The main – northern – entrance to the Palestinian village of Hizma in the West Bank has been closed off for almost two months, since 16 January 2018. The village is home to some 7,000 people and lies between Jerusalem and Ramallah. To the west, on land expropriated from Hizma, Israel established the settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev and the Separation Barrier, which runs right by the village. In addition to closing off the northern entrance, the military closes the two southern entrances for varying lengths of time every week. The grounds given by the military were stone-throwing on nearby roads. For example, on 28 February, soldiers locked the gate installed by the military at the southern entrance that lies near the community of Tublas for three days, until 3 March. With no other choice, the residents had to use dirt paths to bypass the blocked entrances; however, on 28 February the military blocked off those paths, too, with dirt piles.
The entire population of the village is suffering from the blocked entrances, and especially residents who need to get to the town of a-Ram, the neighboring village of ‘Anata or Ramallah for studies and work. Some 350 high-school and university students, as well as sick persons who need medical care outside the village and are not easily mobile, have to walk to the outskirts of the village – in some cases more than three kilometers – in order to catch buses or taxis, as public transport has been halted inside the village.
Many businesses in the western part of the village have also been hard hit by the closure of the northern entrance, which has cut off traffic through the village spilling off from Route 437, a major thoroughfare that links the northern and southern West Bank. Before the restrictions were imposed, hundreds of cars passed daily through the western part of Hizma and many drivers stopped for gas or shopping. Revenue has dropped sharply in the last two months, and some businesses have had to dismiss employees and throw away unused stock.
Restricting the freedom of movement of all 7,000+ residents of Hizma has thrown their lives into disarray and constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law and cannot be justified. This is yet another instance that illustrates what daily life under occupation looks like, and how the Israeli military uses its powers in arbitrary fashion.
Video: 'Amer' Aruri, B'Tselem
In testimonies given to B’Tselem field researcher ‘Amer ‘Aruri on 5 March 2018, owners of small businesses in Hizma related the financial difficulties resulting from closing off the village:
Farah Sabih, 54, a married father of seven and grocer from Hizma, said:
I opened the grocery store ten years ago and employ two workers from Hizma. Most of my clients are not from Hizma, but people who drive through the village and stop to buy groceries. My store is just five meters from the northern entrance to Hizma, which the military closed off with concrete blocks on 16 January 2018. Until then, cars coming from the direction of Qalandiya would drive into Hizma through the northern entrance, and the drivers would stop to rest and buy food and drink. Since they blocked the entrance, traffic has stopped. No cars come into Hizma – not even from the south, because they can’t continue north through the village. Anyway, the military closes the southern entrances sometimes, too.
I usually open the store from 4:00 A.M to 1:00 A.M., to service laborers leaving early for work from Hizma or passing through here. Since the closure, I’ve started thinking about cutting down the hours because there aren’t enough customers. For example, before the closure I sold 600 units of bread a day, on average. Now I sell 200 at most. Before the closure, the supplier of dairy products would come here three times a week. Now I buy from him only twice a week, because I don’t want to stock up the refrigerator knowing that it will go to waste. Since they closed the entrance, I’ve had to throw away spoiled products at least once. I’m very worried about this situation and am not sure the business can stay afloat.
Ahmad Salah a-Din, 37, a married manager of a bakery from Hizma, related:
I’ve been running the al-Hadithi bakery for three years. Since the military imposed a closure on the village in January, we’ve had almost no customers coming into Hizma. We had twelve employees, but we’ve had to cut it down to just five.
About half of our customers are not from Hizma. Sales have dropped sharply for two main reasons: one, that customers from outside Hizma stopped coming, and two, that the village doesn’t feel safe. Because there are more soldiers in the village, people prefer to stay inside; for example, parents are afraid to send children to the bakery after 6:00 P.M, when it starts to get dark. Almost every day, soldiers stand in the middle of the road and search people passing by on foot or in cars. After 7:00 P.M. you won’t find children or women near the bakery like you used to. The military presence in the area has created a psychological barrier. Hizma used to be a stopping place for people driving throughout the West Bank, but now we get no one coming through. It’s affected all the businesses and thrown us into a deep recession. I’m very sad that the situation forced me to fire employees. We just don’t have enough customers.
Shawki Sa’id, a married owner of a restaurant from Hizma, related:
Six months ago, I opened up a restaurant called Frost and Toast in Hizma. Five families live off the profits. Most of our customers are people passing through on their way to other places throughout the West Bank, because Hizma is strategically located between Qalandiya Checkpoint, the Container Checkpoint, al-‘Eizariyah, Jericho and the Jordan Valley.
The blocks installed by the Israeli military greatly reduced the number of customers. Even when the southern entrances are open, no one comes in because they can’t continue north. People travelling north from the southern West Bank and Jericho can’t drive through the village, and those coming from Qalandiya and the north can’t even get in.
If this continues, I’ll have to fire employees. I can’t pay four salaries in the economic recession forced upon the businesses along the road.
D.N., 27, a married manager of a gas equipment store from Hizma, related:
I run a store that sells gas tanks and related equipment. It belongs to my father and I’ve worked here for five years.
Most of our customers – Arabs and Jews – are not from Hizma. The northern entrance to the village has been closed for over a month now, and the military sometimes closes the southern entrance, too. Since this began, sales have dropped by 80%. Beforehand, I used to open the store all day long, from 9:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. Now I close up already at 2:00 P.M., because it’s a waste of time to keep the store open without customers. It’s now 1:00 P.M. and I’ve had a single client all day, a resident of Hizma.
I live outside the south-eastern entrance to the village – the one connecting to Tublas. The store is very close to the northern entrance and about half a kilometer from the Tublas entrance. Up until two days ago, the military had also blocked the Tublas entrance, so I had to drive into the village, north, for three kilometers instead of just one, in order to get home.
I’m a young guy. If this shop shuts down, I won’t be able to find a job. The village is in a deep recession because of the blocks. Where will I go?
S.J., 48, a married gas station worker from of Hizma, related:
I’ve been working at the a-Salam gas station for six years, doing daily shifts of eight hours. The station I on the road that runs between the northern and southern entrance to the village. Twelve families make a living off the station: the owner of the land it’s located on, the owner of the station, the workers and the accountant. The station is open 24/7 and most of the customers are not from Hizma.
Before they closed off the entrance to the village, the road was buzzing with activity. A lot of Jewish and Arab drivers would stop here to shop and fill up on gas. A lot of taxis from the central and southern West Bank would stop here. Hizma was the most popular way station for people travelling from Qalandiya Checkpoint to the Container Checkpoint in eastern a-Sawahrah.
Since the military blocked off the northern entrance and started sometimes closing the southern entrances, drivers have preferred to avoid Hizma and the number of customers dropped. Today, I started my shift at 7:00 A.M. It’s now 2:30 P.M. and we’ve had only five customers. I would usually serve at least 20 customers in a shift.