Ground to a Halt: Denial of Palestinians' Freedom of Movement in the West Bank , August 2007

August 2007, comprehensive report

Since the beginning of the second intifada, in September 2000, Israel has imposed restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank that are unprecedented in scope and time. As a result, the fundamental right of West Bank Palestinians to freedom of movement, their exercise of which was limited in any event, has become a privilege that Israel extends to them as it deems fit. Indeed, Palestinian travel in the West Bank is now an exception, which must be justified to the Israeli authorities, and almost every trip entails uncertainty, friction with soldiers, much waiting, and often great expense.

Israel combines a number of means in implementing the restrictions-on-movement regime. The means include fixed and temporary checkpoints, 47 of which control Palestinians' movement inside the West Bank , 455 physical obstructions on roads, and the Separation Barrier. Certain areas are under siege: entry is possible only through checkpoints and is subject to checks and possession of a permit. On 312 kilometers of main roads in the West Bank , vehicles bearing Palestinian license plates are forbidden or restricted.

The restrictions on movement that Israel has imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank have split the area into six major geographical units: North, Center, South, the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea, the enclaves resulting from the Separation Barrier, and East Jerusalem . In addition to the restrictions on movement from section to section, Israel also severely restricts movement within the sections by splitting them up into subsections, and by controlling and limiting movement between them.

The geographic division of the West Bank has far-reaching implications on every aspect of Palestinian life. For example, the restrictions impede access to medical facilities, both of the medical staff and the patient. The difficulty in getting to work, the constant lack of certainty, and the greater expenses resulting from the restrictions gravely affect the economy and trade in the West Bank . The restrictions impair family and social ties. Other negative ramifications include a decline in the supply of infrastructure services and in law enforcement in areas under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.

The legal perspective

Israeli officials contend that the restrictions on movement in the West Bank are a necessary response, limited in time, to security threats facing the state and its citizens. The State of Israel has the right, even the duty, to protect its citizens. It may also be that some of the restrictions were needed at first. However, it appears that Israel continues to apply these means even after the temporary and specific security need has passed, and use them to achieve other objectives, among them controlling and regulating the movement of Palestinian vehicles to separate them from the settlers and other Israelis on roads in the West Bank, and to create a rapid and convenient road network for the settlers. In addition, this separation results in the de facto annexation of these roads by Israel .

A substantial proportion of the restrictions is intended to serve these improper interests, rendering the restrictions illegal. Furthermore, even if all the restrictions were intended to achieve legitimate security interests, many of them would violate the principle of proportionality, and therefore be illegal.

Israel contends that the restrictions on movement are imposed as part of its ongoing battle against security threats, and are not intended as punishment. However, the vast majority of the victims of the restrictions are not suspected of personal involvement in any terror activity. Based on the results of Israel 's actions and taking into account that most of the restrictions have continued for seven years, the conclusion is inescapable that the restrictions constitute collective punishment, which is absolutely forbidden by international humanitarian law.

Recommendations

For the above reasons, B'Tselem calls on the government of Israel and the defense authorities to:

  • immediately remove all the permanent and sweeping restrictions on movement inside the West Bank, including the parts of the Separation Barrier that protrude into the West Bank . In their place, Israel should concentrate along the Green Line or inside Israel the means used to protect Israelis;
  • act immediately to evacuate all the settlements in the West Bank . Until this is done, Israel must safeguard the lives of the settlers, giving preference to means that restrict their freedom of movement and not that of the Palestinians, the protected residents of the occupied territory;
  • verify, before any temporary restriction inside the West Bank is approved, that the restriction is indeed needed for a legitimate security purpose and that the resultant harm to the Palestinian population will be proportionate. Such a restriction must be incorporated in a written order that specifies the nature of the restriction and the period of time it will remain in force.