Blocked access road from 'Azzun to road 55.Photo: 'Abd al-Karim Sa'adi,B'Tselem, 16.6.13
The village of 'Azzun, population approximately 10,000, is located east of the city of Qalqiliya and between the districts of Nablus, Qalqiliya, Salfit and Tulkarm. It is adjacent to Road 55, the main road in the area which connects Nablus to Qalqiliya. Localities south of Azzum use a road that cuts through the village to reach Road 55.
The east entrance to 'Azzun, which is close to the settlements of Ma'ale Shomron and Karnei Shomron, was blocked by the military already in 1990, leaving only the north and north-west entrances open. In 2001, the army blocked all entrances to the village, leaving only a tunnel that ran under Road 55 and led to Road 574. In order to reach Nablus, for instance, the residents had to travel east through various villages and get onto Road 55 only through the village of al-Funduq. The military sometimes blocked the tunnel as well, and residents had to leave the village on foot, and take taxis on Road 55. In 2005, the military removed all roadblocks except the one in the eastern entrance, but it has since occasionally blocked the roads after stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown at Road 55.
In 2007, incidents of stone throwing at the road increased, partly in response to military actions inside the village. The military, in turn, began blocking access roads to the village more often and for longer periods of time. However, in 2008, the Palestinian police contacted the military and suggested it should take up operations in the area in order to reduce friction between the residents and the military. Although under the Oslo Accords, 'Azzun is located in Area B, where Israel holds the responsibility for security matters, the Palestinian police and the military reached an agreement along the lines suggested by the Palestinian police. Following its activity in the area, stone and Molotov cocktail throwing at the road decreased significantly, but in 2011, the military began to gradually limit the operations of the Palestinian police in the village, and ultimately restricted its actions to criminal matters only. Since then, frequent stone-throwing at the road has resumed and the military has again set restrictions on the residents' movement.
The military usually blocks the main entrance to the village, which leads to Road 55, by placing concrete blocks and/or locking the gate that was installed on the access road to the village, close to a military watchtower located at the site. The military blocks the road for anywhere between a few hours and a few days at a time. When the access road is blocked, village residents must travel through the village of 'Izbat at-Tabib. This route is 2.5 kilometers long, compared to the 800 meter stretch of road leading from the village center to Road 55 via the main entrance. During rush hour there are traffic jams in the area and travel time to the road can take over 15 minutes.
The side road leading from 'Azzun to 'Izbat at-Tabib is also occasionally blocked. When this occurs, the only way out of the village is through a 4-kilometer- long side road that passes through the villages of Asalah and 'Izbat at-Tabib. This road is too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic and trucks and public transportation vehicles cannot easily pass. This year, the military has blocked the roads more frequently. According to 'Azzun Village Council Head, Nimer 'Adwan, since the beginning of 2013, the military has blocked the road nine times, on the following dates:
13 February, 2013 - for two days
1 April, 2013 - for the night
3 May, 2013 - for a few hours
13 June, 2013 - for eight days
25 June, 2013 - overnight
1 July 2013 - overnight
8 July 2013 - for a few hours
9 July 2013 - for six days
Blocking access to the road does not harm residents of 'Azzun alone, but also residents of villages to the south, including Kafr Thulth, Sanniriya, Bidya, Izbat al-Ashqar and many others. Every time the road is blocked, residents of these villages too must take detours. The road blockages make it difficult for residents of the area to lead normal lives, harming workers, students, merchants and medical patients. Ambulances must also take the detours, unless there is a military jeep at the entrance to the village. In that case, the soldiers open the gate and allow ambulances to pass.
The village of 'Azzun. Photo: Courtesy of village council.
Amani Sweidan, a 22-year-old student from 'Azzun who is studying in the economics program at an-Najah University in Nablus, described the difficulties she experiences due to the roadblocks:
Taxi drivers have to take long detours to get to Road 55 which leads to Nablus. When the road to 'Izbat at-Tabib is also blocked, the drive is really long and the price for the tax ride goes from 10 NIS to 12 NIS.
On the way back from university, the service taxis let me off on Road 55, at the entrance to the village and I have to walk for about 150 meters, cross the roadblock, and then take a taxi to my house which is on the other side of the village. This costs me another 7 NIS.
Because of the frequent blockages, the residents of this area live in constant uncertainty. The military does not notify them of the blockage and they repeatedly discover that they cannot go about their routine lives.
Head of the Village Council, Nimer 'Adwan, age 67, described the military's conduct in a testimony given to B'Tselem field researcher 'Abd al-Karim Sa'di:
When they close the road, we get no notice from the military or the Israeli DCO. Military officers have told people who were on site when the army was blocking the road that they were blocking it because some unknown individuals had thrown stones or Molotov cocktails towards Road 55. Today, 9 July 2013, the military blocked the road on the first day of Ramadan. Village residents have friends and relatives in towns and villages in the area and now it will be difficult to visit them on the holiday. The roadblock also makes it difficult for greengrocers and wholesalers to bring merchandise into the village.
Blocking the road due to stone throwing is unlawful. It constitutes collective punishment of the residents of 'Azzun and of nearby villages. This type of punishment is prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which stipulates that a person cannot be punished for an offense he or she did not commit personally. The military must counteract stone and Molotov cocktail throwing using the lawful means at its disposal. The solution it has chosen - closing the road - denies thousands of residents of the area their right to freedom of movement.