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Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
31 July 2003
Occupied Palestinian Territories
16 JULY – 31 JULY 2003
www.reliefweb.int/hic-opt -- email@example.com
OCHA oPt, MAC House, PO Box 38712, Jerusalem -- Tel/fax +972-2-582 9962
Overview . Results of OCHA Checkpoint and Barrier
Survey . IDF Roadblock Removals . Settlement Expansion in Gaza
As part of its commitment under the Road Map plan, the Government of Israel (“GOI”) undertook several steps aimed at improving the humanitarian situation and normalizing Palestinian life.
The GOI dismantled several key roadblocks on West Bank roads, transferred over US $16 million out of the withheld (tax clearance) funds to the PA, reduced its military incursions into Palestinian civilian areas and promised several thousand work permits to West Bank residents. Israel’s Defence Minister also ordered a review of the overall roadblock policy in the West Bank.
On the whole, the situation in the oPt was quiet relative to prior months and Israeli security services reported a significant decline in warnings of planned attacks against Israeli civilians.
This update examines the IDF’s roadblock removals and highlights a case of settlement expansion in Gaza.
…OCHA SURVEY - 396 CHECKPOINTS AND BARRIERS IN NORTHERN WEST BANK
An OCHA survey (25 July) of the northern West Bank (from Ramallah and north) found a total of 396 IDF checkpoints, roadblocks, dirt mounds and ditches that have restricted movement around the West Bank.
These roadblocks are can be broken down into the following categories:
…IDF REMOVES SIX ROADBLOCKS
… Where are the changes?
On 27 July, the IDF removed six physical barriers at important road junctions in three West Bank areas: Ramallah, Hebron, and Bethlehem – the first time some of these roadblocks had been removed since March 2001.
Despite these measures, movement still remains restricted. Several of the roadblocks were replaced by permanent and/or roaming IDF checkpoints that continue to significantly limit Palestinian access.
Even where the IDF has removed some roadblocks – Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron – the nearby cities and villages still remain virtually surrounded by dozens of other roadblocks, checkpoints and other barriers.
The internal closure , by checkpoints and other physical barriers, is the most significant IDF policy that has contributed to the collapse of the Palestinian economy and which has prevented tens of thousands of Palestinians from reaching schools , workplaces and hospital emergency facilities.
Although these changes are a step in the right direction, much more will be needed to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and bring a return to normal economic life.
… Ramallah Governorate
On 27July, the IDF removed the earth mounds blocking the Surda road. Although this has made travel much easier, IDF roaming checkpoints still frequently appear, checking cars and causing long lines and many delays. Travellers have also been detained by the IDF on this road. On 31 July, the IDF stopped a Palestinian Medical Relief Committees ambulance and detained Dr. Khalid Abu Taha in handcuffs for an hour.
The roadblock on Surda road was first erected on 7 March 2001, when the IDF dug two wide trenches and established a checkpoint on the road. A major route of travel connecting Ramallah city to Bir Zeit University and 40 surrounding villages , the IDF action impacted over 100,000 Palestinians locally. It also prevented access for travel between Ramallah (the de-facto political capital of the oPt) and the rest of the northern West Bank.
At first only pedestrians were initially allowed to cross. But subsequently the roadblock-checkpoint went through a number of changes. The trenches were filled in and concrete blocks were put in their place. Dirt mounds fortified with rocks were then built and barbed wire was placed across the road.
Sometimes one lane of vehicles was allowed to pass but on other days this was limited to ambulances and commercial trucks. Then, from 17 October 2001 through 27 July 2003, Surda was closed completely for vehicular traffic.
On 27 July, the IDF removed the earth mounds on the Betunia - Ein Arik road. This roadblock on the western edge of Ramallah, had isolated the Governorate’s western villages from the main urban area of Ramallah.
In principle this move has re-connected these villages with the Ramallah-El- Bireh urban area. But, the impact of the IDF action is also limited. There are still a large number of other roadblocks (6) and other unmanned barriers that hinder the movement of persons and goods between rural communities west of Ramallah.
One kilometre northwest of Ein Arik, in Deir Ibzi’a, the IDF has set up a roaming checkpoint checking all cars and causing serious delays. Should these additional barriers be removed, the full beneficial impact of the Ein Arik roadblock removal may be felt.
…Bethlehem Hebron Governorates:
Beit Jala, DCO
For the first time in over a year, the IDF opened up Bethlehem vehicular traffic to the West Bank.
It moved several roadblocks on the road beside the DCO in Beit Jala (northern Bethlehem) enabling West Bank traffic to flow to and from Bethlehem – particularly for Bethlehem commercial traffic, which has until th is point been virtually immobilized.
However, the IDF still restricts movement along this route. An IDF manned checkpoint has been installed and all cars and trucks are thoroughly checked causing long delays and queues of trucks spanning the residential area of Beit Jala.
Adding to the delay is the fact that the IDF has opened only one lane for the two-way traffic and maintains the crossing for only 12 hours a day. All cars from Jerusalem are denied entry.
The IDF also re-opened the eastern entrance to Beit Sahour connecting to the Wadi al-Nar road and some of the district’s eastern villages.
The Wadi al-Nar road bypasses Jerusalem and is used by Palestinians to travel between the southern and northern West Bank areas. Along th is road, the IDF removed the unmanned roadblock and replaced it by another checkpoint one kilometre north that has an iron gate and a sniper tower.
Until now, only Palestinian vehicles with special permits issued by the IDF Coordination Office (DCO) can use this road to travel north towards Ramallah (via Ma’ale Adumim settlement). Public transport is allowed to cross the checkpoint without permits.
On 27 July, the IDF also opened the Nokdim checkpoint/Herodion (south-east Bethlehem) c heckpoint for public transportation. While the passage of privately owned cars is subject to permits, licensed public transport no longer requires IDF clearances. Palestinians can now travel from Bethlehem to Hebron using a number of secondary and tertiary roads but are still unable to use the main route 60 road.
On 27 July, the IDF removed the roadblock at the junction of Route 60 and the road to Sa’ir and replaced it with a manned checkpoint.
…SETTLEMENT EXPANSION IN GAZA
Although under the Road map settlement activity should be frozen, the Israeli Government announced a tender to build 22 new houses in the Neve Dekalim settlement between Khan Younis and Rafah. Each house has lease options for up to 200 years.
In addition, in early July, Israeli forces began expanding the buffer zone around the Morag settlement road. This road links Morag settlement to the coastal bypass road, which runs into the main Gush Katif settlement bloc. (see attached map).
Field visits by OCHA staff on 23 July and 30 July showed an increase in the width of this buffer zone over the course of one week, with Israeli bulldozers overseen by one tank further expanding the zone on 27 July, according to local families.
Observing the settlement from the edge of the zone, there is now a swathe of land around the original security fence that stretches up to 300 meters in width, comprising the road, the new security fence and the buffer zone.
Other than this settlement activity, since the announcement of the “hudna”, Palestinians in Gaza have been able to move more freely than any time since September 200l. Periodic shootings and incursions have occurred throughout central and southern Gaza but no deaths were reported, though a number of
houses were damaged by gunfire.
A map of OCHA’s findings is available at www.reliefweb.int/hic-opt. Next month, OCHA will complete its survey of checkpoints and barriers in the West Bank south of Jerusalem.
This was the number verified by OCHA field staff – others may have been removed that were not observed.
Over the past two years, the Gilo checkpoint (Bethlehem – Jerusalem) has been open mainly for foreigners and for Israelis wishing to visit Rachel’s tomb. Palestinian residents of Bethlehem need a permit to use this checkpoint. When Israelis enter the checkpoint to pray at Rachel’s Tomb, all movement is temporarily halted.
As witnessed by OCHA field staff, land area according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).