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15.8.07: Israel prevents Palestinians from going to the Dead Sea

15.8.07: Israel prevents Palestinians from going to the Dead Sea

B'Tselem's investigation reveals that the army prevents Palestinians from traveling to the northern Dead Sea area. Almog Checkpoint, which is located at the Beit Ha'arava intersection, controls movement to and from the northern Dead Sea. Palestinians wishing to cross the checkpoint, which has recently become a permanent installation, must have a permit to work in the nearby settlements. The reason for the prevention, apparently, is to enable Israelis to use the recreational sites without Palestinians present.

Contrary to the perception commonly held in Israel, the northern section of the Dead Sea is an integral part of the West Bank. Over the years, Israel has established a number of settlements and recreational sites in the area, and has severed it from the rest of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. However, until March 2007, Palestinians were permitted entry into the area. In March, the army set up flying checkpoints at the Beit Ha'arava intersection and prohibited Palestinian residents of the West Bank to cross into the area, except for those holding permits to enter Israel or who work in the nearby settlements.

These flying checkpoints were in operation primarily on weekends, when a larger number of Israeli vacationers traveled to the area. In May 2007, the checkpoint became permanent, and Israel began to deny passage to Palestinians, even those with permits to enter Israel. No official army order or written command has been issued prohibiting Palestinian entry into the area.

In the past, the Dead Sea was the last vacation refuge of Palestinians living in the West Bank, many of whom used to travel there to spend their weekends and vacations. The 'Ein Fascha Reserve, in the northern Dead Sea, was one of the popular vacation sites for West Bank Palestinians. The manager of the 'Ein-Fascha recreational area, in the northern Dead Sea, told B'Tselem that the site receives orders from the army from time to time to forbid the entry of Palestinians unless they show permits to enter Israel. Testimonies given by reserve-duty soldiers to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) indicate that the reason for setting up the checkpoint, as explained by the brigade commander, was "the reduced revenue of the Jewish communities along the Dead Sea coast when Palestinians also use the beaches."

The Dead Sea is also an extremely important economic resource for industry and tourism. Because of the restrictions Israel has imposed on the area since the beginning of the occupation, the Palestinians have never taken advantage of these resources.

The State of Israel is obligated to permit the residents of the West Bank to exercise their right to freedom of movement. This duty arises, primarily, from the fundamental duty that international humanitarian law imposes on the military commander to ensure the needs of the local population in the occupied territory. The duty also arises from the right of every person to move about freely in his or her country, which is enshrined in international human rights law. Israel, as the occupying power, has the right to restrict the freedom of movement of the local population, but only to meet imperative military needs.

The nature of the restrictions mentioned above raises a grave concern that the prohibitions are not grounded on legitimate security needs, but on extraneous reasons that are intended to advance Israeli interests in the occupied territory. These considerations involve illegal discrimination, in contravention of the principles of international law and Israeli administrative law. B'Tselem calls on the defense authorities to immediately cancel the restrictions on Palestinian movement in the area, including the restrictions on using the beaches and recreational sites in the northern Dead Sea area.