Israel Grounds Palestinians in West Bank

Israel has virtually denied Palestinians in the occupied West Bank the right to movement through a labyrinth of checkpoints and barriers set up to protect illegal Jewish settlements, an Israeli human rights group said in a new report released on Tuesday, August 7.

"Israeli authorities have turned Palestinian freedom of movement from a fundamental human right into a privilege that Israel grants or withholds as it deems fit," B’Tselem said in its latest report.

It noted that the Israeli army deploys 47 checkpoints and 455 physical barriers across the occupied West Bank, dividing the territory into six subsections.

This, the rights group warned, is creating "far-reaching effects on every aspect" of the lives of the more than two million Palestinians, while ameliorating the lives of some 260,000 Jewish settlers living in the occupied Palestinian territory.

On 312 kilometers of main roads in the West Bank, Israel forbids or restricts vehicles bearing Palestinian license plates, according to the report.

It also toughened traffic laws to further deter Palestinians from using the roads.

The maximum security Qalandia crossing between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) is one of the most notorious roadblock.

The crossing is a line of six checkpoints stretching across 30 meters and the Palestinians have to undergo provocative and humiliating searches by Israeli soldiers.

The obstructions also include the West Bank separation wall, a mix of electronic fences and concrete walls that will eventually snake some 900 kilometers (540 miles) along the West Bank and leave some 80 percent of its territory on the Israeli side.

After the International Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling branding the wall as illegal, the UN General Assembly asked Israel to tear it down and compensate the Palestinians affected. Israel remains defiant.

Collective Punishment

The human rights group warned that the Israeli restrictions "result in what is effectively collective punishment."

"The restrictions on movement also have a decisive effect on economy and trade in the West Bank," said the report.

"These restrictions have an immediate and direct effect on the ability of Palestinians to get to work, on trade relations, and on profits, whether the business is large or small."

The World Bank said in a May report that Israeli restrictions were dividing the occupied West Bank into economically isolated enclaves, preventing the already sluggish economy from growing and denying Palestinians access to half of the Palestinian lands.

It said the Israeli policy of closure has resulted in a highly fragmented Palestinian economy.

B’Tselem further said that the movement restrictions also "impair the ability to maintain family and social ties."

Palestinian pregnant women are taking the brunt of the restrictions with many of them usually locked up at the checkpoints.

Some of the end up delivering their babies with no doctors or sterilized equipment.

According to the UN estimates, a total of 36 Palestinian babies have died because their mothers were detained during labor at Israeli checkpoints.

Illegal Settlements

B’Tselem linked the restrictions on Palestinian movement to the presence of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territory and called for their removal.

"The settlement enterprise, which is directly related to denial of Palestinian freedom of movement in the West Bank, is illegal, so Israel must dismantle them."

The report said that the barriers are aimed at allowing Jewish settlers easier travel across the occupied territory.

"While some restrictions on movement were originally imposed in response to a specific security threat, today they primarily serve other objectives, among them the creation of a road network that is rapid, convenient and relatively ‘sterile’ of Palestinians for the use of settlers and other Israelis."

Under the watchful eye of the Israeli government, some 90 percent of the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank have sprawled beyond the official boundaries set up by Tel Aviv, seizing more Palestinian land and preempting the future status of the occupied territory, according to the Israeli Peace Now group.

It put at 164 the number of Israeli settlements built on nearly 40 percent of the West Bank.

Theodor Meron, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser, warned Tel Aviv in the wake of the 1967 war that the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian lands would be illegal and contravene international laws.

The international community regards all Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal.

( + Agencies – August 7, 2007) 

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