Denying Palestinians Free Movement in the West Bank
Posted May 1, 2008

Denying Palestinians Free Movement in the West Bank

by Stephen Lendman

This article summarizes an August 2007 B’Tselem report
now available in print. It’s one of a series of
studies it conducts on life in Occupied Palestine to
reveal what major media accounts suppress. This one is
titled: “Ground to a Halt - Denial of Palestinians’
Freedom of Movement in the West Bank.”

B’Tselem has a well-deserved reputation for accuracy
and integrity. It’s the Jerusalem-based independent
Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the
Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). It was founded
in 1989 by prominent academics, attorneys, journalists
and Knesset members to “document and educate the
Israeli public and policymakers about human rights
violations in (Occupied Palestine), combat (the
Israeli public’s) denial, and create a human rights
culture in Israel” to convince government officials to
respect human rights and obey international law.

Its work is detailed, wide-ranging, carefully
researched, and based on hundreds of testimonies and
dozens of on-the-ground observations. For
verification, it’s also cross-checked with relevant
documents and other government sources. Work on this
report was completed over a six month period in 2007.
It included information from other reports, statements
from political and military officials, petitions to
Israel’s High Court of Justice, and media accounts.

B’Tselem states: “For the past seven years (since the
September 2000 Second Intifada began), Israel has
imposed restrictions and prohibitions on Palestinian
movement that are unprecedented in scope and
duration.” It refers to hundreds of permanent and
temporary checkpoints, other obstacles, physical
barriers, and Israel’s Separation Wall (ruled illegal
by the World Court) on confiscated Palestinian land.

Free movement in the West Bank is severely restricted
and nearly always entails “intolerable and arbitrary
delays, much uncertainty, friction with soldiers, and
often substantial expense.” B’Tselem stresses that
throughout 2008, it will continue to focus on this
topic - with new maps, short videos, and various
“public education and advocacy activities to
highlight” Israel’s unnecessary, outlandish and
illegal restrictive measures. People need to know, and
B’Tselem intends to tell them.

This is its 14th report on this topic since September
2000. Previous ones covered specific type restrictions
like checkpoints, for-Jews only roads, and the
Separation Wall. The one is comprehensive. It surveys
all of them and their collective effects on
Palestinians’ lives.

The measures aren’t new or restricted to the West
Bank. They’ve been ongoing since the early 1990s and
have undergone expansion and refinement ever since.
Until 1991, Palestinians (except small numbers
designated security threats) could move freely
throughout the Territories and were able to enter and
stay in Israel during daytime hours. It helped
Palestine establish social, cultural and commercial
ties to its neighbor, Israeli Arab citizens in it, as
well as between Gaza and the West Bank.

During the January 1991 Gulf war, everything changed.
General permits were cancelled and replaced by new
restrictive policies. Thereafter, all Palestinians
needed (selectively authorized) permits to enter
Israel and East Jerusalem. Checkpoints and barriers
were erected for enforcement. They’ve restricted
movement ever since, and at times, like the 1993
killings of nine Israelis, became a general closure
policy. All free movement was halted, Palestinians
lost their jobs in Israel, few opportunities at home
could replace them, and the Territories suffered great
economic and social harm.

Closure also split the OPT into three areas: East
Jerusalem, the remaining West Bank and Gaza. After
September 2000, Israel tightened free movement further
and continues harassing and containing relentlessly.
Two main factors explain how:

—Israel’s “ever-expanding settlement
enterprise….along the length and breadth of the West
Bank;” they’re on strategically chosen and most valued
lands; in areas designed to contain Palestinian city
expansions; further harmed by Israel’s (for-Jews-only)
bypass roads that constrict, isolate and divide West
Bank areas; and

—the effects of the Oslo Accords; they split the
West Bank into three areas - Area A under Palestinian
Authority (PA) security and civil affairs control;
Area B under Israel security and right to restrict
free movement; and Area C under total Israeli control,
including on matters relating to land, planning and
building; Areas B and C comprise 80% of the West Bank,
including its main roads, so that lets Israel restrict
movement how, when, for as long, and for whatever
purpose it wishes over most of the Territory.

After September 2000, its measures were hardened. It
clamped down on free movement, isolated Palestinians
in cantonized enclosures, and made a fundamental human
right a privilege to grant or withhold as it pleases.
Its pretext is security but, in fact, that’s false.
The real aim is harassment, land grab, and a
state-sponsored expulsion plan so Israel can seize all
the land it wants for Jews only. It’s gone on for
decades and so far unchallenged by the world
community. B’Tselem wants to stop it along with all
other law violations so Palestinians can have their
long denied justice they deserve and should get.

Israel’s Means to Control Movement

B’Tselem divides Israeli control into three categories
reflecting “different layers” of restrictive policy.
They, in turn, build on each other and are

—physical means to divert movement to certain
passageways and roads and prevent access to others;

—restrictions and prohibitions that first layer
physical tools enforce; and

—the means to ease or tighten, selectively and under
careful monitoring, second layer restrictions and

The essential idea is that in combination these layers
represent a single control mechanism, all parts
operate together, and determining their impact
requires evaluating the combined effect of four types
of control:

(1) obstructions to deny access to main roads; they
divert Palestinians to checkpoints where the army
(IDF) supervises movement from one area to another or
can deny it altogether; obstructions are in different
forms - dirt mounds, concrete blocks, boulders,
trenches, fences and iron gates; their numbers have
gradually increased and in mid-2007 totaled 455
throughout the West Bank; they limit pedestrian and
vehicular movement, and especially affect the elderly,
the ill, pregnant women and small children; they’re
even more restrictive in winter when water
accumulation turns dirt areas muddy;

(2) permanent staffed checkpoints; they’re fairly
constant in number, and Israel has used them to some
degree throughout 41 years of occupation; they gained
prominence, however, after Israel cancelled
general-entry (free movement) permits in 1991; they
were then expanded during the Second Intifada; over
time, they’ve become the most conspicuous occupation
symbol and one of its most hated;

—in mid-2007, 80 were in place of which 33 were the
last inspection point before entering Israel along the
Green Line; the other 47 lie inside the West Bank,
some with control towers; seven are to transfer goods;
they’re called “back-to-back” because merchandise is
unloaded on one side, checked, then reloaded on
another truck on the other side; operating times vary
- many open at 6AM and close at night; others are
staffed around the clock but limit crossings to
“urgent humanitarian” cases;

—movement restrictions vary from one checkpoint to
another and always at Israel’s discretion; to pass,
travelers must show proper ID or crossing permits;
searches may be conducted; procedures are at the
discretion and mood of soldiers; some checkpoints are
for pedestrians only; others are restricted to
commercial and public transportation.

(3) so-called flying checkpoints; they’re temporary,
may be erected anywhere, and remain for hours or
longer; in recent years, they’ve increased in numbers
- from a weekly average of 73 in late 2005 to 136 in
2006 to about 150 in 2007 and at times up to 200.
Again, the pretext is security, their real aim is to
harass, and no one does it better than Israelis.

Consider the effects of all checkpoints. Since
September 2000, they’ve become “the main (source of)
friction (between) Palestinians and Israeli security
forces.” They generate tension, create uncertainty,
deny or delay passage, humiliate and overall makes
things intolerable. They’re also degrading by
demanding that males expose their upper bodies in
public simply as a way to harass them.

It gets worse by selective detentions in so-called
“positions” - isolated holding areas for additional
“security” checks that, in fact, are to punish and
further humiliate; they can last hours, in exposed
heat or cold, without food or water, and at times
include physical abuse; many Palestinians are affected
daily; Israel’s high command has full knowledge; the
government does as well; nominal recommendations are
made to stop it, yet abuse continues and few offenders
are ever punished.

(4) the Separation Wall; in June 2002, Israel decided
to build it; again the claim was security; in fact, it
was separation and theft of over 10% of Palestinian
land, including for-Jews only roads to connect
settlements with Israel and other settlements; most of
the Wall is completed; its planned length is 721
kilometers; only 20% of it lies along the Green Line;
most of it runs deep inside the West Bank; near
Jerusalem, it surrounds the Ma’ale Adumim settlements
about 14 km into the West Bank on stolen Palestinian

—its route creates two kinds of Palestinian enclaves
- villages and farmland between the Wall and Green
Line (in the “seam zone”) on the Israeli side of the
barrier; another area comprises villages on the
Palestinian side that are surrounded on three or more
sides because of the route’s winding path or that the
Wall meets roads on which Palestinian movement is
forbidden or physical obstructions prevent it.

Physical restrictions and movement prohibitions give
Israeli security forces more latitude, and they take
full advantage through a fourfold layer of control:

(1) by imposing a siege to completely or partially
prevent Palestinians from crossing to or from a
certain area as well as isolating the area from other
parts of the West Bank; it’s done with physical
obstructions to block access and force residents to
pass through staffed checkpoints; closing off the area
facilitates sweeping movement prohibitions on specific
classifications of people by gender, age or place of
residence; the IDF claims their “risk profile” makes
them “potential terrorists;” targeting them by siege
is a frequently used post-September 2000 tactic; large
areas of the West Bank have been affected; their
degree of harshness varies; and areas like the Jordan
Valley, Area A and cities like Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm
and Hebron have been especially impacted.

—in December 2001, the West Bank IDF commander
signed the Proclamation Regarding the Closure of Area
(Encirclement) (Area A); it classified it as a closed
military area, was unlimited in duration and still
remains in force; in April 2007, a separate order was
issued for Nablus restricting entry to and exit from
the city to certain checkpoints; again the army claims
it’s a security measure “to prevent terrorists and
materiel from leaving Palestinian towns in Judea and

(2) the “seam zone;” Israelis say it’s the enclosed
area between the Green Line and Separation Wall; when
its first section was completed (in October 2003), the
IDF declared this section a closed military area with
entry into it forbidden; later areas may also be
closed off, but even ones that aren’t will have severe
movement restrictions the way they’re imposed
throughout the West Bank; all Palestinians are
affected; Jews and foreigners have permits permitting
easy entry and exit.

(3) prohibiting travel on certain roads for Jews only;
on some roads, no Palestinian vehicles are allowed; on
others, travel is allowed for ones with special
permits; the Oslo Accords set the rules; most often
(but not always), Palestinians may travel on Areas A
and B roads but prohibited or restricted in Area C;
they’re excluded from about 311 km of West Bank roads
for Jews only; they connect settlements to Israel or
other settlements.

—rules are so harsh and convoluted that further
restrictions are imposed on some roads Palestinians
may use; an example is forbidding Palestinian vehicles
from crossing a road, requiring passengers to leave
their vehicles on one side, cross on foot, and get
other transportation on the other side; this creates
great hardship, is only to harass, and in cases of
passenger illness or mothers in labor it may be
life-threatening; in addition, Israeli security forces
have great enforcement latitude; orders are issued
verbally, not in writing, and soldiers at checkpoints
can pretty much do as they please, depending on their

(4) harsh travel laws act as deterrence; they impose
high fines and/or insurance requirements; Palestinian
violators are treated discriminatorily; and a high
percentage of drivers are affected.

To counter public criticism, Israel issued two
selective easing measures; they help some Palestinians
but tighten movement restrictions for others:

(1) the permits regime; since 1991, Israel required
Palestinians to have personal entry permits to enter
its territory and East Jerusalem; after 1996,
Palestinians also needed permits to enter West Bank
jurisdictional areas; post-September 2000, rules were
further tightened; some Palestinians must have permits
to enter, remain in, or leave large areas inside the
West Bank, including the “seam zone” and areas under
siege; other permits are needed to arrange (passenger
and commercial) vehicular checkpoint crossings; a
limited number are allowed based on the capacity of
security forces to inspect vehicles, goods and

—B’Tselem lists nine different type permits for
passenger vehicles - commercial ones; public ones for
taxis and buses; movement in areas under encirclement;
humanitarian ones; for permanent “seam zone”
residents; for daily “seam zone” entry; “seam zone”
entry for farming or work; and to enter the Jordan

—movement restrictions and prohibitions are so
onerous and for so many reasons that Israelis consider
permits a privilege; for Palestinians, they’re
essential to meet daily needs; West Bank District
Coordination Offices (DCOs) issue them, but procedures
are unclear and lack transparency; B’Tselem believes
“two general and sweeping criteria must be met” to get

(a) “lack of ‘prevention,’ either for security or
police-related reasons relating to the applicant,” and

(b) having documents to show justification for the

Quotas exist in all cases; when they’re filled, many
qualified residents are left out; in addition, other
qualifying procedures exist but are unstated;
ultimately DCO officials have total discretion in
awarding or denying permits and can be pretty
arbitrary about it; “seam zone” residents provide an
example of what all Palestinians endure; to get a
permit to their own home area, they must prove they
reside there from their ID card address on the day the
declaration of closed military area was made or in
some other way show their center of life is there;
those getting one are allowed entry via one checkpoint

(2) So-called “fabric of life” roads for Palestinians
only; the West Bank’s main roads are only for Jews;
initially, those for Palestinians passed through
villages and city centers, but because of criticism an
alternate plan was developed - creating a separate,
contiguous road network running north-south in the
West Bank; it’s based on separate levels in places
where Israeli and Palestinian roads meet; bridges and
interchanges achieve separation with Israelis able to
travel on top at high speed; lower level “fabric of
life” roads comprising 20% of the West Bank’s total
are for Palestinians; elements of the plan have been
implemented and “fabric of life” roads are being
built; they represent another part of Israel’s
repressive apartheid scheme.

Splitting the West Bank

Article 13 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human
Rights states:

(1) “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and
residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country,
including his own, and to return to his country.”

Israel is a serial international law and human rights
abuser. For Palestinians, it believes allowing free
movement is a privilege, denying it is the norm, and
actions no matter how outlandish require no
explanation or justification.

Israel divided the West Bank into three control areas
- A, B and C. For purposes of restricting movement, it
further split the Territory into six geographical

—North that includes the Jenin, Tulkarm, Tubas and
Nablus districts, except for those in the Jordan
Valley and Separation Wall enclaves; about 840,000
Palestinians lived in this area as of summer 2007;
today the number is somewhat higher;

—Central that includes the Salfit, Ramallah, and
Jericho districts, except for parts in the Separation
Wall enclaves; in summer 2007, the Palestinian
population exceeded 400,000;

—South that includes the Hebron and Bethlehem
districts, except for the northern Dead Sea and
Separation Wall enclaves; Palestinians here number
over 700,000;

—the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea that
includes the eastern strip of the West Bank, except
for Jericho and nearby refugee camps; the Palestinian
population is around 10,000;

—the Separation Wall-created “seam zone” and inside
the West Bank “internal” enclaves; when the Wall is
completed, the “seam zone” Palestinian population will
number about 30,000; an additional 25,000 will be in
“internal” enclaves; the “seam zone” also contains
thousands of Palestinian farmland dunams (a dunam
equals about one fourth of an acre) and 39
settlements; unlike the other geographical units, the
enclaves are dozens of non-contiguous sections that
are separated from the rest of the West Bank; and

—East Jerusalem that includes all the area Israel
annexed in 1967 and is attached to the Jerusalem
Municipality, except for the Shu’afat refugee camp and
Kfar Aqeb that the Wall separates from the city;
around 200,000 Palestinians live in this section.

All geographical units are constricted by Israel’s
rigid control system explained above. Below are the
checkpoints that control movement from one section to

—Za’tara (Tupuah) Checkpoint controls North to
Central sections movement; in addition, the IDF
directs to this checkpoint all west and east traffic
along the Trans-Samaria highway and from Route 60 from
Nablus in the north and Ramallah in the southwest and
south; Palestinians may generally pass freely heading
north; those traveling south encounter ID and
sometimes vehicle checks; delays are common; males
aged 16 - 35 often aren’t allowed to go south.

—Container Checkpoint almost totally controls
movement between the South and Central sections;
Border Police staff it round the clock; from 2002 to
February 2007, passenger cars were prohibited without
a special permit; it’s now cancelled; since September
2000, Palestinians have been prohibited from using
Route 398 that runs from the checkpoint to the Ma’ale
Adumim and Qedar settlements; Palestinians are
diverted to other worn roads of nearby villages;
Palestinian traffic passing through the checkpoint are
subjected to lengthy delays and at times searches;
when Israel declares a comprehensive closure, it
applies to this checkpoint; it severs the southern
West Bank from the rest of the Territory and requires
Palestinians traveling to or from the South to do it
by foot.

—Tayasir, Hamra, Gittit and Yitav checkpoints
control movement to and from the Jordan Valley. In May
2005, Israel instituted sweeping Palestinian movement
prohibitions here, except for residents with ID cards
and persons with special permits. They were cancelled
in April 2007, it affects only pedestrians and those
using public transportation (that also requires a
permit), and applies only to the Tayasir and Hamra

—Almog Checkpoint that controls movement to and from
the northern Dead Sea; generally only Palestinians
with work permits for nearby settlements and/or to
enter Israel may pass; since May 2007, the latter
category was cancelled.

—the Separation Wall directs movement between the
“seam zone” enclaves and the rest of the West Bank to
several gates in the Wall; only Palestinians with
special entry permits may pass; 38 gates are in place;
only six operate daily from 12 to 24 hours
continuously; 17 others open two or three times a day
for 30 minutes to two hours; 13 additional ones
operate during farming season; two other gates allow
movement of residents of a few houses that are
enclosed by the Wall and separated from their village;
still other crossings are for Israeli travel between
the West Bank and Israel; they operate round the

—the Separation Wall also directs movement between
East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank; this
section is called the “Jerusalem envelope” and has 12
checkpoints; crossing (permitted only through four of
them) requires a valid ID and permit and submitting to
stringent checks; they include exiting vehicles,
having them searched, and passing through a revolving
gate equipped with a metal detector; the remaining
eight checkpoints are for settlers, Israeli residents
and East Jerusalem Palestinians with Israeli IDs.

In addition to area to area restrictions, Israel
tightens them further with others within areas by
breaking them into sub-areas and controlling movement
between them. Nablus in the North is separated from
nearby villages and from other northern West Bank

The Nablus area includes the city, three refugee camps
and 15 villages that contain over 200,000 Palestinians
combined. It’s been under siege for seven years; entry
and exit is through four surrounding checkpoints;
passage through them entails stringent personal and
vehicle checks, including for all merchandise in both
directions; and special permits are required for
passenger vehicle entry.

Collective Nablus movement prohibitions are harsh and
unique in the Territory. Males between 16 and 35 are
especially affected, but they overall disrupt life for
everyone. The restricted male population alone affects
26,000 persons. If the age is lowered to 15, it rises
to 36,000, and if females are included (as sometimes
happens) it totals 73,000. This group is the area’s
main work force, its entire economic life depends on
them, and prohibiting their movement brings it to a

When it’s in force, siege conditions vary by
checkpoint for those allowed through. The two main
Beit Iba and Huwara ones inflict the longest and most
burdensome delays and restrictions. In addition, all
persons having a “risk profile” because of age are
forbidden to leave the area and need a “movement
permit in area under encirclement” if they want to
exit. However, it’s not easy getting one with a
convoluted system in place that requires a party
permitted to cross to apply for persons who aren’t and
even they can’t do it easily. In addition, permits
aren’t issued for “ordinary” needs, such as work,
family visits or school. Those considered are only for
“humanitarian” reasons like needed medical care. Few
overall are issued.

The Nablus siege also restricts movement in the Jenin
Tulkarm and Tubas districts. Nablus is vital for them
and for years was the West Bank’s economic and
industrial center. Now these districts are separated,
and major roads between them are blocked. In the past,
traveling from Jenin to Nablus took about 40 minutes
on the main road. It now takes one to three hours on
narrow, winding roads plus a long wait at one of the
Nablus area checkpoints.

Over the past two years especially, accessing Nablus
has been hard and complicated for villagers located to
its north. Checkpoint access is limited, some are
closed to traffic, and those that operate have delays
running up to hours. In addition, soldiers at times
block road traffic for several hours, no advance
notice is given, and it causes undue hardship for
travelers having to wait or use alternate routes. The
IDF is also at times punitive. It sets up
indiscriminate flying checkpoints, uses them for
punishment, and makes it harsher with instances of
violence and confiscation of permits and identity
cards that can only be redeemed at a permanent
checkpoint that may or may not be operating.

The Central Section splitting caused much the same
type hardships. It created two principal sub-areas
around Salfit and Ramallah. It detached some of these
cities’ villages and separated them from their
residents’ farmland.

After the IDF blocked Salfit’s main entrance road from
the north, alternate routes became necessary, and they
lengthened travel times considerably. It created great
hardship for travelers who rely on Nablus for basic
services and also for villagers who are blocked from
their farmland. Sixty-six thousand people are

It’s even worse for the 300,000 Ramallah district
residents in a city that’s the West Bank’s seat of
government because Israel denies East Jerusalem that
status. In addition, after undo restrictions and
hardships caused many Palestinian entrepreneurs to
leave Nablus and the northern West Bank, Ramallah
developed into the Territory’s cultural and economic
center. Obstructions, checkpoints and the Separation
Wall demarcate the area and combined make movement
just as hard as throughout the rest of the West Bank.

It’s the same for Jericho’s 40,000 residents. In
addition, for 10,000 of them in the north in the
besieged Jordan Valley, they’re separated from the
city, and for those in the east there’s another
obstacle - 19 km of trenches and land east of it
that’s a closed military area.

The South section’s splitting has been less
conspicuous, but it hasn’t made movement easier. Most
notably since September 2000, have been restrictions
in Route 60’s southern section that runs the entire
length of the southern West Bank and is this
subsection’s principal roadway. Access roads to the
Route are now blocked, over time some have been eased,
but use of the road remains limited.

Most harmed are residents in towns and villages in
Hebron’s southern area. To reach the city, they must
use long, winding, beat-up roads that are no
substitute for decent ones. Once the Separation Wall
is completed east of the Efrat and Gush Atzion
settlements, Route 60’s northern quarter in the South
section will be on the Wall’s Israeli side and
completely off-limits to Palestinians. As a result,
Bethlehem will be separated from Jerusalem as well as
the main road to Hebron with all the hardships that
will create.

Consider how they affect Hebron. It’s the only
Palestinian West Bank city (other than East Jerusalem
that Israel annexed in 1967) with an Israeli
settlement in its center. Because of it, the IDF
created a contiguous strip of land through the city
over which Palestinian vehicles are prohibited. It
runs from the Kiryat Arba settlement in the east to
the Palestinian Tel Rumeida neighborhood in the west,
and in many sections along its center, Palestinian
pedestrians are banned. The main Shuhada Street is
most affected. In addition, the strip blocks Hebron’s
main north-south artery harming the entire Palestinian

Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea restrictions
involve the use of Route 90 that runs the entire
length of the section. Israel operates five
checkpoints here for control. Only public
transportation and vehicles with special permits may
pass. That frees the Route for settlers and Israelis
traveling between Jerusalem and the Beit She’an
Valley, the Sea of Galilee, or the Galilee area in the
north. It also allows the IDF to use large Jordan
Valley sections as fire-exercise zones and close off
much of their water and grazing areas to Palestinians.

Dozens of non-contiguous “seam-zone” enclaves are also
affected. The Separation Wall separates them by
winding back and forth between the Green Line and deep
into the West Bank. They all contain Palestinian
farmland on the barrier’s Israeli side. Some also
include villages where 30,000 Palestinians live.
Because they aren’t connected, crossing from one
subsection to another at best is hard and at worst
impossible. It forces travelers to cross the Wall
twice with all the hardships that entails. Further,
since permits are for one enclave only, entering
another one requires a second permit.

The Separation Wall then can be divided into five
sections plus the Jerusalem area, and each one
contains separate enclaves. Combined they form a crazy
quilt isolation pattern with physical obstacles and
human repression used against a defenseless civilian

Internal community and farmland enclaves are affected
as well but not by having to pass through the Wall or
obtain permits. However, roads that used to connect
them have been closed making travel times longer and
more complicated. When completed, the Wall’s route
will create 13 non-contiguous internal enclaves for
about 240,000 Palestinians in dozens of towns and

East Jerusalem is the final section. Israeli Arabs
with identity cards may move about fairly freely with
one notable exception. It’s the use of temporary
checkpoints (so-called “collection” ones) to collect
resident tax debts. They operate a few hours at a time
on main neighborhood roads where Israeli Police
(usually Border Police) provide security along with
tax officials to do the collecting. Police stop cars,
collectors do the rest, but never to Jerusalem’s
Jewish residents.

Harm to Palestinians’ Fabric of Life

West Bank separation and division inflicts great harm
to Palestinians’ fabric of life in the short and
longer term. This section examines how.

First consider health as a fundamental human right and
how restricting movement affects it. Ill persons
needing treatment are greatly impeded reaching medical
centers. The quality and availability of service is
hampered as well by delaying or restricting physicians
and staff. First aid crews also aren’t able to reach
the sick and injured quickly. Even when situations
aren’t life threatening, movement restrictions
increase morbidity chances and may shorten a life

Overall, West Bank Palestinians have limited or no
access to medical care, and residents of villages and
outlying areas are most gravely affected. Then
consider so-called “risk profile” people being denied
passage through checkpoints. Another example is
persons needing a permit for access to Jerusalem
hospital treatment. To get one, patients must provide
medical documents testifying to their illness and
confirming their appointment at a specific hospital.

The situation is especially problematic for pregnant
women when their time to deliver approaches and their
hospital is in Jerusalem. Permits are valid only for
one or two days, as it is for all ill persons, but the
moment when it’s needed is uncertain. They must thus
be continually renewed, and there are times when it’s
impossible. It thus forces mothers to give birth at
checkpoints because they’re denied passage through

In 1996, the Physicians for Human Rights petitioned
the State Attorney’s office for relief and nominally
got it - to allow passage through checkpoints without
permits in cases of medical emergency so ill persons
can be treated. All checkpoint locations are supposed
to comply, but it turns out they don’t. Soldiers don’t
treat Palestinians kindly, are unresponsive to their
needs, and are untrained medically to recognize

Patients encounter other obstacles as well. Their
travel is slowed by having to use long, winding and
worn roads; they’re sometimes blocked causing long
delays; they have no access to ambulances or other
transportation; must pass through checkpoints when
they do or by foot; be up against closed ones; be
forced to wait at open ones; and undergo searches.

These problems make people more dependent on first aid
that can’t cope in emergency cases where special
expertise is required. At times, long distances are
involved, and when need is greatest, it means lives
are endangered. This is what Palestinians endure

Movement restrictions also affect hospitals,
especially East Jerusalem ones that are considered the
OPT’s best because they provide services unavailable
elsewhere in the Territories. East Jerusalem’s
separation from the rest of the West Bank and needing
a permit to enter is the problem. It affects staff and
patients with the situation at al-Makassed Hospital
typical. Twelve of its workers live outside the city
and are classified “prevented entry.” They have no
permits. Even workers with them face long checkpoint
delays or their closure when Israel wishes.

Restricting free movement also impacts health care
professionals from developing their skills through
in-service training. Students as well are affected,
are unable to complete their studies or receive a
lower professional training degree. It places
Palestinians needing medical care in a hopeless
situation. They’re unable to move freely or receive
expert care if they can.

B’Tselem’s report is on the West Bank. Gaza is another
matter, and since Israel’s June 2007 siege, 130 in the
Territory have died because they couldn’t be treated.
Their deaths are in addition to the hundreds of others
from near daily incursions that continue without

Movement restrictions also greatly affect the OPT’s
economy and trade. Post-September 2000, it’s been in
deep depression. GDP has declined around 40%,
unemployment stands at about 80%, and the poverty
level is punishing. It’s how Israel and Washington
planned it to bring the Territories to their knees and
demand surrender as the price for relief.

At present, look how working conditions and transport
of goods are affected. Palestinians could once travel
freely outside their communities to jobs. No longer,
and many lost out and have no means of employment.
Employers as well are affected. They lost workers, had
to scale back their operations or shut them down

The same hardships apply to transporting goods. They
can no longer move freely, permits are required,
they’re hard to get, travel times are longer even with
them, at much greater cost, and an example is trade
between Nablus and Ramallah. The cost is fourfold what
it was in 2002, the result is greatly reduced trade,
it’s forced merchants to concentrate more on their own
communities and those nearby, and the result is far
less commerce overall that severely impacts everyone.

Here’s what’s involved to move goods between Nablus
and East Jerusalem:

—permits are needed;

—a quota restricts the number;

—goods allowed to be transported endure the
so-called “back-to-back” method; at point of shipment
they’re loaded; then stopped at a checkpoint;
unloaded; inspected by mechanical scanner, manually,
and/or by dogs; they’re then reloaded on another truck
for delivery;

—damage is frequent because of extra handling and
Israelis aren’t too gentle about it;

—delays are the rule and they’re costly;

—transport requires passing through other
checkpoints and repeating the whole procedure again
that may be more or less stringent depending on the
whims of inspectors;

—when the Separation Wall is completed, transport
will be even harder and its cost greater.

Tourism is also affected. Between the Oslo Accords and
September 2000, cities like Bethlehem were desired
destinations. No longer because of difficulties
getting there and how hard it is to move around. The
result is privately owned tourist sites throughout the
West Bank have closed or have greatly cut back. An
example is the Barahameh family’s park in al-Badhan, a
village 10 km north of Nablus. Getting there from
Ramallah means passing through four permanent
checkpoints plus whatever flying ones are up for the
day. The result is wasted hours to spend a day at the
park, and most tourists won’t do it.

Small businesses like stores, souvenir shops and
restaurants are also impacted. Many close down or
operate at a fraction of their former levels. A World
Bank West Bank report cites movement restrictions and
their costs as two major obstacles affecting a healthy
Palestinian economy.

They affect farming as well in areas like the Jordan
Valley and “seam zone.” Agriculture is an important
source of Palestinians’ income. Farmers need permits
for it in these areas. Many are denied and their
livelihoods destroyed or greatly impacted. Farm
workers are also affected. They, too, need permits,
but even having them means putting up with long travel
times and exhausting days. Many workers won’t do it it
so farmers lose a vital work force and the ability to
grow their crops productively.

Farmer and merchant Husni Muhammad ‘Adb a-Rahman
Sawafteh is an example of what others like him endure:

—he lives, works and farms in Tubas; he and his
brothers have a house and 250 dunams of land in
Bardala, a northern Jordan Valley village; they also
have livestock;

—to reach Bardala, they must pass through Tayasir
checkpoint; doing it involves “much difficulty;” it
affects their workers as well;

—to sell their produce, they need to reach Bardala,
but the hardship forces Sawafteh to manage things by
phone; it’s inadequate because it’s vital to be
current on prices and dealer payments that requires
being in Bardala to do it;

—sometimes he can’t be for a month; the result is
dealers send “payment on account” and pay less than
the amount owed; their back due debts accumulate;
being there is essential to handle things; when he
can’t do it, he hasn’t enough money for materials to
fertilize the land and grow crops;

—caring for the livestock is another problem; they
need daily care; Sawafteh had to build a new Tubas
farm to do it, but it was lacking; Tubas hasn’t enough
grazing land so the flock can’t do it daily as they
need to; he thus has to buy them food; it’s an
additional expense he can’t afford;

—he and other farmers have an additional problem as
well; they need permits for themselves but also for
their tractors and farm vehicles; it forces most of
them to go long distances on foot or donkeys;

—it also restricts what crops can be grown;
restrictions forced farmers like Sawafteh to forgo
higher revenue-generating ones like tomatoes and
cucumbers and switch to less labor intensive ones like

—some farmers give up altogether and let their land
lie fallow rather than risk economic failure or work
under onerous conditions.

Family and social life are also affected. Palestinian
community life is based on extended familial ties even
though members don’t often live in the same towns and
villages. Movement restrictions and inability to get
permits prevent their ability to see each other, and
it’s especially felt in the “seam zone,” Jordan Valley
and Nablus under siege.

Ni’ma ‘Ali Salameh Abu Sahara from Nablus is a case in

—her daughter married and moved to the Jordan

—no one has been able to see her, not even during
holidays, because “the army doesn’t let us cross the
Hamra checkpoint;”

—she wasn’t able to visit her first grandson and
only saw him two months after his birth when her
daughter visited her;

—her daughter just had a second child by Caesarean
section; Abu Sahara went to the checkpoint to get
through to see her; soldiers refused to let her pass;
she begged them; they still refused; Abu Sahara “went
home and cried.”

This story and many others like it are commonplace,
and it’s caused the splitting up of nuclear families.
Students leave parents to be near school. Wage earners
and tradesmen leave families to be close to work. The
ill live in cities to be near essential medical care
facilities. From the time they leave homes to whenever
they try to return, they encounter problems. For most
Palestinians, they’re painful to impossible.

Restrictions prevent routine family gatherings as well
as special ones like weddings, funerals, and caring
for the sick. Palestinians once could take vacations,
and a favorite spot was the northern Dead Sea area
with its 25 km of coastline. No longer. The ‘Ein
Fascha nature reserves there (one of the most popular
recreational sites) are now operated by Israel’s
Nature Reserves and Parks Authority for Jews only.

Movement restrictions affect all facets of daily life,
including basic services and law enforcement - urban
infrastructure, social services, mail, governance,
rescue operations, electricity and gas, water, and
locally-based security. When breakdowns occur and
repairs are needed or other vital services have to be
performed, district government employees get no
preferential treatment crossing checkpoints to handle
them. The result is long delays fixing essential
public services or dealing with problems like medical

“Fabric of life” roads for Palestinians are also
affected, including the way they were built. They’re
on expropriated private land, inefficiently use public
property, and take other Palestinian land for the
Separation Wall. An example is a road Israel built
between the village of Shufa (south of Tulkarm) and
a-Ras, northeast of the Sal’it settlement. Israel took
village lands for it - from Far’on, a-Ras and ‘Izbat
Shufa. To connect the two district seats, Israel
seized private land, destroyed olive and citrus
orchards on them, asked no permission to do it, and
paid no compensation for the losses.

Israel unilaterally chooses routes for new roads,
Palestinians’ interests aren’t considered, and
injuries and losses they incur get no redress. They’re
also harmed in other ways. Roads often demarcate
villages, they limit their ability to build and expand
for their growing populations, their costs outweighs
their benefits, the harm affects whole communities,
and it’s long-term.

Restrictions on Free Movement from the Perspective of
International Law

Besides Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and other international humanitarian law,
the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights is very clear about free movement. Its Article
12 states:

1. “Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State
shall, within the territory, have the right to liberty
of movement and freedom to choose his residence.

2. Everyone shall be free to leave any country,
including his own.

3. The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to
any restrictions except those which are provided by
law, are necessary to protect national security,
public order, public health or morals or the rights
and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the
other rights recognized in the present Covenant.

4. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right
to enter his own country.”

Besides legitimate national security and military
necessity, restricting free movement must meet another
requirement - proportionality. Under Israeli
administrative law as well, the state must prove the
legitimate necessity of restrictions, that security
can’t be achieved by less harmful means, and that the
end result justifies the cost under international law.
The UN Human Rights Committee states that the
principle of proportionality requires that movement
restrictions be incorporated in clear and justifiable
legislation. Failure to do so violates international
law under which Israel is accountable.

Israel claims justification for its occupation
policies - that they’re vital to secure its West Bank
settlers as well as Israelis traveling on the
Territory’s roads. Clearly, the threat is real, but
unasked is why. It’s because of Israel’s longstanding
belligerency forcing Palestinians to respond in
self-defense and at times take Israeli lives. There’s
no secret how to stop it, but Israel abjures - stop
attacking Palestinians so they stop fighting back.
Long ago it was that way before Palestine became
Israel. Arabs and Jews lived peacefully at a time the
population imbalance heavily favored Palestinians and
the great Jewish immigration wave hadn’t begun.

Today, it’s another matter, Israel manufactures its
own security problem, then unjustifiably claims the
right to react, and in the process, inflict great harm
on a mostly-civilian population. Its actions are
unrelated to security, are entirely political and stem
from its annexation aims - to seize the West Bank’s
most valued areas, remove the Palestinian population,
and resettle them in isolated cantons unconnected to
the others except by a crazy quilt patchwork of
obstructive checkpoints, barriers, and hard to
traverse road network.

Israel acts illegally on occupied lands, and its
draconian restrictions follow as a result. They’re
less for security and mainly to let settlers (on
stolen land) move around freely. They’re heavily
protected, isolated from their Arab neighbors, able to
travel on for-Jews only roads, live in Jewish-only
communities, and get all the conveniences of a modern
state that denies them to non-Jews in a country
claiming to be a model democracy.

All West Bank settlements are illegal under
international law. So is the main road network
forbidden to Palestinians that’s built on annexed
land. Israel’s justifications are unfounded. Security
is a non-starter. So is the claim that it’s to protect
against terrorist attacks that are, in fact,
self-defense measures in an unfair fight. Palestinians
are matched against the world’s fourth most powerful
military that flexes its muscles by attacking
civilians and claims its occupation is just.
International law says otherwise, but Israel ignores

It also acts disproportionately. It fails the test by
all measures:

—there’s no rational connection between the harm
restrictions cause and Israel’s declared security
objective; independent security and human rights
experts concur on this; their view is that there’s a
converse relationship between restrictions imposed and
security desired; the greater the former, the less of
the latter;

—a second failure is the lack of an alternative that
causes less harm to achieve a security goal; in some
instances, Israel admitted it hasn’t used other
methods that would have caused less harm; the
Separation Wall is the clearest example of a measure
causing great harm with little payback except for
confiscated land; after that, the Wall is purely
punitive and the Palestinian response justifiable

—a third failure is the lack of a proper
relationship between the harm caused and security
benefit gained; whatever reasons Israel claims for its
policy, it must still justify that it acted in proper
proportion to the benefit achieved; sweeping and
protracted West Bank restrictions clearly fail the
test; they affect all aspects of Palestinians’ lives,
infringe on their human rights and deny them the right
to family life, health, education, work, and all else
Israelis take for granted and get; and in cases of
Nablus under siege, the effects are much worse on a
locked-down population; there’s no justification for
causing so much harm for whatever benefits Israel
claims to be getting; they’re disproportionately way
out of whack.

Israel also imposes its might without military
legislation or written orders. For measures this
far-reaching and causing so much harm, orders are
merely passed down the chain of command verbally with
lots of latitude on their implementation on the ground
no matter how harsh. Such a system begs for abuse, and
that’s exactly what happens repeatedly.

Without official restrictions in writing, it’s near
impossible to monitor how the IDF administers them or
judge what’s right or wrong. By its policy, Israel
has, in fact, given the army unlimited latitude, made
it unaccountable, and instituted a system guaranteed
to punish and abuse.

Under international humanitarian law, it’s a system of
strictly prohibited collective punishment. Article 50
of the Hague Regulations states: “No general penalty,
pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the
population on account of the acts of individuals for
which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention also
states: “No protected person may be punished for an
offense he or she has not personally committed.
Collective penalties and likewise all measures of
intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” The UN’s
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(quoted above) concurs. So do all independent human
rights experts.

Israel claims it acts to deter, not collectively
punish, but evidence on the ground proves otherwise.
The vast majority of Palestinians affected are
innocent civilians, they’re suspected of nothing,
they’re made to endure great suffering, and Israel’s
actions have been imposed continuously and
repressively for over seven and a half years plus the
punitive effects of 41 years under occupation.

These are actions of one ethnic group against another,
thus constituting another international law violation.
It’s prohibited by the 1966 (UN General
Assembly-adopted) Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination that Israel ratified in
1979. Article 1.1 defines racial discrimination as

“Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference
based on race, color, descent, or national origin
which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or
impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on
an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental
freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural
or any other field of public life.”

Article 5(d)(1) gives every person the right of free
movement within the borders of the state without
discrimination. Article 4 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits all
measures that discriminate solely on the basis of
race, color, sex, language, religion, or social
origin. Israel violates all of the above. Its claims
otherwise hold no water and are, in fact, convoluted.
It denies legitimate citizens their legal rights on
their own land, but provides preferential treatment
for illegal settlers in stark breach of the law.


Israel’s repressive measures force West Bank
Palestinians to live in a constant state of
uncertainty, prevent them from making plans, deny them
their basic rights, harm them when emergencies arise,
and overall consign their lives to the will and whims
to an illegal occupier.

Beyond the immediate harm that’s considerable, the
West Bank’s geographical division causes severe
long-term detriment to the entire Palestinian fabric
of life - affecting their economic, political and
social welfare. The result is an entire nation locked
down, punished for being unwanted and in the way, and
denied their right of self-determination and free
movement on their own land.

Israel’s justification is fraudulent on its face, yet
goes unchallenged by the world community as well as by
neighboring Arab states. Shamefully and willfully,
they turn a blind eye to a human calamity they won’t
confront and denounce publicly as illegal and

B’Tselem has no such hesitancy. It ends its report by
calling on Israel to:

—“immediately remove all the permanent and sweeping
restrictions on movement inside the West Bank
(including the Separation Wall ruled illegal by the
International Court of Justice). In their place,
Israel should” protect its citizens along the Green
Line and inside the Jewish state according to the rule
of law;

—“act immediately to evacuate all the settlements in
the West Bank. Until this is done, Israel” has every
right to protect its settlers security, but not to the
detriment of the Palestinian people who are the lawful
occupants of their own land; and

—“verify, before any temporary restriction….is
approved (while settlements remain in place),” that
it’s “needed for a legitimate security purpose and
that the resultant harm to the Palestinian population
will be proportionate,” according to international
law. Restrictions in place “must be incorporated in a
written order that specifies the nature of the
restriction and the period of time it will remain in

Until Israel takes these measures and begins ending
its 41 year occupation, it will continue violating
international law and remain in violation of dozens of
UN resolutions condemning it for its actions,
deploring it for committing them, and demanding they
be ended. So far, Israel shows no signs of complying
and continues acting with impunity, arrogance and
defiance of the rule of law it disdains.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
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