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A gap in the concrete wall Israel built along the western border of the Beit El settlement, near Jalazun R.C. Photo by B'Tselem, 27 Feb. 2018
From the field

Life under shadow of Beit El settlement: Travel restrictions on residents of al-Jalazun R.C.

Al-Jalazun Refugee Camp is located north of Ramallah. The camp and its satellite neighborhoods are home to about 14,000 residents, some 5,000 of whom are minors. In 1977, the settlement of Beit El was established near the camp, bringing with it permanent military presence: soldiers are stationed in observation towers and patrol the area between the settlement and Route 466 – the main road that connects the northern West Bank and the camp to Ramallah.

As in many other places in the West Bank, the military frequently restricts Palestinian travel on this road. The road is closed off at least once a month, and sometimes much more often, forcing camp residents to take a bypass road to Ramallah or other Palestinian communities. This increases travel times and costs. The travel restrictions harm all residents of the camp but take a particularly harsh toll on those needing medical care in Ramallah, and the roughly 2,000 residents who work in Ramallah or in nearby al-Birah. It is difficult to quantify the overall impact of the travel restriction because camp residents state they prefer not to leave the camp unless absolutely necessary, as they can never know when the road will suddenly be closed. Palestinian communities north of the camp are also affected, as Route 466 is their main access route into Ramallah.

The military closes the road for varying durations, ranging from several hours to weeks on end. Cars are sometimes allowed through after a security check, but for the most part, when the road is closed Palestinian travel is barred completely. To block the road, the military usually places concrete cubes or jeeps at the either end of the section that runs past the settlement of Beit El: the northern and southern turnoff points to the road that leads east to the Palestinian community of Surda. The northern point is some 200 meters from the camp, the southern one just south of the settlement. When all Palestinian travel on the road is barred, drivers have to turn off to the Surda road, a route that doubles the length of their journey. On rare occasions, the military places the northern block before the turnoff to Surda, barring access to the bypass road and forcing drivers to take an even more circuitous route, eight kilometers long, through the village of Jifna to the north of the camp, the town of Bir Zeit, the village of Abu Kash and from there to Ramallah.


Map of the travel restrictions in Jalazun area

Click here to enlarge map

In 2015, Israel began constructing a concrete wall along the western border of the settlement, which runs parallel to a segment of Road 466. During construction, the military blocked the road for several days, leading to clashes between local residents and Israeli security forces. From November 2017 to January 2018, the military built another part of the wall, again blocking access to camp residents almost daily and through most of the day. Clashes occurred between residents and security forces during this blockage, as well. The new wall was built close to the homes of three members of the extended Hamad family, which stand to the east of Route 466. The roadblocks that the military set up during construction were placed about 50 meters away from these homes, preventing the families from accessing the rest of the camp, which is just 200 meters away, across Route 466 by car. To get to the camp, family members must walk through open fields to a neighborhood located on the other side of the road, and from there, find a car to take them to the camp or to Ramallah. In winter, they must wade through mud, and when weather conditions make crossing impossible, they are either trapped in their own homes or stranded in the homes of relatives in Ramallah or elsewhere.

Homes of the Hamed family as seen through gap in the wall; Beit El settlement behind homes. Photo by B’Tselem, 27 Feb. 2018

B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad collected testimonies on this matter from camp residents:

Ramadan Hmeidat, 65, a married father of four who lives in the camp and manages the al-‘Awda medical center there, described how the travel restrictions affect camp residents’ access to medical care in a testimony he gave on 18 January 2018:

The al-‘Awda medical center, established in 2001, serves residents of the camp and of nearby villages. The center provides general medical care, pediatric care, gynecology, dentistry, lab services and has a pharmacy as well. The staff consists of five physicians, a nurse, a pharmacist, a manager and a cleaner. The medical center services forty to fifty people a day.

When the military blocks the main road (Road 466), which is close to the settlement, residents of al-Jalazun Camp who want to get to Ramallah are forced to take very narrow alternative roads, through the village of Surda. Between November [2017] and January of 2018, the main road was blocked because a wall was being built around Beit El to protect the settlers. The military blocked the road every day, and sometimes the turnoff to Surda, too. When that happens, there is no choice but to drive north of Jalazun, on the road that leads to the village of Jifna. This adds between half an hour and an hour to the trip.

In emergencies, when people have to get to hospital in Ramallah or to another medical institution, for instance if there is a birth, a stroke, serious injury or fractures, time is critical. Any delay severely exacerbates the patients’ physical pain and causes both them and their relatives emotional distress.

The roadblocks also make medical staff late, sometimes by as much as an hour, so even when there is no emergency it leads to patient suffering and makes it very difficult for our team.

At the end of the work day, when there are traffic jams because of the roadblocks, many of the staff members who return to Ramallah prefer to drive north through the Jifna road and then Bir Zeit. This raises the cost of the commute, because that route is about eight kilometers longer, which means 20 more shekels a day on average, which adds up to 300 to 600 shekels (87 to 174 USD) a month.

Muhammad Zeid, 59, a married father of eight who lives in the camp and works at the Palestinian Ministry of Communications in Ramallah, related the following in a testimony he gave on 7 February 2018:

Muhammad Zeid. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 7 Feb. 2018

I’ve worked at the Ministry of Communications in Ramallah since 1999. I take my car to work, and when there are no roadblocks the drive takes about 15 minutes. In November 2017, I don’t remember the exact date, the Israeli military started working on another section of the fence that separates the settlement from the main road. From that time, for a few months, the Israeli military and police closed the parallel section of the road and ran patrols back and forth on it.

The road was closed every day from eight o’clock in the morning to four or five o’clock in the afternoon. Sometimes the road was blocked at night, too. Throughout this time, I drove through Surda. All traffic from the north toward Ramallah flowed into this road, which resulted in long traffic jams. During this time, I was late to work or late coming home between five and seven times a month. Some people can’t wait so they drive northwards, on the Jifna -ir Zeit road. It’s a long road which means more money. I mostly preferred to wait, hoping I’d get through the jam quickly, but sometimes I’d still get delayed for an hour.

I lost some hours because of the roadblocks and late arrivals. The ministry tried to be considerate, but they did end up deducting some hours from my pay. The main difficulty, though, was the disruption of life and work routines and the fact that I couldn’t plan anything. I couldn’t make it to meetings I had scheduled or meet deadlines, and it was frustrating and irritating.

Often, there were clashes between the military and stone throwers, and I was stuck in the middle, in the traffic jam. Sometimes, tear gas canisters landed between the cars and I choked. That happened mostly near the turnoff to Surda or the camp schools. The military and police presence provokes the young guys and then clashes erupt. It makes life very difficult.

In 2015, I had a terrible experience with my mother, Maryam, because of these roadblocks. She was 85 and didn’t feel well, so I took her to hospital in Ramallah. There were soldiers near the roadblock, but they wouldn’t let me through even though I explained the situation to them. I had to drive through Surda. Every second, every minute, was critical. When we got to the hospital her blood pressure was very low. The doctors told me that if I’d delayed any longer, I would have lost her. Those were very difficult moments, when my mother was hanging between life and death. Thank God she recuperated, and her health is now good.


Concrete blocks used by the military to block the road. Photo by B'Tselem, 27 Feb. 2018

Husam Hamed, 39, a married father of six who lives in the Hamed neighborhood and works at an insurance company in Ramallah, related in a testimony he gave on 20 January 2018:

Husam Hamed. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 20 Jan. 2018

In late 2017, when the military started working on the settlement’s security fence, daily clashes started taking place, and the tear gas canisters the military used caused a lot of panic and fear. Some of them landed in our yard or hit the walls. We had to take cover inside the house and live under a sort of closure every time, until things settled down.

The fence was built right between our houses and the road, leaving us with an eight-meter wide passageway. Also, while the work was going on, soldiers set up a roadblock right at the entrance to our house and another one south of us, every day. It was impossible to drive on Route 466, which is the main road linking Ramallah to the towns in the northern West Bank. The roadblocks stayed in place from the early morning to the evening.

Sometimes we’d call the Palestinian DCO and they interceded, so we were allowed to leave in the car. Other times, we lost work days. I started leaving for work earlier, at around 7:30 in the morning, before the roadblock went up, and I’d stay behind at the end of the day so I would get there after 5:00 P.M., which was when they’d usually remove the block. Sometimes, we get around the roadblock through Surda.

Last time I had to deal with a delay like that was Tuesday, 16 January 2018. I got to the southern block at 5:00 P.M. and they wouldn’t let me get through to my house. I drove to the camp through Surda and passed the time praying at the mosque. Then I drove back and pulled over to wait until they took the block down. They stayed there until 6:30 in the evening, and only then was I able to go home.

The situation was particularly difficult for the kids, who have to get to school in the camp and then back home. In our extended family, there are five kids around age 16. They suffered the most. The soldiers often detained them at the roadblock, performed physical searches and humiliated them. Sometimes, they kept them back for more than 15-30 minutes, and let them go only after one of their parents intervened. My 17-year-old nephew was late to an exam because of this. These physical barriers created a sort of psychological barrier for us. For example, no one thinks about going out late at night, and even if there is something urgent to do in the evening, it gets put off until the next day rather than risk being stuck away from home overnight. We make all our plans around the military’s conduct. We feel like prisoners in jail, like we’re not free people. The kids live in constant fear. They won’t leave the house to go anywhere but school. They can’t just go play with friends after school or to the grocery store to buy some candy. They’re afraid to go out and that is a frustrating situation. It’s very difficult to describe what it feels like to be a prisoner in your own home.

Muhammad Safi, 30, a married father of one and taxi driver who lives in the camp, said in a testimony he gave on 18 January 2018:

After the work on the fence near the settlement started, I suffered almost daily from the travel restrictions caused by the roadblocks that the military set up along Route 466. One time, the officers at the roadblock stopped me, told the passengers to get out and go find another taxi, took my cell phone and held me there for about four hours.

The roadblocks force me to drive through Surda. This adds two kilometers to the journey, but the delay is much more significant because all traffic flows there. Everyone going from Ramallah to the north and vice versa has to use this road, and it is narrow, and has only one lane in each direction, so there are long traffic jams. Instead of making something like 12 trips a day, I manage to make only half and it really lowers my income. Instead of making 150 shekels (~43 USD) a day, I make only 80. It hardly covers my family’s expenses.

Life here has become unbearable. If it happened once a year, or even once a month, I might have been able to live with it, but for months it happened here every day and it was unbearable. The humiliation, the anxiety, the fear I and other taxi drivers working this route feel all the time can make a person sick. I’m thinking about looking for other work, but there aren’t too many alternatives. I pray to God to make it better for us.