Background on the restriction of movement

Published: 
1 Jan 2011
Updated: 
15 Jul 2012

Since the early 1990s, Israel has restricted Palestinian movement in the West Bank. Prior to the second intifada, the restrictions were primarily intended to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel and East Jerusalem. During the second intifada, Israel established dozens of checkpoints and hundreds of physical obstructions inside the West Bank, including dirt mounds, concrete blocks, and trenches, and began construction of the Separation Barrier and its crossing gates. These restrictions are unprecedented in the history of the Israeli occupation in terms of the scope, duration, and severity of harm to the daily lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank.

In 2009, Israel reduced the number of checkpoints and obstructions in the West Bank, but as of February 2012, B'Tselem still counted 98 checkpoints in the West Bank, including:

  • 16 military posts in the area of Hebron in which Israeli settlements have been established (H-2), which restrict Palestinian movement into and out of the area.

  • 41 positions serve as the last checkpoint before entry into Israel, although most are located a few kilometers east of the Green Line or the entrance to Jerusalem.

  • Four posts restrict access for Palestinians to the Jordan Valley – Tayasir, Hamra, Ma’ale Efrayim and Yitav. The first two are staffed permanently and the army does not allow Palestinians to cross in vehicles unless their ID cards list them as residents of the Jordan Valley. The other two were staffed only intermittently during 2011, but Israel has thus far refrained from officially announcing that they are open to Palestinian movement, hence only a few Palestinian vehicles cross at these two points. The security value of these restrictions to Israel is unclear since Palestinian vehicles are allowed to enter the Jordan Valley and Jericho, on condition that they use alternate routes that are much longer.

In addition, according to data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January and May 2012 there were also 450 unmanned physical barriers – mounds of dirt, concrete blocks, gates, and road segments closed to Palestinian traffic. There are also, in May 2012 some 256 temporary checkpoints erected in the West Bank for a few hours at a time, without permanent infrastructure at those locations. In March 2012, 340 such checkpoint were counted.

Along the route of the Separation Barrier there are, as of the end of 2011, 60 agricultural gates allowing Palestinians very limited access to areas west of the barrier, defined as closed military zones. Twelve of the gates are opened daily for a few hours, and the others are opened only during certain agricultural seasons.

These restrictions reflect Israel’s approach over the years that freedom of movement is not a right, but a privilege that Israel may grant or deny as it sees fit.

The restrictions still in place in the West Bank impede Palestinian access to areas where Israel is interested in retaining control, such as East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, enclaves west of the Separation Barrier and settlements in the heart of Hebron. These restrictions prevent Palestinians from using some of the main roads and highways in the West Bank – including parts of Route 60 and Route 443. Settlers travel freely along these roads, while Palestinians are shunted to longer routes using side roads.

In the areas where Israel still maintains restrictions on Palestinian movement, the restrictions create a situation of constant uncertainty for Palestinians regarding their ability to carry out everyday activities, such as going to work or school in the nearby town, marketing farm produce, obtaining medical treatment, or visiting relatives. Many actions also require complex bureaucratic processes, at the end of which the Civil Administration often denies the request.

In addition, Israel continues to prevent Palestinians from traveling between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in almost all cases, and makes it very difficult for West Bank Palestinians to enter Israel or to travel abroad.

International human rights law requires Israel to respect the right of residents of the Occupied Territories to move about freely in the occupied territory. This right is recognized in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, international humanitarian law requires Israel, in its capacity as the occupier, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the local residents, and to maintain, to the extent possible, normal living conditions. 

Freedom of movement is also important because it is a prerequisite for the exercise of other rights, which are set forth in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Among these are the right to work (Article 6), the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11), the right to health (Article 12), the right to education (Article 13), and the right to protection of family life (Article 10). 

Israel is entitled to protect itself by using various means, including restrictions on Palestinian movement, when these are absolutely necessary in order to meet military needs. However, given the breadth and duration of the restrictions it has imposed and the resulting grave harm they have caused to the local population in all aspects of life, Israel’s policy of restrictions on movement flagrantly breaches its legal obligations. 

Furthermore, Israel's policy is blatant discrimination based on ethno-national origin since these restrictions apply only to Palestinians. Jewish residents are permitted to move about freely in areas where Palestinian movement is restricted. Thus, Israel 's policy violates the right to equality that is prescribed in all the human rights conventions to which Israel is party.