” The soldier orders him to “get in the car, turn around, and don’t let me see you here without a permit for your vehicle!”
Half an hour later the Palestinian is back with a vehicle that is permitted to cross, loaded with cheeses. The soldier turns the car back again, for the vehicle has a transit permit but no permit for transferring goods. Only the third vehicle manages to get through.
An hour later, at Huwara Checkpoint we see the man passing pails of cheese from his own car to another one. What happened? At the exit checkpoint from Nablus he had to pass his cheeses to a car that has a permit to exit Nablus through Huwara Checkpoint. Now he must find a vehicle permitted to cross Zaatara Checkpoint and continue to Ramallah.
(From MW Alerts, March 2007)
Photos from a Checkpoint
4 a.m., Tarqumiah Checkpoint. This is a huge, bustling checkpoint. Its car-parks are filled to bursting. Palestinian workers crowd there, among them those who will stay inside Israel for the whole week. The younger men “sneak” into the long line by climbing over the fence and roof: they walk to the edge and a moment before their fall they jump into a door and are swallowed in without you realizing how they do it…
At the area in front of the entrance are stands selling everything needed at this time: cigarettes, falafel, salads, bread, coffee. People have left their homes at 2 a.m. to keep a place in line. They arrive hungry…
Two brothers – 22 and 23-years old – are already married. One of them has a son from his 17-year old wife, explaining to us that the young marry early because only married men are issued work permits in Israel. Such a permit costs 2600-3000 shekels.
A 55-year old worker who is permitted entry into Israel on account of his age has worked for years in farming. He earns 20 shekels an hour. We will not hear him complain, he knows well enough that he can be replaced at any moment.
(From MW report,17/2/2019)
In addition to the large ‘end checkpoints’ (true as to 2020) from the West Bank into Israel and vice-versa, there are dozens and hundreds of different types of barriers inside the Palestinian territory: dirt dykes, boulders, large concrete blocks, watchtowers, army jeeps bearing soldiers, spikes spread across roads, rolling gates, electric wings of gates opened sideways, locked metal arms, drones reporting from above, and even a living barrier of settles who do not only block the Palestinians’ way but wreak heavy damages to mind, body, and property.
All these barriers separate various areas inside the West Bank, disrupting the lives of Palestinians and causing a gradual decline of the social and economic fiber of Palestinian society. These, in addition to the humiliation involved in the passage itself, often causing feelings of hatred and a desire to take revenge. These barriers are located between villages, separating villages from towns; on main roads; at main as well as side entrances to villages and towns; between a village and the farmlands of its inhabitants; or situated on godforsaken tracks leading to small, distant communities. Some of the barriers are fixed on the ground, some are opened one to three days a week, sparingly, for measured hours. Others are opened only several times a year by advance-coordination. For crossing most of the internal checkpoints one needs to hold various types of permits, that are available or renewable at the offices of the DCO.
What is the purpose of internal checkpoints?
Officially, checkpoints have a major role in securing the settler-colonies. However, fragmenting the West Bank into separate parts enables Israel to control the Palestinian population, monitor and prevent passage from one area to another. Furthermore, checkpoints often distance Palestinian villagers from their own lands and property, thus making it easy for settlers to take them over.
Where do they have to go, after all?
Anywhere where people must and want to go: to hospital, work, a funeral, a family visit, official needs, being issued a visa prior to a trip abroad, prayer at the holy sites, purchasing furniture, buying a car… Any human need, from the simplest to the most complicated.
How do the checkpoints cause harm to the lives of Palestinians?
Imagine what your own lives would look like if you were forced to travel among numerous checkpoints and barriers, some of them not opening on time, sometimes facing a long waiting line and chaos, closed many times a year (for the main Jewish holidays, VIP visitors, technical problems and even as punishment) – checkpoints that one cannot know ahead of time whether they would be open or closed, where atmosphere is usually hostile, suspicious. All of this while Israeli citizens and settlers living throughout the West bank may pass freely from place to place inside Areas B and C, and wander around Palestinian villages as they please.
Cross the checkpoint or take a risk and bypass it?
Palestinians leaving their homes in the West Bank for any purpose must cross at least one checkpoint or more. If a Palestinian arrives at a checkpoint without a transit permit, or if he tries to bypass it (and it is possible), he risks punishment. Important documents might be taken from him (IDs, magnetic cards, transit permits), and getting them back is no simple feat. Next time he is caught, he might stand trial at an Israeli military court, and then he will be prevented from entering Israel for years.
What says international law?
The occupying sovereign is obliged to provide the occupied population its welfare and ability to make earn its livelihood, and live in dignity. According to the UN Convention of Human Rights, to which Israel is signatory, “the right to freedom of movement is a part of human “natural” rights – universal rights granted any humans as such.” (Clause 13). The denial of the freedom of movement entails impacting many other human rights, such as dignified earning, health, worship, ownership and more.
Why do the media call the checkpoints “crossings”?
This is the State’s way of “laundering” charged terms. Since the large checkpoints were privatized and handed over to Israeli security firms to manage, the word “crossings” creates the appearance of international border crossings, while these checkpoints are not located upon the ‘green line’ – recognized as a kind of border between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: apparently the State also hopes and plans to continue its control of the Territories inside the West Bank by means of these checkpoints. In the same spirit, the checkpoints’ official names have been changed and replaced by Hebrew names: no longer Qalandiya or Bethlehem Checkpoints, these are now titled Atarot and Rachel Crossings.
What about the security of Israeli citizens?
The separation barriers (fence and walls) were indeed erected for this purpose. However, in reality, thousands cross the separation fence and security tracks daily and enter Israel to work or seek employment without holding passage permits, because they need us and we need them. When former heads of the Shabak (Israel’s security services) are asked about the usefulness of the numerous checkpoints, surprisingly one hears that they, too, are not in favor of having so many. You could find their opinions in the Chapter titled “The Future” of the book “The Gatekeepers”, written after the documentary series.
What do MachsomWatch members do at the checkpoints?
Monitoring and reporting from the various checkpoints are the core of MachsomWatch’s activity as an organization. In teams of 2-3 women, they go out to certain checkpoints, at dawn or in the afternoon. The women observe traffic at the checkpoint, speak with the passersby and with the individuals securing the checkpoint (soldiers, Border Police, policemen, civilian security officials). We also try to help humanitarian cases. What we see, hear, and photograph we then post on the organization’s website. (The sites of our activity are marked and annotated on our interactive map of the West Bank)
Aren’t you scared?
In 2020 we have reached our 20th year of activity in the Occupied Territories. Our presence has never raised hostile reactions from Palestinians, but violent Jewish settlers have subjected us to both physical and verbal violence and abuse. The locals (Palestinians) usually receive us with sympathy, sometimes wonder, always wanting to know, ventilate, ask for advice. True, sometimes they resent us, and justly so, for not managing to change their difficult situation, but however we try to manifest that there are Israelis who are committed to action peace, and friendship. Over the years, our mutual faith in a shared positive and human future has been growing.
Has the situation at the checkpoints not improved during the years you have monitored them?
Interesting question and the answer is yes and no. Physical conditions have indeed improved: several checkpoints around large Palestinians cities such as Nablus have been lifted, even though they can become active again in no time.. There is a decline in open physical violence on the part of the ‘security’ forces. We no longer hear of women giving birth at checkpoints or of inhuman brutality. Several large checkpoints have been upgraded in 2019 and 2020, and electronic identification systems were installed that shorten the wait (expenses of upgrading and operating them amount to hundreds of millions of shekels!). However, the process of issuing passage permits has proliferated into a tough, tightened bureaucratic policy that prevents most of the people from arriving at and crossing the checkpoints.
Read “Then and Now Stories from the Checkpoints