In the last few days, the Israeli authorities completed the reopening of the road that connects Palestinian villages Beitin and others in the northeast Ramallah District with the city of Ramallah via the DCO checkpoint. Due to existing restrictions in the DCO checkpoint, the opening allowed access to Ramallah only for the use of private vehicles and in one direction only. However, this partial improvement in the freedom of movement of Palestinian area residents was short-lived: only one day after the much-publicized reopening of the road, the military blocked it off with rocks. The grounds given were that some of the Palestinian drivers did not obey a stop sign placed on the road in order to give the right of way to Israeli settlers from Beit El. The original closure of the Beitin junction to Palestinians was in order to allow Beit El settlers exclusive use of the road on their way to route 60.
The repaving of the road, which the military blocked with a dirt pile 15 years ago, was recently completed. On Monday, 25 May, the Palestinian DCO notified the Beitin village council that the road was now open for traffic. Although the Beitin road used to be the main route for 60,000-70,000 Palestinians to reach Ramallah, the military placed a stop sign at the exit from the village to the road, so that the 6,000 settlers of Beit El would receive the right of way. It should be noted that the settlers waged a campaign against reopening the road to Palestinians. The next day, 26 May, the Palestinian DCO passed the Beitin village council a message from the Israeli DCO that the road had temporarily been reclosed as Palestinian drivers were not obeying the stop sign.
The Israeli DCO demanded that the local councils of the villages using the road place additional stop signs before the junction and speed bumps along the road, and that until such a time, the road would be reclosed. The DCO asked that the Beitin council block the road itself, but as the council replied that it did not have the proper engineering equipment to do so, the military blocked the road with rocks and stated it will reopen once alterations have been made.
Harming all Palestinian motorists in the northeast Ramallah District because some drivers committed a traffic offense is unacceptable. However, the major problem lies with the Israeli authorities’ manipulative use of the promise to reopen the Beitin road after 15 years. Reopening the road will not, in itself, significantly improve access to the city of Ramallah as long as the authorities continue to forbid public transport and commercial traffic through the DCO checkpoint, and even the exit of private Palestinian vehicles through it (except those holding VIP cards). Forcing tens of thousands of Palestinian drivers on the Beitin road to give right of way to several thousand settlers from Beit El symbolizes the Israeli policy to favor the interests of settlers over the Palestinian population in the West Bank.
The Palestinian village of Beitin in the West Bank numbers some 2,300 residents. It lies northeast of Ramallah, on Route 60, on a junction that connects Ramallah and el-Bireh with Palestinian villages to the east, whose population numbers some 60,000-70,000 residents.
In 2001, at the beginning of the second intifada, the military blocked access from the village of Beitin to Ramallah. Since then, tens of thousands of Palestinians have had to travel to their main district city via long, tortuous routes. The result has been isolation of these villages which harmed the area’s daily life and economy.
The residents of these villages led a lengthy struggle to open the road and the DCO checkpoint. HaMoked, The Center for the Defence of the Individual even petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice on their behalf, demanding that the checkpoint be opened to Palestinian traffic. In March 2015, the heads of the regional Palestinian councils met with representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian DCOs and with officials from USAID. In the meeting, the Israelis announced that the section of the road from Beitin to Ramallah would soon be reopened to traffic via the DCO checkpoint, and that later, depending on developments on the ground, the checkpoint would also be opened to traffic heading towards Beitin. They also informed that the DCO intended to again enable access from the nearby village of Burqah to Ramallah, after the military closed off that road in the same period (see B’Tselem report on the isolation of Burqah: “The Invisible Walls of Occupation”). The Israeli DCO further announced that Palestinian movement through the checkpoint would be limited to private cars only. Public transport and commercial vehicles will not be allowed through it. Lastly, the representatives stated that Palestinian pedestrians would be allowed through the checkpoint in both directions but that the DCO advised against it, as walking along the roadside in its current condition is unsafe.
Palestinian residents of the area told B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad that the promised change – which has so far lasted a day – would not be a major improvement on access to Ramallah. Merchant ‘Abd al-Kareem Nasser Shawar, a resident of Burqah and owner of supermarket in Beitin, explained:
Opening the Beitin road is a good step, but it will have no effect on me. For me, that road is still closed because I can’t carry any goods on it. I have to do a detour through the villages of ‘Ein Yabrud, Dura al-Qara’, al- Jalazun, el-Bireh, and only then I reach Ramallah. It’s about 25 kilometers and a 30-40 minute drive.
Kana’an ‘Abd al-Jaleel Hamed, a resident of Beitin who works as a taxi driver in the village, added:
The road was only reopened for private cars and in one direction only, towards Ramallah. That means that all the workers, laborers and students who don’t own cars are still forbidden to take that road to Ramallah. All those people will still have to take taxis the long way, that passes through all the villages, instead of a five-minute drive through the checkpoint. It’s also a huge waste of time for us, the drivers, because it’s not financially worthwhile. The trip can take a long time, because you pick up and unload passengers along the way. A ‘special’ (private) taxi to Ramallah via the long way costs 50 shekels today. If they let us drive through Beitin, it would cost only 20 shekels.
Saleh Hamed ‘Ata, a resident of el-Bireh who works at a butcher shop in Beitin, related how he will have to continue walking to work and back because public transport will not be allowed on the Beitin road:
I started working at the butcher shop a few months ago, when they began easing the restrictions at the DCO checkpoint. I take a taxi from my house, in el-Bireh, until City Inn Hotel and from there I walk to the checkpoint. The walk until the butcher stop within the village is about one kilometer. At the end of the day, around 8:00 or 9:00 P.M., I go back the same way – cross the checkpoint on foot and then take a taxi to my home in el-Bireh. It’s scary in the dark, because I’m afraid that settlers or soldiers will attack me. Still, it’s better than taking a taxi the long way. When I used to travel to work like that, it would sometimes cost me up to 500 shekels a month, which is about 20% of my salary, and it was also a huge waste of time. Sometimes I just sleep over at my grandmother’s in Deir Dobwan. Opening the road for drivers of private cars won’t really help me because I don’t own car. So I have no choice but continue walking to work.