Restriction of movement

Alternative roads for Palestinians

Alternative roads for Palestinians

Published: 
1 Jan 2011

In an attempt to separate Palestinian and Israeli movement in the West Bank, and to prevent military restrictions from totally paralyzing Palestinian movement in certain areas, the army formulated a plan to build roads intended solely for Palestinians. The plan assigned the main roads of the West Bank for the use of Israelis, primarily settlers, while most of the roads assigned to Palestinians were supposed to pass through villages and city centers. Following much criticism, the plan was shelved, and in 2006, the army began to develop an alternative plan.

The declared objective of the alternative plan is to create a separate, contiguous road network for Palestinians in the West Bank, running north to south. Contrary to the previous plan, which was aimed at creating complete separation, the new plan is based on creating separate levels in points at which roads for Israelis and roads for Palestinians meet. Bridges and interchanges are to separate the levels, with the Israelis traveling on the fast upper levels, and Palestinians on the lower levels, which the army terms “fabric of life” roads. The plan allows Palestinian vehicles to travel on only 20 percent of the roads on which Israeli vehicles travel. Although the plan has not been officially approved by the Defense Ministry, many of its elements have been already been implemented, and construction of “fabric of life” roads is under way. Some of these run parallel to roads on which Palestinian vehicles are forbidden to travel, while others are meant to replace roads to which access has been barred by the Separation Barrier.

These roads affect the human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank in both the immediate and the long term. First, building the roads entails expropriation of privately owned land and inefficient use of public property. In most cases, these impediments follow Israel's taking of other lands nearby to enable construction of the Separation Barrier. The Israeli authorities have determined almost all the routes unilaterally, without giving proper weight to the interests of the Palestinians who use the road and will be injured by particular choices of route. For example, these roads often demarcate villages in a way that limits the potential for building and expansion to meet the needs of the growing population. Some of the roads are winding, long, and financially illogical, given the existence of a highway nearby.

In other cases, the road forces new living arrangements on the residents. Instead of linking the communities it is supposed to serve to their natural center of life, the road forces an artificial connection to another center of life. Furthermore, these roads perpetuate the movement of Palestinian traffic further away from the main roads, making the latter “Israeli roads” de facto. In addition, this separation makes it easier for Israel to restrict Palestinian movement without causing the slightest disturbance to  settlers and other Israelis driving on West Bank roads.

In general, even if the alternative roads ease Palestinian travel in certain areas, this result is achieved by unnecessary harm to many other interests of the Palestinian communities that the roads are supposed to serve. The consequences of Israel's policy extend further than the present and the specific individual, given that every road, and even more so a network of roads, shapes the spatial environment and affects the relations between the people living in that space. Therefore, it is clear that Israel's policy will have long-term effects on entire communities.