"Since the beginning of the second intifada, in September 2000, Israel has imposed restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank that are unprecedented in scope and time," human rights organization B'Tselem said in a report published this week.
"As a result, the fundamental right of West Bank Palestinians to freedom of movement, their exercise of which was limited in any event, has become a privilege that Israel extends to them as it deems fit," the report added.
According to B’Tselem, Israel’s restrictions on movement in the West Bank have split the area into six geographical sections. In addition, Israel severely restricts movement within the sections by splitting them up into subsections, and by controlling and limiting movement between them. As a result, every aspect of Palestinian life has been affected.
According to the report, the restrictions make access to medical facilities very difficult, both for medical staff and Palestinians seeking medical care.
Due to this, the level of care in many medical centers is compromised because of the absence or tardiness of doctors and medical staff. The restrictions also make it difficult, and sometimes impossible for emergency medical teams to reach the injured and sick.
Pregnant women who wish to deliver their babies in a hospital are required to go to the Coordination and Liaison Unit every couple of days in order to renew their travel documents. “Due to this, there have been cases of women giving birth at the checkpoint itself, after being held up for not having valid permits,” the report said.
The restrictions also make getting to work difficult, therefore gravely affecting the West Bank’s economy and trade. B’Tselem reported a 40% drop in the gross domestic product (GDP) amongst West Bank Palestinians.
The report also mentioned the restrictions’ negative affect on tourism in the West Bank. Many establishments opened in the years between the Oslo agreement and the breakout of the second intifada have been forced to close their doors. Farmers too suffer from the restrictions, as they are often denied access to their fields.
According to the report, Israel combines a number of means in implementing the restrictions-on-movement regime, including fixed and temporary checkpoints, 455 physical obstructions on roads, and the Separation Fence.
The report counted 82 manned checkpoints, of which 35 are positioned just before the Green Line, and 47 are positioned several kilometers away from the Green Line, restricting Palestinians’ movement inside the West Bank.
In addition, the report mentions areas where entry is only possible through checkpoints and is subject to checks and possession of a permit. Also, vehicles bearing Palestinian license plates are forbidden or restricted on 312 kilometers of main roads in the West Bank.
According to the report, “This separation results in the de facto annexation of these roads by Israel.”
The report discussed the fact that Israel claims the restrictions on movement in the West Bank are a necessary response, limited in time, to security threats facing the state and its citizens.
“The State of Israel has the right, even the duty, to protect its citizens. It may also be that some of the restrictions were needed at first. However, it appears that Israel continues to apply these means even after the temporary and specific security need has passed, and use them to achieve other objectives, among them controlling and regulating the movement of Palestinian vehicles to separate them from the settlers and other Israelis on roads in the West Bank, and to create a rapid and convenient road network for the settlers.
“A substantial proportion of the restrictions is intended to serve these improper interests, rendering the restrictions illegal. Furthermore, even if all the restrictions were intended to achieve legitimate security interests, many of them would violate the principle of proportionality, and therefore be illegal.
“Israel contends that the restrictions on movement are imposed as part of its ongoing battle against security threats, and are not intended as punishment. However, the vast majority of the victims of the restrictions are not suspected of personal involvement in any terror activity.
“Based on the results of Israel 's actions and taking into account that most of the restrictions have continued for seven years, the conclusion is inescapable that the restrictions constitute collective punishment, which is absolutely forbidden by international humanitarian law."
In its report, B’Tselem called on Israel to immediately remove all permanent and sweeping restrictions on movement in the West Bank, and in their place, concentrate the means used to protect Israeli citizens along the Green Line or inside Israel.
The organization also called for the immediate evacuation of all settlements in the West Bank. “Until this is done, Israel must safeguard the lives of the settlers, giving preference to means that restrict their freedom of movement and not that of the Palestinians, the protected residents of the occupied territory,” the report said.
The Justice Ministry responded to the report by saying that it did not address Israel’s legitimate security needs, which depend on the restriction of movement.
The ministry dismissed B’Tselem’s claim that Israel continues to impose restrictions even after security needs have passed. “This statement is completely baseless,” Justice Ministry officials said.
“Since 2000, Israel has been dealing with an intense and unprecedented terror attack. Imposing limits to freedom of movement is necessary because Palestinian terror operates within the population and with its sponsorship, in severe violation of international law.
“The roadblocks in Judea and Samaria are there for security reasons only, not to separate the West Bank. With the help of these roadblocks, dozens, even hundreds of terror attacks have been thwarted in recent years. Considering their efficiency, the roadblocks affect the Palestinians population proportionately.”
The Justice Ministry also contended that there was a significant security need on certain roads, and denied that the construction of the “Fabric of Life” roads for Palestinians was intended in order to make other roads “Israeli”.
“These roads were paved, using many resources, in order to replace routes cut off by the Separation Fence,” ministry officials said.
The Justice Ministry also argued that B’Tselem’s report failed to mention that Israeli vehicles were restricted in area A, which is comprised of Palestinian towns, and some rural areas away from Israeli population centers in the north.