Restrictions on movement - Impact of the restrictions on Palestinian fabric of life

Published: 
1 Jan 2014

Israel's legal obligation to respect the freedom of movement of residents of the West Bank results first and foremost from the basic duty that international humanitarian law imposes on the military commander to ensure the needs of the civilian population in occupied territory. This obligation is important because every impediment to freedom of movement almost inevitably impairs the ability of the population under occupation to meet other vital needs, by denying access to medical-treatment facilities, job sites, commercial centers, educational institutions and the like.

Indeed, the restrictions on movement and the resultant geographical splitting of the West Bank seriously impair the functioning of central social institutions and, consequently, the ability of Palestinians to exercise many human rights. Israel's policy prevents Palestinians from living a normal life. Simple actions that are part of Israelis' daily routine, such as shopping, visiting relatives, and studying at university, have become complicated and sometimes impossible missions for Palestinians.

For example, by denying proper access to medical services, the restrictions on movement impair the ability of many Palestinians in the West Bank to properly exercise their right to health: sick persons needing treatment have difficulty getting to medical centers; the quality of service provided at these facilities suffers because of the absence, or delay in arrival, of physicians and staff; and medical emergency teams have trouble getting rapidly to the sick or wounded. The restrictions also impair the Palestinian Authority's ability to develop the health system and build medical reserves, a deficiency that increases the already heavy dependence of Palestinians on health services in Israel and other countries.

The restrictions on movement also significantly impact economy and trade in the West Bank. They have an immediate and direct effect on the ability of Palestinians to get to work, on trade relations, and on profits of businesses large and small. The effect on the agricultural sector is especially grave. The restrictions affect the farmers' ability to grow, harvest, and market their crops in the West Bank, especially in the “seam zone” and the Jordan Valley. One of the prominent effects of the difficulty in moving from area to area is the creation of smaller, local markets, which makes trade between areas in the West Bank expensive, unpredictable, and inefficient. The constant uncertainty and the steadily rising costs entailed in conducting trade, as a result of the restrictions on internal movement, are major obstacles to the recovery of the Palestinian economy.

The restrictions on movement also impair the ability to maintain family and social ties, affecting both ties between areas and contact between relatives and friends that live in different subsections of the same geographical area. This harm is especially felt by families living in the “seam zone”, in the Jordan Valley, and in the Nablus area, which are under siege. Not only do the restrictions on movement prevent routine gatherings of the nuclear family, they also delay or prevent members from taking part in large family events and social gatherings. In some instances, relatives or friends are delayed on their way to a social event, and sometimes are prevented from participating altogether.

With respect to residents of rural communities under Palestinian Authority responsibility, the restrictions impair their ability to receive services that are provided in the district seat or by persons who come from there. These include urban infrastructure services, social services, mail, governmental services, rescue services, and electricity and gas supply. Palestinian Authority law-enforcement officials, who are responsible for these areas, are usually also based in the district seat.