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From the field

Forbidden Roads: The Discriminatory West Bank Road Regime

August 2004, Summary

B'Tselem's report deals with one of the primary, albeit lesser known, elements of Israel's restrictions on Palestinian movement in the Occupied Territories: the prohibition on Palestinian travel along certain roads in the West Bank.

The forbidden roads regime is a slippery policy, in part because its rules and regulations have never been set in writing: not in Knesset legislation, nor in decisions of the political echelon, nor in military orders, nor in press releases, nor even in road signs warning Palestinians that their travel on a road is prohibited or restricted. The regime is based on verbal orders given to soldiers, and in practices that the IDF has employed in the West Bank since the current intifada began.

The Forbidden Roads

Route 443: physical obstacles placed on both sides of the road in the section between the Pisgat Ze'ev intersection and the Beit Hororn interstection prevent Palestinians from travelling by vehicle to and from nearby villages.

B'Tselem's investigation indicates that the roads subject to the regime may be classified into three categories based on the severity of the restrictions on Palestinian travel on these roads: completely prohibited, partially prohibited, and restricted use roads.

  • Completely prohibited roads - The first category consists of roads for the exclusive use of Israeli citizens. This includes what the IDF calls "sterile roads" where the prohibition against Palestinian travel is explicit and obvious: Israel places a staffed checkpoint through which only Israeli vehicles are allowed to pass. This category also includes roads on which travel is not possible, or pointless, because the access roads leading to and from Palestinian villages are blocked.
  • Partially prohibited roads - The second category includes roads on which Palestinians are allowed to travel only if they have special permits issued by the Civil Administration, or if the identity cards of the driver and passengers indicate that they are residents of villages entirely dependent on the road on which they are traveling.
  • Restricted use roads - The third category includes roads on which Palestinian vehicles are allowed to travel without a special permit, but access to the roads is restricted by concrete blocks and other obstacles. In most cases, a driver who wants to get onto the road has to go to an intersection where soldiers check the vehicles and persons wanting to use the road.

The roads regime is enforced through a variety of means: an aggressive and discriminatory enforcement of the traffic laws against Palestinians only, prolonged delays of Palestinians, and confiscation of Palestinian vehicles with no due process. As a result, many Palestinian drivers refrain from using even those roads nominally open to them.

Issuance of permits

The Civil Administration and the District Civil Liaison offices (DCLs) are responsible for providing Palestinians with the permits they require to travel on various roads. This bureaucracy lacks all transparency and acts in a patently arbitrary manner. There are no fixed criteria for granting or rejecting requests for permits, so the decision is based solely on the discretion of the DCL staff.

Also, notice of rejection is given verbally and without explanation. Requests by Palestinians who are considered "prevented for security reasons" are automatically denied. Only the General Security Service can remove this ground for rejection. This being the case, the GSS exploits the applicants' need for the permits and pressures them to serve as collaborators.

Disrupting All Aspects of Life

The forbidden roads regime has forced West Bank Palestinians to use long and winding routes rather than roads that lead directly from one town or district to another. Travel on these alternate roads disrupts all aspects of daily life in the West Bank, in such areas as the economy, health, and education, and gravely affects social and family life. In addition, Palestinians suffer the insult and humiliation that are part and parcel of the measures used by Israeli security forces to enforce the discriminatory roads regime.

Israel constructed an extensive road network in order to serve the Israeli settlements. To justify expropriating privately owned Palestinian land for these roads, Israel argued that the roads would also benefit the Palestinian population. Now these same roads are completely off-limits to Palestinians.

Israel contends that the restrictions on Palestinian travel along these roads result from imperative security considerations and not from racist motivations. Indeed, since the outbreak of the intifada, in September 2000, there has been an increase in the number of attacks by Palestinian organizations against Israeli civilians inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories. More than 600 Israeli civilians, including over 100 minors, have been killed. Attacks aimed at civilians violate fundamental legal and moral norms, and constitute war crimes in international humanitarian law. The attacks are unjustifiable, regardless of the circumstances. Not only is Israel entitled to take measures to defend its citizens against such attacks, it is required to do so. However, its actions must comply with Israeli and international law.

The roads regime infringes the Palestinians' right to freedom of movement and the right to equality. Israel is therefore in breach of fundamental principles of international law set forth in treaties to which Israel is party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism, and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Discrimination-based separation - An Apartheid Practice

The roads regime, which is based on separation through discrimination, bears clear similarities to the racist apartheid regime that existed in South Africa until 1994. An individual's national origin determines their right to use various roads. This policy is based on a racist premise: that all Palestinians are security risks, and it is therefore justifiable to restrict their movement. Thus the policy indiscriminately harms the entire Palestinian population, in violation of their human rights and of international law.
B'Tselem demands that the government of Israel immediately end the forbidden roads regime and that it respect the right of Palestinians to freedom of movement on all roads inside the West Bank.