During October 2003, denial of Palestinian freedom of motion reached unprecedented levels. Movement of Palestinian vehicles on the West Bank roads was forbidden. Passage through checkpoints was often restricted to the level that seriously ill people could not reach hospitals, and doctors were prevented from reaching their clinics. There were no goodwill gestures by Israeli authorities to honor Ramadan, which started on October 26.
MachsomWatch is a human rights organization, whose activists are Israeli women. The organization conducts observations at several checkpoints in the West Bank. Enclosed is the October 2003 summary of the MachsomWatch volunteers’ observations. Detailed reports can be found on our website: www.machsomwatch.org
Abu Dis: the eastern suburb of East Jerusalem; the separation wall passes through this area.
Maale Adumim checkpoint: the checkpoint on the western side of the settlement
Maale Adumim, near Abu Dis.
Sawahre: entrance to Wadi Nar road, which connects Abu Dis and Bethlehem, which is accessible to Palestinians only (and the army).
Qalandiya checkpoint: the checkpoint that monitors the movement between Ramallah and North Jerusalem.
Jubara checkpoint: the checkpoint is located at the junction of roads 574 and 557, south of Tulkarm; it separates Ar Ras, Farun, Shufa and Irtah from Jubara and their cultivation land.
Huwwara checkpoint: the checkpoint that monitors the movement between Nablus and the rural area south of the city.
1. The movement through checkpoints
October 7 (3 days after the Haifa suicide attack, the day after Yom Kippur) was a turning point in the checkpoint policy of the army. Severe closure was declared on the West Bank, and passage of Palestinians was severely restricted since then. All permits (including humanitarian ones) issued before this date were not respected and had to be renewed. The civil administration (CA) offices were closed as a punishment for the shooting attack in the CA office in Tulkarm (October 9). Palestinians were trapped in a Catch 22 situation: the permits expired but the offices were closed. It is worthwhile to add, that even when CA offices are open, permits are needed to reach these offices (another Catch 22) and nobody can be sure that after spending the whole day in the CA, a desired permit will be issued. The request for a permit can be absurd, for example on October 8 in Qalandiya, people passed with valid permits, which became invalid due to a change of orders during the day, and so they were trapped at the checkpoint without a possibility to go home. Women with babies heading to Tulkarm clinics were threatened by soldiers that they will not be allowed to come back (see Jubara report on October 28). Such threats are real enough; On October 30 in Abu Dis our volunteers witnessed punishment of people who moved without permits, by preventing them from going home.
The privilege of passage enjoyed by students and schoolchildren (as compared to the old and the disabled) during September, was severely curtailed during October. In Huwwara, passage of students was prevented on October 11, and was extremely slow and difficult on October 25. In Qalandiya, schoolchildren could pass, but teachers were not allowed to go to schools (see reports from mornings of October 9 and 11). The treatment of schoolchildren in Abu Dis and Jubara is noted below.
The implementation of closure from October 7 till October 20 was so harsh that doctors were not allowed to reach hospitals and clinics (unprecedented during our nearly 3 year activity). Our volunteers witnessed denial of passage for a surgeon in Sawahre (Abu Dis, October 15afternoon) and detention of seven doctors at Ar-Ram on their way to Muqassed hospital onOctober16, because their permits were invalid (see above). The old, ill and disabled depended completely on the judgment of very young, healthy soldiers who usually implemented faithfully very strict regulations. On October 13 afternoon in Qalandiya, and on October 21 morning in Abu Dis, our volunteers witnessed denial of passage of serious humanitarian cases; and onOctober 30 morning, a 90 year old woman who needed to reach medical treatment was denied passage because of a lack of permit. On October 25 and October 29, at a very badly mismanaged checkpoint in Huwwara, disabled people had no chance to pass without Machsomwatch-volunteers’ assistance.
The restrictions of movement described above caused a lot of tension at and around the checkpoints. In their need to reach homes, clinics, working places and schools, people were trying to bypass the checkpoints. They were caught and punished by confiscation of their IDs for many hours. Our volunteers reported punishment of a young student by detention near Izhar settlement for ten and a half hours without food and water (see Huwwara reports fromOctober 25 and 29). Huge scale IDs confiscation was reported in Qalandiya (see afternoon reports on October 14, 21, 22 and 28). Big crowds at checkpoints were managed by constant “drilling and educating” people by soldiers and Border Police. Our volunteers witnessed closing of the Huwwara checkpoint for the whole two hours on a very hot day (October 25), because of “disorder”, created by very inexperienced soldiers. Very vulgar behavior of the soldiers towards a crowd of Palestinians workers was observed in Maale Adumim on October 23(see Abu Dis morning report).
2. Restriction of movement on roads
All movement of Palestinian vehicles on the West Bank roads was again forbidden. Two years ago, Defense Minister Ben Eliezer issued an order, which forbade movement of Palestinian cars on the connecting roads of the West Bank. During the last couple of months, we have seen relaxation of the implementation of this order, and cars were tolerated on the roads. Since October 7, the order was re-applied and cars driving on the roads were confiscated. Public transportation became nonexistent. This was reported in Nablus area (see HuwwaraOctober 11, 18, and 25) and in Bethlehem area (October 19 and 26). Our volunteers were contacted by drivers (including bus drivers) whose keys were confiscated; the drivers were held at the checkpoints for many hours as a punishment for breaking the prohibition. Lack of transportation added enormously to the disorganization of the Palestinian life; e.g., on October 26 our volunteers witnessed hundreds of people marching along route 60 from Beit Omar and al-Arroub in the direction of the Etzion junction, looking in vain for means of transportation.
3. Life around the separation wall
a. Abu Dis
The only small gate in the Abu Dis wall was closed finally at the beginning of October (see morning reports for Abu Dis, October 3, 5 and 7). Movement to nearby schools, hospitals, medical clinics and shopping centers has been pursued by climbing over the high wall. The “legal” movement to the Western side of the wall requires permits from the civil administration (generally not provided, see above) and lengthy roundabout travel through Maale Adumim and Hizme checkpoints. In order to prevent people from climbing over the wall, gas grenades were thrown by the Border Police. Gas grenades were thrown nearly every morning, preventing many children from going to schools (see reports from October 7 and 9). There were even reports of armed threats to pupils (October 21).
From October 4 (the beginning of the closure ) there was no passage of people through Jubara and Tulkarm checkpoints, i.e. there was no movement between the villages and the “Israeli side”. The closure was implemented completely, meaning that food and medicines were provided by the Red Cross only (see reports from October 8 morning and October 28afternoon). Gates leading to olive groves and fields remained closed in spite of the olive harvest season (see reports of October 13 and 28), preventing villagers from reaching their fields. Children were allowed to attend schools only intermittently. Jubara citizens were requested to apply to the CA office for special residence permits. In response to citizens’ refusal to do so, a special tight closure around Jubara village was imposed in order to break their spirit. (See reports from October 20 and 28).