Closure on al-Fawwar R.C. severely disrupted lives of its 10,000 residents, harmed livelihood and was particularly difficult for the elderly and patients

10 Aug 2016

On 1 July 2016, following two attacks in which Palestinians killed two Israeli civilians and wounded others, the military imposed sweeping travel restrictions on all Palestinian communities in the Hebron District. The restrictions completely disrupted the lives of the district’s approximately 900,000 residents and also caused harmed people outside it, including merchants, students and people who work or receive medical care in Hebron District. The restrictions, imposed several days before the month of Ramadan was over and the ‘Eid al-Fitr holiday due to begin, disrupted preparations for the holiday, thereby exacerbating the harm to the local economy. Most restrictions and roadblocks remained in place during ‘Eid al-Fitr.

The restrictions seriously harmed the residents of al-Fawwar R.C., located south of Hebron. The refugee camp, only one square kilometer in size, is home to over 10,000 residents. They live in overcrowded conditions and rely on UNRWA for health services and elementary school education services. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the community’s unemployment rate is 32%, higher than the West Bank average of 26.7%.

The camp has only one main entrance, branching off of Route 60. The military installed a gate there several years ago, which usually remains open, and an observation tower next to it. Located across the road from the entrance to al-Fawwar R.C, on the other side of Route 60, is the southern entrance to the town of Dura, with a population of about 30,000. There are two villages near the refugee camp, Hadab al-Fawwar, population between 4,000 and 5,000, by the south-west of the camp, and a-Rihiya, a village with about 5,000 residents, located less than a kilometer to the east. The main entrance to al-Fawwar R.C. is the primary access route to these villages as well.

Between November 2015 and January 2016, after the most recent wave of violence erupted, the military closed the iron gate at the entrance to the refugee camp several times for varying durations. In early June, after the shooting attack in Tel Aviv, the military closed the gate again, and it remained closed for most of the month, being opened for short durations only.

Residents must walk to cross military gate installed at the entrance to al-Fawwar R.C. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash , 20 July 2016

After the shooting attack on the Mark family car on 1 July 2016, the military tightened the closure imposed on the village and blocked alternative access roads as well, including dirt roads. To get out of the camp, its residents and those of the two nearby villages - including students, the elderly, children and sick patients - had to walk or take a taxi to the camp’s closed gate, proceed on foot for about 150 meters, across Route 60, a very busy main road, to the gate leading into Dura, and get another taxi there. This significantly increased travel times and costs, was a great burden on residents and caused a lot of anger and frustration.

The closure also impacted services in the camp. Because of the difficulty of traversing the rutted dirt roads from Yatta, the garbage truck was unable to reach the camp regularly and waste removal was disrupted. Water supply was also affected, both due to malfunctions in the local supply system, that Hebron Municipality workers could not reach to repair, and due to the fact that the water tankers that supplement the camp’s supply were unable to access it. The water supply malfunction was ultimately repaired by the camp committee itself.

The military lifted the serious restrictions on access to the camp only on 26 July 2016, after killing Muhammad al-Faqih, who was suspected of committing the attack against the Mark family.

These travel restrictions clearly constitute collective punishment and belie Israel’s claim that large parts of the West Bank have been transferred over to Palestinian control, and that it no longer administers them. Israel so easily manages to disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, whether they live in Area A, B or C, while the Palestinian Authority has no power to intervene or influence these decisions and actions.

Residents must walk to cross military gate installed at the entrance to al-Fawwar R.C. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash , 20 July 2016
Residents must walk to cross military gate installed at the entrance to al-Fawwar R.C. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash , 20 July 2016

Hiyam Jamil al-Fatah, 30, a resident of al-Fawwar R.C., suffers from kidney failure. She spoke to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 21 July 2016 and told him of about the difficulties she encountered in accessing medical treatment during the closure:

In recent months, I began suffering from kidney failure. I have many doctor and hospital appointments in Hebron. Usually, one of my brothers comes with me to these appointments and we take a shared taxi in the camp that takes us to Hebron. It saves me the walking, which I find very tiring.

Yesterday, 20 July 2016, I went with my brother Akram to get treatment. We left at 7:00 AM, and got into a taxi at the camp. It took us only as far as the main entrance. We had to get out at the iron gate, which has been closed for more than two weeks now, and walk about 200 meters, to the other gate, at the entrance to Dura, which is also under closure.

Akram held my hand, and that’s how we walked. On the way, I started feeling nauseous and dizzy and I lost my balance. I fell, and hurt my knee and hand. My brother helped me up and supported me until we got to the other gate. From there we took a shared taxi to Hebron, to ‘Aliya Government Hospital.

At the hospital, I did some tests and got treatment, and then we went back. On the way back, the taxi dropped us off at the iron gate again, at the entrance to Dura, and from there we had to walk over to the al-Fawwar gate. Near the gate, I tripped and fell again.

I was miserable and mortified because I fell in front of dozens of people who were walking by the closed gate. I was so mad that I had no choice but to walk because the gates were closed.

Tahrir al-Janazrah, 30, resident of al-Fawwar R.C. has a four-year-old son with lymphoma who receives treatment in Jerusalem. She spoke to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 21 July 2016 and told him about the difficulties she had getting her son to treatment in Jerusalem:

We usually get to Jerusalem via Checkpoint 300, which is near Rachel’s Tomb, with an Israeli entry permit. My father, who is 75, accompanies us. I’m out of work and because of the difficult financial situation, I try to save as much as I can on travel and I use public transportation. Travel back and forth to Jerusalem costs us about 100 shekels.

Yesterday, 20 July 2016, we left the house at around 8:00 AM, to go to al-Mutala’ Hospital in Jerusalem. The appointment was for 12:00 noon. I was very worried about missing the appointment because the gate to the camp was closed, so I took a taxi all the way to Checkpoint 300. It was a long and winding journey because of all the restrictions. It took more than 40 minutes and cost a lot more than what I usually pay for public transportation.

We were further delayed at Checkpoint 300 because of the restrictions. The checkpoint was closed for entry into Israel for several hours. By the time we managed to get across, I had no choice but to take another taxi to the hospital, and luckily, we got there in time. On the way back I had to take a taxi again because of the restrictions. I arrived home exhausted and angry. Not only was the trip long and exhausting, but it cost me a lot of money, which my family cannot afford. I really hope the closure ends before our next appointment.

Residents must walk to cross military gate installed at the entrance to al-Fawwar R.C. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash , 20 July 2016
Residents must walk to cross military gate installed at the entrance to al-Fawwar R.C. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash , 20 July 2016

Iyad Abu Hashhash, 36, resident of al-Fawwar R.C., spoke to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 21 July 2016 and told him about the difficulties he faced as a water supplier because of the restrictions and closure:

There is an artesian well near my house, and I sell water from it to people outside al-Fawwar R.C., mostly people in Dura, a-Dhahiriyah and sometimes also Yatta and Hebron. These areas have terrible water shortages in the summer. I have a tanker truck and I haul the water to these communities myself. I also sell water to dozens of water tanker owners that come to me from different communities. I sell about 40 or 50 tankers’ worth of water a day.

About twenty days ago, the military closed off the main entrance to the camp, and also to Yatta and Dura, and imposed a closure on us. The amount of water I supplied dropped immediately. Tankers couldn’t reach me to buy water, and I sold water only to people I could get to myself. Instead of 20 to 25 tanks a day, I managed to sell only four or five. I lost 1,500 to 2,000 shekels [approx. USD 400-525] a day. Because they closed the iron gate at the entrance to the camp, the other truck drivers and I started taking the dirt road that runs through the farmland near the checkpoint, but the military brought in bulldozers and put up dirt mounds and rocks to block those roads too. There was no way to access the camp by vehicle, aside from the Yatta-al-Fakhs road which is very long, takes a long time and raises the cost of travel. Also, it’s useless for people who want to reach Dura and a-Dhahiriyah. The military sometimes closes this road too, and you can’t tell in advance whether or not it’s open.

That’s why tanker drivers don’t even bother with this road. Water is expensive in the summer as it is, and a tank worth of water costs between 250 and 500 shekels [approx. USD 65-130]. People won’t want to pay extra to cover the cost of taking longer roads. They’ll looker for cheaper ways to get water.

So, the closure of the entrance to the camp is a financial disaster for me. I don’t know when the closure will end and how much financial damage I’ll sustain before it is over, and before the summer is over. The summer is the most important season for my livelihood because of the serious water shortage, especially in Dura and a-Dhahiriyah.