In recent years, the Israeli army has reduced its use of curfew. However, it continues to impose curfews during operations in villages and cities in the West Bank, and at times imposes curfew as punishment. Following stone throwing in a village, for instance, the army sometimes imposes a curfew on all or part of the village for a few hours or even a few days.
During “Operation Defensive Shield”, which lasted three weeks, the army imposed a curfew on most residents of the West Bank. In some areas, this curfew continued even after the operation ended. In “Operation Determined Path,” which began in June 2002 and lasted several months, the army reentered the West Bank and reinstated a curfew on all Palestinian cities except Jericho, as well as on many West Bank towns and villages. In the initial weeks of the operation, almost two million Palestinians were under curfew. About two months after the operation began, the army gradually lifted the curfew on the towns and villages, but continued the curfew on the major cities for many more months.
Imposition of prolonged curfews cannot be deemed legitimate. The routine use of curfews, which ostensibly results from security considerations, violates international law and the army's own criteria. As the occupying power, the army is required to ensure the well-being of the civilian population. Therefore, any means that it employs must maintain a reasonable balance between security needs and potential harm to the civilian population. In imposing curfew, the army violates this reasonable balance: the Palestinians' needs are given only marginal consideration, which is reflected in the short breaks in the curfew.
Also, the army is required to consider the use of less harmful alternatives to meet its security needs. It is unreasonable that, over such a long period of time, the army has not managed to find a means that infringes Palestinian human rights to a lesser extent. The sweeping curfew - which covered the entire West bank and lasted for such a protracted period of time - strengthens the conclusion that alternative means were not seriously considered, and that the army chose the means that were the cheapest and easiest to implement.
Prolonged curfew affects all areas of life. The major effects are destruction to the economic infrastructure, loss of sources of income, malnutrition, stress from confinement to home, and grave harm to the education, health, and welfare systems. The inability to obtain medical treatment and timely follow-up care has seriously affected the health of residents requiring medical attention.
The prolonged curfew constitutes collective punishment, which is absolutely prohibited by international law.
Especially grave is the army's practice of enforcing curfew by means of live gunfire, at times without warning. Until 18 October 2002, the army killed 19 Palestinians - twelve of them children under the age of 15 - in such circumstances. Dozens more were wounded. None of these casualties endangered soldiers' lives. Violation of curfew is not sufficient justification to open fire, and when soldiers shoot under such circumstances, they are guilty of excessive use of force. Using gunfire to enforce curfew testifies to a shameful disregard for human life and a “trigger happy” attitude. Excessive force of this nature flagrantly breaches international law.
Firing at Palestinians who ostensibly violate curfew is even more problematic because of the lack of clarity in the procedures for imposing and lifting curfews. The IDF Spokesperson refused to provide B'Tselem with information on these procedures. According to testimonies given to B'Tselem, and contrary to statements made by the IDF Spokesperson, the army does not properly notify the local population about curfew hours. As a result, residents often do not know whether the curfew is in effect and frequently have to rely on rumors and on events they see taking place in the streets.
A curfew covering a specific area for a set period of time, following prior warning, is legitimate. However, a prolonged curfew imposed on hundreds of thousands of residents is unjustifiable on grounds of security needs. Also, live gunfire and the use of tear-gas are illegal means to enforce curfew, and the army must stop this practice immediately. Furthermore, the army must investigate every instance in which soldiers violate these orders. Lastly, it must establish clear procedures for imposing and lifting curfews.