Update: On Monday, 5 August, the military once again closed the gates it had installed in both of the northern entrances to Deir Nizam. . As of 8 August, they remain closed.
Blocking the entrances to villages has long become one of the routine methods of oppression used by Israel against Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Usually, the military justifies such closures with allegations that village youths threw stones or Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles. And so, in one fell swoop, the military punishes all village residents and road users from nearby villages as well, even though they did nothing.
Yet again, during June and July 2019, the military closed the entrances of two villages, claiming that youth had thrown stones at local roads: the main entrance to the village of Osarin southeast of Nablus was blocked with boulders and sand mounds for 29 days, and in the village of Deir Nizam, northwest of Ramallah, the military closed a gate it installed at its northwestern entrance for 20 days.
Road closures constitute collective punishment of thousands of people who live or work in the village and its environs. The extreme restrictions on the residents’ freedom of movement completely disrupt their lives and undermine their ability to make a living, get to school, farm their land, receive medical treatment, or simply go about their daily business. The closures force the residents to live in uncertainty, cause frustration and waste precious time. There is no connection between stone-throwing by youths in a village, which may or may not have happened, and harming thousands of people in this way, which is simply an arbitrary abuse of power by the military.
Following are descriptions of the closures and testimonies collected by B’Tselem field researchers from residents of the villages:
The main entrance to the village of Osarin was closed for 29 days, 12 June 2019 to 10 July 2019
Osarin, a village of 2,100 residents, is located southeast of Nablus. The village has four entrances: the main, southeastern entrance, which the military closed, leads to Route 505. Another road branches out at this entrance, before the barrier, leading to the village of Aqraba and from there to the main road (Route 505). The three remaining entrances connect Osarin to the village of Beita.
In April and May, the military closed the main entrance to the village for about six weeks. On Friday, 12 June 2019, it closed it again. Soldiers arrived at the village in the early morning in military jeeps, accompanied by a bulldozer, and closed the main entrance that leads to Route 505 with boulders and sand mounds. The same day, the Palestinian DCO informed village residents that the Israeli military said it had closed the road after youths had thrown stones on Route 505 and burned tires. Two weeks later, on 27 June 2019, village youths removed some of the sand and opened a narrow passage for cars, but two days later the military came back and blocked the entrance with sand mounds. On 10 July 2019, the military removed the sand mounds and opened the road.
The closure forced residents to use alternative roads, and because of roadworks on the road connecting Aqraba to Route 505, residents were not able to use it either and were forced to drive on bumpy, steep roads full of speed bumps that run between the houses of the village of Beita.
B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb'i collected testimonies from village residents:
Mubarak ‘Adili, 37, a married father of four, head of the Osarin Council, said in a testimony he gave on 1 July 2019:
It isn't the first time the main entrance was blocked by the military. Recently, it was blocked several times for different lengths of time, the longest about two months ago, for a month and a half.
The military is punishing a whole village, whose residents have places to go. There are a lot of people here who have jobs as laborers within the Green Line. Because of the blockage, the residents are forced to use alternative roads, through the nearby villages of Beita and Aqraba. There is maintenance work on the Aqraba road, and you can’t go that way, so everybody had to go through Beita. This route makes the drive 6 km longer and runs through Beita's neighborhoods. It is an old, narrow, steep and broken road, that has a lot of speed bumps and potholes.
Every day I get a lot of calls from residents asking me when the entrance is going to be opened. Everybody suffers from the blockage, especially the workers who go out to work very early in the morning, through the Barkan and Qalqilya checkpoints, and are now unable to go directly to Route 505. Even the price of a ride on public transportation went up 5-10 shekels each way.
The military is punishing an entire village, claiming that a few young men threw stones. We didn't hear of any damage being caused to any Israeli cars. There is no explanation except for collective punishment. If there really was stone-throwing, the military would have arrested the youths. But the real purpose is to sow chaos in the village and humiliate the residents.
Rizq ‘Adili, 61, a married father of five, a shuttle driver, said in a testimony he gave on 1 July 2019:
When I found out the entrance to the village was blocked, I tried to drive through Aqraba, but that road was also closed because of maintenance work. I had to take the Beita road, which is steep, narrow, and full of potholes. It also goes through the village neighborhoods, so you have to be very careful of small children or pets who might suddenly barge into the road. It's not a main road and normally doesn't have a lot of traffic. It's also longer and it takes about 20 minutes to get to the main road. The road goes through the Beita market, which causes a lot of delays. Now, if a person wants to go from Osarin to Nablus, they have to leave at least half an hour earlier to get there on time. On the other hand, driving on the main road takes about 35 minutes when the road is clear and there are no delays. I get home exhausted and spent because of all of those restrictions.
Every day I get calls from a lot of people who want me to drive them and ask me if the entrance is still closed, and some of them cancel the ride when I tell them it is.
Luai ‘Adili, 43, a married father of five, owner of a grocery store in the village, said in a testimony he gave on 1 July 2019:
Since the main entrance of the village was closed, I have been suffering a lot. The suppliers of the different companies refuse to enter the village through alternative routes. When they get to the entrance to Osarin and see it's closed, they call me and apologize they will not be able to come. To convince them to come in after all, I pay them 20-30 shekels to compensate them for the long ride. But a lot of them refuse anyway.
I am short of a lot of merchandise in the store. It's as if we were in another country, across the border, and you can't come to us. To solve that problem, which recurs every time the military puts the village under closure, I rented warehouses at the beginning of the year and invested 10,000 shekels in them. That's a very big sum for me, but I had no choice. This is my livelihood and I have to protect it. But I still suffer from a shortage of merchandise, all because of the collective punishment policy.
What am I guilty of? What did all the women, children, and elderly people in the village do wrong for them to be punished like this? Every time the Israelis want to block the entrance of the village and disrupt our lives, they claim it is a security measure. I doubt there really was a case of stone-throwing.
Blockage of the northwestern entrance to Deir Nizam for 20 days, 26 June 2019 to 15 July 2019
Deir Nizam, a village of 900 residents, lies northwest of Ramallah. The village has three entrances: the northern entrance, which the military blocked with a locked gate at the beginning of 2019, the northwestern entrance, on the road leading to Route 465 north towards Nablus and south towards Ramallah, and the southeastern entrance that leads to Route 450, which connects the Palestinian villages in the area to the city of Ramallah. Another entrance to the village, on the west side, leads to a narrow and bumpy agricultural road.
On Wednesday, 26 June 2019, in the afternoon, the military closed the metal gate that it had installed at the northwestern entrance to the village back in February. The Israeli DCO informed the village residents that the gate was closed because youths had thrown stones on Route 465. This left residents with only one route – through the southeastern entrance. This route has two checkpoints, the first of which was erected in 2017, down the road, near a-Nabi Saleh Square (the settlement of Halamish), and another which was erected at the beginning of the year, at the exit of the village, before the road connects to Route 450. Both checkpoints are staffed by soldiers around the clock and have guard towers and concrete blocks, and in both, soldiers conduct strict inspections. The military blocks Palestinian access to this road on Fridays from 5 P.M. to 10 P.M., and on Saturdays from 7:30 A.M. to 11:30 A.M., when settlers from Halamish pray in the middle of the road. This left the village under complete closure during these times within the 20-day road closure in June and July. The military opened the gates in both the northern entrance and the northwestern entrance on 15 July 2019.
B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad collected testimonies from residents of the village:
Ibrahim Najadah, 28, a sheep farmer, said in a testimony he gave on 2 July 2019:
We live on the western edge of Deir Nizam, in an area called al-Basatin, about half a kilometer from the main road, Route 465, Deir Nizam-Ramallah, near the northwestern entrance of the village, which the military has now closed. The military has been blocking the northern entrance since the beginning of the year. They left us only the southeastern entrance that connects to Route 450.
Sometimes we need to get to the neighboring villages – ‘Abud or Deir Abu Mash’al, which are west of our village. On normal days, when the northwestern entrance is open, it's a short drive – half a kilometer to Route 465, and from there about another 5 km to those villages. Now we have to take a longer route, through Route 450, and go through checkpoints just to get to Route 465. It takes us more time and more gas.
Under these circumstances, there are no taxis that go to those villages and there is no choice but to walk the whole way or to take a taxi inside the village to the northwestern entrance and to continue from there on foot, between the agricultural fields, up to the main road, Route 465. In the summer it is really arduous.
When you go through the southeastern entrance you have to go through checkpoints and the soldiers there conduct strict inspections and also humiliate and provoke the passengers, so a lot of people avoid driving on that road. But because the other entrances are blocked, we have to go that way to Ramallah and pass through the villages of Beitillu, Deir ‘Ammar, Ras Karkar and more. It is a very long way, full of speed bumps, and in some places, it is very narrow. It can take an hour each way, compared to maybe half an hour at most through Route 465, which goes through the villages of Um Safa, Bir Zeit and finally Ramallah.
The blockage of the entrances causes us economic losses and a lot of stress. Not only does travel cost a lot more and take more time, our businesses are hurt as well. For instance, last Saturday we were supposed to get a truckload of animal feed for the sheep, but the driver refused to go through Halamish because he didn't want to get stuck at the military checkpoints and he was afraid the police would fine him, so we had to meet him outside of the northwestern gate. He unloaded all of the merchandise there and we had to carry everything and load it onto a truck that was waiting behind the roadblock. It was exhausting and took us about an hour and a half. If the gate were open, the truck could have come in and unloaded the merchandise directly to us without any special effort or trouble.
Hilal Najar, 44, a married father of two, a physician, resident of Ramallah, said in a testimony he gave on 2 July 2019:
I'm a family physician and work for the Palestinian Ministry of Health, as well as in outpatient clinics in several villages around Ramallah, including Deir Nizam. For me, the most convenient way to get there is through the northern entrance, but since it was blocked, I go in through the northwestern entrance. On Tuesday, 2 July 2019, I had a weekly shift in Deir Nizam. Usually, on such a shift, I see about 15-20 patients. When I got to the northwestern entrance, I discovered the gate was closed.
I didn't even know there was another way to enter from the main highway, 465. After I made some inquiries, I tried to get to the southeastern entrance, on a road I don't even know, but I missed the entrance to the village. I got stressed and decided to go back to Ramallah. I told my boss what happened, and I went back. It was quite a hassle and that day I missed a day of work, but the ones who really suffered from it were my patients. There may have been urgent cases among them who cannot wait for my visit next week.
‘Abd a-Nasser a-Tamimi, 58, a married father of five, an office worker with the Ministry of Education in Ramallah, said in testimony he gave on 2 July 2019:
There isn’t a year, or even a month, without the military closing the entrances to the village. It is collective punishment intended to disrupt our daily lives and demoralize us. Since the closure, we have had to go through the southern entrance and pass through two checkpoints placed about 2 km from each other.
Anyone who hasn’t gone through that doesn’t know how much it disrupts life. It hurts people in every respect, economically, socially, health wise. It makes it difficult to get to school and to our farmlands. Travel costs are multiplied – whether gas or public transportation. Taxis don’t even try to enter the village – they just drop people off outside of the roadblock, and they have to walk. The village has lots of agricultural lands, which are hard to reach now, between Deir Nizam and a-Nabi Saleh. I personally have olive trees there, which I cannot go plow now because I’m afraid I’ll be held up at the checkpoints at the southern entrance. It is very frustrating.
Our daily life is completely disrupted, you can’t think logically, and you can’t plan anything. This situation leads to depression, stress and worry. The only thing people think about is how they can get out of the village and return safely.