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Main entrance to ‘Azzun blocked. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi, B’Tselem, 8 April 2019
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Routine harassment: Israeli military blocks access roads to 4 Palestinian villages in March-April 2019

All day long we follow what’s going on, keeping up with traffic updates, military checkpoints, closed gates, police cars, military vehicles, settler attacks. Our life is very difficult. The Israelis want people here to give up, to abandon their homes and run away. That’s what their policy aims to do. We don’t have anywhere else to go. No matter what, we’re staying here.

From the testimony of Mutawe’a Buziyah, from Kifl Hares

Route closures in West Bank villages have long since become a routine method of oppression used by Israel against West Bank residents. For example, when allegations are made that young men from some Palestinian village had thrown stones or Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles on local roads, the military punishes the entire population of that and nearby villages by closing the gates it had installed at their entrances over the years.

Even when open, the very fact that the gates are there serves as a constant reminder that Palestinians’ freedom of movement is entirely subject to arbitrary Israeli decisions made in complete disregard for the needs of the residents.

Over the course of March and April, the military closed the gates it had placed at the entrances to four Palestinian villages, citing such allegations as grounds. In the village of ‘Azzun, east of Qalqiliyah, the gate was closed for 20 days; in Kifl Hares, northwest of Salfit, for 8; in Deir Istiya, east of Salfit, for 5; and in Tuqu’, southeast of Bethlehem, for 17.

It is unlawful to block off roads, a measure which harm thousands of people whose only “crime” was living in a village the military has decided to oppress. The road closures severely disrupt residents’ lives, undercuts their ability to make a living, get to school, farm their land, receive medical treatment, or simply maintain a reasonable routine. This measure constitutes collective punishment, forcing residents to live in a state of uncertainty, causing frustration, wasting precious time, and depriving thousands of Palestinians of their freedom of movement. The road closures constitute arbitrary abuse of power by the military. There is absolutely no moral or legal justification for inflicting this harm.

Below are descriptions of these road closures and testimonies B’Tselem field researchers collected from local residents:

Main entrance to village of ‘Azzun closed off for 20 days: 27 March 2019 to 15 April 2019

On Wednesday afternoon, 27 March 2019, the military closed the gate it had installed at the main entrance to the village of ‘Azzun. The road from the entrance links up with Route 55, and the military said it was closing the gate because young men had supposedly thrown stones or Molotov cocktails at cars traveling along Route 55. That night, some young men sawed open the gate. Consequently, the next morning (28 March 2019), the military replaced the gate with concrete blocks. On each of the twenty days the road was kept closed, a military jeep came to the entrance and stayed for several hours, with soldiers checking the ID cards of pedestrians who crossed the roadblock. On the first day of the closure, the military also closed the gate to the alternate route, a road which runs through the village of ‘Izbat a-Tabib. Over the following days, the military intermittently opened and closed the gate. Sometimes, primarily in the evenings, the military stationed soldiers there to check passengers’ ID cards, delayed cars and caused massive traffic jams.

B’Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi collected testimonies from ‘Azzun residents:

Hassan Shbeitah, 56, a married father of seven, is the director of public relations for the ‘Azzun Municipality. In a testimony he gave on 31 March 2019, he said:

Hassan Shbeitah. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi,B'Tselem, 3 March 2019

After the main entrance was blocked off, we had to look for alternate routes. For example, via ‘Izbat a-Tabib, a route which also gets closed off from time to time. There is another alternate route: the south entrance to ‘Azzun leads to Kafr Thulth, ‘Izbat al-Ashqar, ‘Izbat Jal’ud, Ras ‘Atiya, Hablah and Qalqiliyah. It’s a much longer route compared to the other two. It’s 9 km from Qalqiliyah to ‘Azzun via Route 55, whereas you have to travel 20 km if you go via Kafr Thulth and the other villages.

 

On Friday evening, the day before yesterday, I drove to Qalqiliyah via ‘Izbat a-Tabib. On the way back, at around 10:30 P.M., I was surprised to see that the gate at the western entrance to ‘Izbat a-Tabib was closed. There were also three military jeeps there, blocking the road. I got out of the car and tried to get the soldiers to let me drive into my village, but they started shouting and wouldn’t to talk to me. I had to go back to Qalqiliyah and take the other alternate route, through Kafr Thulth, Hablah and the ‘Izbas. I got home after midnight. The other alternate route is narrow, and it was backed up because of the road closures.

Hundreds of office workers, blue collar workers and university students are forced to use bypass roads, and pay more, because of the closure of the two roads, the northern entrance to ‘Azzun and the ‘Azzun - ‘Izbat a-Tabib road.

 

Samah Hussein, 36, a married mother of three, is an office worker at the ‘Azzun Municipality. In a testimony she gave on 31 March 2019, she related:

My eldest son, Yamen, 7, goes to a private school in Qalqiliyah. We have a car service that takes him there and back. Whenever the military blocks the entrances to the village, my husband and I worry and don’t know if he’ll make it there. A few times, the driver wasn’t able to get through because the military had closed both the gate at the main entrance and the one on the way to ‘Izbat a-Tabib.

On Wednesday, 27 March 2019, Yamen left in the morning with the car service, but by the end of the school day, the military had blocked the main entrance and also partly blocked the alternative route. I was very worried about Yamen. I called the driver and he said he was afraid to make the trip and wanted to wait to hear what was going on with the closure. I was very nervous and worried. I didn’t want Yamen to have to spend so much time waiting, away from home. I started calling acquaintances in Qalqiliyah and Yamen’s teachers. In the end, a friend of the family was in Qalqiliyah and he picked up Yamen and brought him home. They travelled via the winding road that goes through Hablah, the ‘Iabas, Kafr Thulth and finally ‘Azzun.

Yamen didn’t get home until 5:00 P.M. that day, instead of 1:30 or 2:00 o’clock.

Fadwa Shbeitah, 58, a married mother of seven, is a farmer and social activist. In a testimony she gave on 16 April 2019, she said:

Fadwa Shbeitah. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi,B'Tselem, 16 April 2019

I make my living growing organic vegetables in ‘Azzun. I have customers from many places in the West Bank: Kafr Laqif, al-Funduq, Kafr Qadum and other villages and areas.

Closing the main entrance to the village on 27 March 2019 impacted my business, because I make deliveries to my clients every day, using public transportation, at a cost of just 10 shekels. After the road was closed, the cost went up to 15 shekels, and that’s a substantial amount for me. I’m the sole breadwinner in my home, because my husband has heart trouble and can’t work.

Also, I often go to visit my married daughters who live in Huwarah, Ramallah and the village of Hablah. When the gate was closed, public transportation took the alternate route so the travel time got much longer. I started making my visits to my daughters shorter so that I wouldn’t have to get home late and have to deal with the soldiers who were constantly at the entrance to ‘Azzun, and also because sometimes they put up fly checkpoints along the alternate route.

The roadblock affects us emotionally as well. We feel like we’re in a prison and the military can do whatever it wants to us.

Entrance to village of Kifl Hares closed off for 8 days: 26 March 2019 to 2 April 2019

On Tuesday, 26 March 2019, at around 9:00 P.M., the military closed the gate at the main entrance, located in the southeast of the village, without offering a word of explanation to the residents. After the gate was closed, residents were forced to take one of two alternate routes: a rough agricultural road from the southwestern entrance to the village to Route 5, or a long, narrow and even rockier road from the northern entrance and running through the village of Deir Istiya.

‘Abd a-Shakur Shaqur. Photo by Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 2 April 2019

B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i collected testimonies from Kifl Hares residents on 2 April 2019

‘Abd a-Shakur Shaqur, 64, a married father of four, is a taxi driver. In his testimony, he said:.

During the closure, I had to take alternate routes along rough roads that aren’t suitable for ordinary cars. Driving there is bad for the tires and the shock absorbers. I had to take the car into the shop to have the damage repaired.

I drive people every day to Salfit and other places as well, such as Bidya, Qarawat Bani Hassan, Nablus, Qalandia and Ramallah. When the gate is closed, in order to get to Route 5 (Trans-Samaria Highway) I have to drive along an agricultural road which goes through olive groves and isn’t suitable for ordinary cars. It’s only one kilometer longer, but it makes the drive ten minutes longer. It takes us about ten minutes to get to the Salfit-Ariel roundabout, which is just a minute away from the village. The closure punishes all the village residents. It’s meant to harass us and disrupt our lives.

People call the taxi station all the time to check if the gate had opened or not. Our lives depend on the gate. When we tell them the gate is closed, they put off the trip if it isn’t urgent. The number of bookings drops significantly.

The blockage also causes fare hikes. It forces us to charge an extra 5 shekels on top of the official fare set by the taxi company. For example, a trip to Salfit, which usually costs 20 shekels, now, with the roadblock, costs 25. The passengers aren’t happy, but it’s not our fault. We also suffer from the damage to our cars and we spend more on gas.

This morning, at around 10 o’clock, the soldiers opened the gate. I’m glad they did, but I also worry they’ll close it again. Our lives are constantly plagued with worry.

Mutawe’a Buziyah 46, a married father of four, owns a supermarket. In his testimony, he said:

Mutawe’a Buziyah. Photo by Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 2 April 2019

On 17 March 2019, shots were fired near the Salfit-Ariel roundabout, and because of that, soldiers kept the gate closed for about two days. Shortly after, on 26 March 2019, they closed it again and it’s been closed ever since.

The people who live here have to take alternate routes to get to work or to run errands. For example, every day I go out to bring in goods for the supermarket. Yesterday, I had to get to the main vegetable market in Beita, and I had to take the rough road running from the southwest to reach Route 5. This road isn’t suitable for cars, especially after all the rain and the puddles that formed there.

Some suppliers come to the entrance to the village to deliver merchandise, see the gate close and turn back and leave. Some of them call me, and I give them directions how to come on the alternate road.

I just got a call from a friend who told me there’s a police car on the southwestern side of the village. I have to go to the bank, but I won’t go now, because with the way things are now, the police harass Palestinian drivers and gives tickets for every little thing, often for no reason at all. The police let Israeli cars go through even if the drivers commit a traffic offense. That’s why we try not to leave the village unless there’s something really crucial.

Yesterday, my son was supposed to have a driving lesson in Salfit, but we cancelled because I didn’t want to pay 40 shekels for a roundtrip cab ride to Salfit. My daughter goes to a-Najah University in Nablus and she takes public transportation. With the gate closed, the price has gone up from 10 to 12 shekels each way. When the gate is closed, I have to drive her to Nablus, or pick her up from there.

The roadblock makes the economy grind to a halt. Residents from nearby villages like Deir Istiya, Qirah, Hares, Zeita and Jamma’in usually go through our village. They do their shopping here and it keeps us going financially. The number of customers has dropped since the closure, and this results in daily losses.

All day long we follow what’s going on, keeping up with traffic updates, military checkpoints, closed gates, police cars, military vehicles, settler attacks. Our life is very difficult. The Israelis want people here to give up, to abandon their homes and run away. That’s what their policy aims to do. We don’t have anywhere else to go. No matter what, we’re staying here.

Roadblock placed by the military at northeastern entrance to Tuqu’. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B’Tselem, 28 April 2019

Entrance to Tuqu’ closed off for 17 days: 1 April 2019 to 15 April 2019

The village of Tuqu’ is located southwest of Bethlehem. It has three major entrances: the main entrance, in the southwest, leads toward Routes 356 and 3157, and the military put up a checkpoint and observation tower there (al-Baq’a); the northwestern entrance, which leads to Route 356; and the northwestern entrance which also leads to Route 356 via Khirbet a-Deir.

On 15 April 2019, the military placed cement blocks at the northeastern entrance to Tuqu’, blocking it on the pretext that youths had thrown stones at Route 356. The roadblock forced residents to use alternate routes to reach the main road (356), making their way 5-7 kilometers longer and creating massive traffic jams.

The two schools the village children go to are located on the other side of Route 356, a highway that is dangerous to cross on foot. Parents usually drive their kids to school, and the teachers also drive to work. However, with the roadblock in place, this drive involves a long detour. Therefore, some of the children and teachers now walk to school and risk crossing the road. Teachers wait for students by the side of the road to help them cross.

On 1 May 2019, the military re-opened the road, but installed a new metal gate, which remains open for the time being.

B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash collected testimonies from Tuqu’ residents on 28 April 2019:

Muhammad Hamid, 61, a married father of eight, is a taxi driver. In his testimony, he related:

Muhammad Hamid. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 28 April 2019

I work the Bethlehem-Tuqu’ route. My house is about 500 meters from the northeastern entrance to the village. Usually, I drive to Bethlehem and back from there, but about 17 days ago, the military blocked the way. Ever since, I’ve had to use the northwestern entrance and drive through Khirbet a-Deir. It’s longer, but it links up with Route 365. It makes my way five kilometers longer. It’s an unnecessary burden on me and on all the passengers who live near the southeastern entrance.

There are 47 taxis in the village. We now all have to go via the northwestern or southwestern (al-Baq’a) entrances, where there’s a staffed military checkpoint and soldiers stop and search the cars. Sometimes they even close the gate that’s installed there.

Going via the southwestern entrance makes the trip about seven kilometers longer, and the road twists and turns and goes by the village homes. The roadblock causes massive traffic jams on the alternate routes. It wastes a lot of gas and costs us money, and our passengers have a hard time getting to work or school on time.

Today we’re holding a protest to pressure the military to open the northeastern entrance. If the roadblock stays in place, it will hurt all us residents, including me. I don’t see how we’ll be able to bear it.

Rahmeh al-‘Aruj, 44, a married mother of four, is an English teacher at al-Jarmak school. She said:

I live near the northeastern exit and I really suffer from the roadblock. I usually take my car and get to school in three minutes. Since the roadblock was put in place, I’ve had to take the southwestern entrance. It makes the way to the school, which is just across the road (Route 356), seven kilometers longer. I have to take this detour to get to Bethlehem too, or anywhere else outside the village.

Kids whose parents usually drive them to school, now come on their own. As a teacher, I have to help them cross the road, which is a highway. There have been lots of accidents on this road. Two weeks ago, Fatimah Suleiman, 46, a teacher from our village, was hit there by a car. She died.