Israel's severe restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement in the West Bank are enforced by a system of fixed checkpoints, surprise flying checkpoints, physical obstructions, roads on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel, and gates along the Separation Barrier. The restrictions enable Israel to control Palestinian movement throughout the West Bank as suits its interests, in a sweeping breach of Palestinians' rights.
Prolonged checks and searches at some of the checkpoints, humiliating treatment by soldiers, and long lines deter Palestinian drivers from using some of the roads still open to their use. As a result, Palestinian movement on some of the main roads in the West Bank has dropped, and these roads are used almost exclusively by settlers.
In February 2013, there were 98 fixed checkpoints in the West Bank.
58 are internal checkpoints, which are situated well within the West Bank. These checkpoints include 17 in Area H2 in Hebron, where Israeli settlement enclaves are found. Thirty-four of the internal checkpoints are regularly staffed.
40 of the fixed checkpoints are the last inspection point before entering Israel, although most are located a few kilometers east of the Green Line, or just outside the entrance to Jerusalem. All these checkpoints are staffed regularly, and are closed when not staffed. Some have been completely or partially privatized, and several are staffed by armed civilian guards employed by private security companies under supervision of the Crossing Directorate of the Ministry of Defense.
At some of the checkpoints, Israel prohibits crossing for private Palestinian vehicles, apart from those with special permits, and in principle allows crossing only for public transportation and commercial vehicles.
In addition, the army erects hundreds of surprise flying checkpoints along West Bank roads. During the month of May 2012, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) counted some 256 flying checkpoints compared with c. 340 in March 2012. Between January 2011 and September 2011, OCHA counted a monthly average of c. 495 flying checkpoints. During 2009-2010, the monthly average for flying checkpoints was 351, and from September 2008 to March 2009, the monthly average was 65.
In addition, Israel has blocked the access roads to some of the main traffic arteries in the West Bank by means of hundreds of physical obstructions, such as dirt piles, concrete blocks, iron gates, and trenches. The number of obstructions fluctuates often, depending on political and security circumstances. During 2012, OCHA counted an average of 445 physical obstructions a month, compared to an average of c. 434 obstructions during the period May through December 2011 and an average of 519 during 2010.
The obstructions prevent the crossing of vehicles even in emergencies. In addition, they restrict the movement of many pedestrians who have trouble bypassing them: the elderly, sick persons, pregnant women, and small children.
Another restriction is forbidding Palestinians to use certain roads. In February 2013, there were 67 kilometers of roads in the West Bank that Israel classified for the sole, or almost sole, use of Israelis, primarily of settlers. Israel also prohibits Palestinians from even crossing some of these roads with vehicles, thereby restricting their access to nearby roads that they are ostensibly not prohibited from using. In these cases, Palestinians travelers have to get out of the vehicle, cross the road on foot, and find an alternative mode of transportation on the other side.
The forbidden-roads policy is not laid out in the military legislation or in any official document, except for the prohibition on travel on Route 443, a road that connects the Tel Aviv area with North Jerusalem, which was prescribed in a military order five years after the prohibition was instituted and was partially removed following a ruling by the High Court of Justice. Another road, which runs from the Beit ‘Awwa junction to the Negohot settlement, was reopened following a High Court ruling given in October 2009. The IDF Spokesperson's Office informed B'Tselem that the prohibitions on Palestinian travel are based on “verbal orders” given to soldiers. This mode of operation adds a dimension of uncertainty and makes it difficult to critique the policy and test its validity in court.
The Separation Barrier
In addition to the above restrictions, the Separation Barrier, which was built mostly inside the West Bank, impairs Palestinian movement. As of February 2012, there were 35 checkpoints (included in the checkpoint data above) along the Barrier. In addition, OCHA counted, through the end of 2011, 60 agricultural gates intended to enable Palestinian farmers who live on one side and have farmland on the other side of the Barrier to get to their land. Crossing at these checkpoints and gates is conditioned on a special permit and by prior coordination with the Civil Administration. In recent years, Israel has reduced the number of permanent permits enabling access to land and communities situated on the western side of the Barrier and has limited the permits it issued to short, fixed periods.
The severe restrictions on persons wanting to cross the checkpoints and gates varies from one checkpoint and gate to another and from one time to another, but at almost all the regularly staffed checkpoints and gates of the Barrier, a person crossing on foot has to show an identity card or crossing permit and is checked in accordance with the procedures for crossing at the specific crossing. Often, soldiers check vehicles and the passengers' items.
Unlawful policy causes collective punishment
One of the declared objectives of Israel's policy restricting Palestinian movement is to protect the settlers. In light of the illegality of the settlements, the restrictions pile one illegal action on top of another: sweeping, disproportionate impairment of freedom of movement of an entire population to realize and perpetuate a policy that is illegal from the start. However, even if the restrictions were intended to prevent attacks inside Israel, and not in settlements, the policy would be illegal given its sweeping and disproportionate nature, which makes it prohibited collective punishment.
Furthermore, Israel's policy is based on the assumption that every Palestinian is a security threat, thus justifying restrictions on the person's freedom of movement. This racist assumption brings with it the sweeping violation of human rights of an entire population based on national origin. As such, the policy flagrantly breaches international law.