The Batan al-Hawa neighborhood in East Jerusalem is densely built. As in many other parts of East Jerusalem, its streets are narrow alleys, often only two to three meters wide. Testimonies given to B’Tselem by local residents show that ever since settlers moved into the neighborhood in 2004, the original residents have found it hard to maintain a normal routine. The conduct of the settlers, private security guards, and official Israeli security personnel makes it difficult for residents to get to work and school on time, and for local businesses to receive goods and supplies.
A chief site of friction in the neighborhood is the Beit Yehonatan settlement, a building on the outskirts of Batan al-Hawa which settlers entered in 2004. A shuttle service used by settlers and security guards blocks the street there several times a day, for 15 minutes to an hour at a time, while the van parks in front of the settlement to pick up and let off passengers. This is the state of affairs even though settlers have seized control of a parking lot adjacent to Beit Yehonatan, where the vehicle could wait without disrupting traffic on the street. The police, which uses Beit Yehonatan as a post, allows the street to be blocked on a daily basis, treating as inconsequential the violation of the freedom of movement of local residents.
Maher Ahmad Musa ‘Abd al-Wahed, 51, a married father of six, has lived in Batan al-Hawa since 1991, and owns the neighborhood’s local grocery store. He spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Hussam ‘Abed on 4 December 2016, and recounted how the settlers’ behavior disrupts local life:
A few months ago, my wife and I were on the way to a friend’s wedding. We started out in our car at about 4:30 P.M. When we got to Beit Yehonatan, a few dozen meters from my home, the settlers’ armored van was parked there, blocking the way. Instead of stopping at the spot designated for it and letting off the settlers and guards there, it had stopped in the middle of the street, and they got on and off very slowly. You could say that they really took their time. When this is the situation, we - the residents of the neighborhood - have no choice but to wait without saying or doing anything. There were cars ahead of me and behind me, and the street is only one lane wide. We waited for over an hour. Then I called out to them and asked them to clear the way, but they ignored me. It made me very angry. We got out of the car, left it in the middle of the street, and went home.
When we got home, the police telephoned me and told me that I was blocking the street and must come to move the car, or they would tow it away. I asked them, “Why don’t you do anything about the settlers who block the street every day to deliberately provoke the residents?”, but they didn’t respond. Some residents came to me and asked that I not make trouble that would provoke confrontations in the neighborhood. I gave them my car keys and they moved the car.
Our relatives have stopped visiting us because of the terrible traffic jams and the other problems in the neighborhood. Even the supplier who brings bread to the grocery store doesn’t manage to get it to me in the morning because of the traffic jams. He is forced to bring it on foot, walking across the entire neighborhood lugging the bread. When children come in early in the morning to buy bread, I have to tell them that there isn’t any, because the supplier hasn’t managed to get here yet.
Jadallah Khader ‘Abd al-Fatah a-Rajabi, 37, was born in Batan al-Hawa. He is married and has four children. He spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Hussam ‘Abed on 29 October 2016 and told him about the impact that the frequent blocking of the street has on local life:
We have trouble every day, because the roads in the neighborhood are very narrow, not more than two or three meters wide, so that two cars cannot go through at the same time. The settlers cause terrible traffic jams in the neighborhood that affect not only adults and car owners, but also children on their way to school. Our children have to leave early in the morning and walk almost two kilometers to their schools, in summer and winter, because that’s the quickest way to get there. If we were to take them by car it would take ages and they’d get there late. In addition, the presence of the settlers and guards makes the neighborhood children anxious. They’re scared all the time.
About two and a half months ago, I left home at 8:00 A.M. to buy some groceries. The armored van that transports settlers and guards was parked outside the entrance to the Beit Yehonatan settlement, and passengers were getting on and off. I went up to the van driver, an armed settler, and asked him to park in the parking lot so that he wouldn’t block the street. He refused and told me that his instructions were to park the van right by the door of Beit Yehonatan. There were two cars ahead of me and two behind me, and he kept us waiting there for over fifteen minutes. The driver told me, “Go and talk to the guy in charge and you’ll find out that I’m required to park the van in front of the settlement.” Because of this behavior, the street is sometimes blocked for over an hour, leading to friction and trouble between us and the settlers. All this happens even though they could park the van in the parking lot.