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Israel punishes hundreds of thousands of Palestinians for the actions of individuals

On Thursday, 30 June 2016, a Palestinian youth stabbed 13-year-old Israeli Hallel Yaffa Ariel in her bed, in her home in the settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron. The next day, Palestinians fired at an Israeli car driving on Route 60, killing Rabbi Michael Mark and wounding his wife and two of their children. After these two attacks, Israel imposed severe restrictions on Palestinian movement in vast areas of the Hebron District.

Soldiers guard a Roadblock placed by the Military at the entrance to Bani Na’im. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem.
Soldiers guard a Roadblock placed by the Military at the entrance to Bani Na’im. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 4 July, 2016.

The first restrictions were imposed immediately following the killing of Ariel by Muhammad Tarayreh, a resident of Bani Na'im, and focused on that community specifically. Some 30,000 people live in Bani Na’im. The next day, following the shooting attack on Road 60, the restrictions were expanded to most of the Hebron District and imposed on twenty more towns, villages and communities. The restrictions largely do not prevent travel in the district, but make movement very difficult and turn every foray out of the house into an arduous journey. .

The travel restrictions have completely disrupted the lives of 900,000 or so people who live in the area. Imposed just days before the end of the month of Ramadan and the beginning of ‘Eid al-Fitr, they also disrupted preparations for the holiday, exacerbating the harm to the local economy. Most of the travel restrictions remain in place even now, during the holiday itself.

This Israeli policy constitutes collective punishment of hundreds of thousands of innocent people who are suspected of no wrongdoing. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared immediately after the Kiryat Arba attack that a lockdown would be imposed on the attacker’s village, Bani Na’im, that work permits given to members of his clan would be revoked, and that his home was now slated for demolition by explosion. These statements, along with the nature of the restrictions imposed, indicate that this group punishment is an ostentatious act of vengeance taken by Israeli authorities for domestic political reasons, at the expense of Palestinian residents in the Hebron area.

Israeli officials use the division of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C to argue that the occupation has ended in much of the West Bank and that Palestinians are free to manage their own affairs. Yet Israel’s ability to effortlessly disrupt the routine of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, most of whom live in areas purportedly under the control of the Palestinian Authority, once again proves that Israel still rules the entire West Bank and decides the fate of its residents.

Roadblock at the entrance to al-Fawwar refugee camp: Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 30 June 2016.
Roadblock at the entrance to al-Fawwar refugee camp: Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 30 June 2016. 

Restrictions on Bani Na’im

After the Kiryat Arba attack, the prime minister and the defense minister ordered that a closure be imposed on the community of Bani Na’im, the home of the attacker. The military subsequently sealed off the three major exits that link the community to the main road in the area, Route 60, by car. At present, the community can be accessed via a bypass road that goes through the nearby village of Beit 'Einun, but this is a rough road and a much longer trip.

In testimonies given to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 30 June 2016, residents of Bani Na’im and people who work in the community spoke about the difficulties they have faced as a result of the road closure:

Iyad Manasreh, a 46-year-old resident of Bani Na’im who works as a paramedic for the Red Crescent, related:

Today (30 June 15) At around 1:00 P.M . I was taking a woman from the village to hospital in an ambulance. She had apparently had a heart attack and was unconscious. I didn’t know the military had closed off the main exit from the village and hurried there to get onto Route 60, which is the quickest way to the hospital. Her pulse was slow and her life was in danger. When I got to the main exit I was surprised to see an army bulldozer piling up dirt to block it. I asked the soldiers to let me through the gap that remained. One of the soldiers hesitated and waited with the patient in the ambulance for about five minutes, and then they let me through. I rushed to the hospital but sadly, the woman died shortly before we got there. I left her at the hospital and went back to Bani Na’im via the road that goes through Beit ‘Einun, which is in bad condition so the drive takes longer.

Dr. Muhammad Qdeimat, a 29-year-old resident of nearby Kharas who works as a doctor in Bani Na’im gave an example of how the closure has affected him:

I work at a Red Crescent emergency clinic in Bani Na’im. On 30 June I took a shared taxi to work from Hebron. When the taxi reached the main entrance to Bani Na’im, the other passengers and I were all surprised to find it closed. The driver had to look for another way in. He turned around and went through Beit ‘Einun, and dropped us off in the center of Bani Na’im. I had to walk from there to the clinic, which is near the main entrance to the village. I got to work about half an hour late, at 3:30 P.M. When I got there, several patients were already waiting. Being thirty minutes late isn’t a disaster and no patient was harmed, but it’s still unpleasant – the drive itself , the taxi driver’s confusion, looking for an alternative route, the bumps along the way, the slow drive, and walking to the clinic.

People walk through a gate at Beit ‘Einun to reach taxis on other side. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem.
People walk through a gate at Beit ‘Einun to reach taxis on other side. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 4 July, 2016.

On Friday, 1 July 2016, the military blocked off the main entrance to Beit 'Einun as well, and the road from the village to Bani Na’im. This not only restricted the movement of residents of Beit 'Einun and other villages in the area, but isolated Bani Na’im. The village is a major industrial center in the district, as it houses many carpet-weaving enterprises and stone-working workshops that that process stone quarried in the area.

Many workshops had to shut down from 1 to 4 July, 2016, since it was impossible to enter the village by car. In testimonies given to B’Tselem’s field researcher on 3 July 2016, residents described the harm that the complete closure caused to the community, to workplaces, and to preparations for the holiday:

Nahed Shihdah, a 38-year-old resident of Bani Na’im who owns a stone-working workshop told B’Tselem:

Our workshop is one of more than twenty in Bani Na’im. It’s relatively small, with thirteen laborers. Quarrying and stone-working are the backbone of Bani Na’im’s economy and provide hundreds of jobs. Every day, hundreds of trucks go in and out of the village. On Friday, the military tightened the restrictions on the village and blocked off the way to Beit ‘Einun – which was our last resort after the main roads were closed. Bani Na’im was completely cut off and trucks couldn’t get in.

I temporarily shut down the workshop and I heard that the other owners did the same. Today, because the closure was still in place, I paid my laborers their wages and sent them on unlimited leave until the restrictions are eased. It was hard for me and for my workers, but they knew we had nothing to do at the workshop but sit around and wait for the closure to be lifted.

What happened is not our fault, and it’s not the fault of the thirty thousand people of Bani Na’im. This closure is costing me ten thousand shekels a day.

The head of the Bani Na’im council, Mahmoud Manasreh, 58, described the effects of the closure:

Most men in Bani Na’im are in trade connected to the large stonework and carpet industries in the village, and they travel from one place to another. Hundreds of traders travel every day to towns throughout the West Bank and Israel. Many residents also earn a living from raising livestock and selling dairy products outside the village. Any closure, even a short one, is an economic disaster for the village.

On Friday, 1 July, the military tightened the closure and closed off the road to Beit ‘Einun. The village was sealed off and no one could go in or out by car. The last four days of Ramadan, before the high holiday of ‘Eid al-Fitr, are particularly important business days for the traders, who wait for them to sell their merchandise. Now most of them are stuck inside the village. Dairy products that have no buyers in the village have become surplus produce that cannot be stored because it goes off.

The closure also makes it hard to maintain hygiene and sanitation. This morning, a garbage truck managed to make it to a dumping site in Bethlehem after taking a rough side route. But when the driver tried to return to Bani Na’im, they didn’t let him. He waited for three hours and finally drove to Hebron. The other garbage truck, which comes from Hebron, they didn’t allow in at all. If the closure continues, things will get worse and in several days, the streets here will be full of garbage.

Roadblock at the entrance to al-Fawwar refugee camp: residents return home with groceries. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem.
Roadblock at the entrance to al-Fawwar refugee camp: residents return home with groceries. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 4 July, 2016.

Restrictions on movement in other parts of Hebron District

On Friday, 1 July 2016, the military blocked off roads leading to many other communities in the Hebron district. Most of the communities were not locked down, but these impediments to travel seriously disrupt routine as they force residents to take bypass roads that increase travel times. The occasional policy changes and physical alternations to the roadblocks create uncertainty among residents as to whether they will be able to return home at the end of the day.

One example is the town of Yatta, with a population of more than 60,000. The town serves as a commercial and economic center for many villages in the area, which are home to another 60,000 residents or so who depend on Yatta for various needs. On 1 July, the military blocked off the three main entrances to the town, which made going in and out of town difficult and lengthened travel times. The next day, Saturday, the military blocked off additional exits that connect Yatta to local villages, and the town was effectively sealed off. Only on Monday, 4 July 2016, did the military open one of the roadblocks.

Significant travel restrictions were also imposed on many Palestinian communities south of the city of Hebron that lie along Route 60, with a total population of about 30,000. The military blocked their access to Route 60 by closing gates or putting up dirt mounds. As a result, residents who wish to exit, must leave their cars inside the villages, cross the roadblocks on foot, and find transportation on the other side.

‘Issa Jaradat, a 22-year-old resident of Al-'Udaisah who works as a shared-taxi driver, told B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bri on 4 July 2016 about the difficulty created by the roadblocks at the entrances to villages:

As a driver I have witnessed the suffering of women, children, old people, and the ill – all of whom have to walk from the checkpoint to the closed gate, sometimes carrying heavy things, under the scorching sun. It’s Ramadan now and people are fasting, which makes the usual difficulties that people have to deal with under closure even worse. Also, the number of passengers has really dropped. Only “adventurous” people or those who have urgent business leave their villages.

Sou’ad ‘Abd al-Fatah, 41, lives with her family in the Wadi a-Saman area on the outskirts of Hebron. On 4 July 2016 she told B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash about the impact of the closure on her family’s preparation for the holiday festivities:

I live with my husband and our seven little boys in Wadi a-Saman, some 500 meters south of al-Fahs gate, through which you enter Hebron from Yatta. It’s a small area and we have no market to serve our needs, so I shop in Hebron, where I also visit relatives. On Friday, the military closed the iron gate at al-Fahs. I didn’t go to Hebron to buy groceries, fruit, sweets, and holiday clothes, and put off the shopping in the hope that the closure wouldn’t last long. When it did last, I started to worry.

Today is supposed to be the last day of Ramadan and tomorrow ‘Id al-Fitr holiday is supposed to begin. I asked my husband to go with me and the boys to do shopping in town. We will have to walk from our house to the closed gate and then find a car going to Hebron. On the way back we’ll take the same route. It’s a 500 meter walk, which is hard to do with groceries.

I’m worried about the festival days coming up. I don’t want to cause any discomfort to the relatives who are going to come to visit me during the holiday and will have to walk from the gate to my house. It will be very hard and will dampen the holiday spirit.

Roadblock at the entrance to Halhul. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem.
Roadblock at the entrance to Halhul. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 4 July, 2016.