Movement

by EA Vero and EA Emma    –    7 min read

‘Hala studies applied chemistry at university. She lives in Yanoun, a small village to the south of Nablus, the city where she studies. Every day, to get to class, Hala catches a school minibus that takes children to Aqraba, the nearest town. There she waits for another public minibus to take her to Nablus. Her journey can take around two hours. It hasn’t always been this way. The inhabitants of Yanoun and the neighbouring villages used to be able to travel to Nablus by a road that crosses the hills and arrive there in about 20 minutes. Nablus is a crucial hub in the northern part of the West Bank where people study, work, conduct business, go to church, to the mosque, go to hospital or meet with friends and family.

‘The road still exists, but now Palestinians cannot use it. On the other hand, Israelis have the freedom to cross from one place to another via the road. This restriction has existed since the establishment of the outposts of the Itamar settlement in the hills around Yanoun in 2012. Any attempt by Palestinians to travel by this road means risking suffering an attack in the moment, and reprisals to one’s family and fields. And so Hala and many others have to find their way to Nablus by other routes each day. Her route still carries potential restrictions. Each day she has to pass through the Tappuah/Za’atara crossing, a place of high Israeli security monitored by towers and drones, and where stopping can lead to prison or physical harm. She also has to cross Huwara/Awarta checkpoint and potentially flying checkpoints that allow the Israeli military to shut a road at any moment.’ (EA, Vero)

Students from the Cordoba school in Tel Rumeida, Hebron heading for a trip to Bethlehem.

Freedom of movement is the right of every person to move freely and choose their place of residence in every state. At the same time, everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and the right to return to their country. This right is enshrined in article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From this foundation, every country determines their laws and regulations for their own territory to define this liberty.

For Palestinians however, it is the Israeli government that controls and regulates their movements. Israel imposes restrictions on the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and travel between it and the Gaza Strip, Israel, and abroad.

These restrictions do not only apply to people, but also to goods and supplies. This has a significant impact on commercial development in Palestine, resulting in a highly unstable economy. At the same time, prohibitions on imports of medical supplies and food supplies have resulted in the need for significant support from international humanitarian aid agencies.

‘Israeli restrictions on Palestinians’ movement impose a life of constant uncertainty, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks or make plans, and frustrates the development of a stable economy.’ (B’Tselem)

In 2002, Israel began construction of a barrier separating the West Bank from Israel. Israel began building the barrier following the Second Intifada, a violent period in the conflict where around 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians lost their lives. This structure, consisting mostly of militarised fencing and an 8-metre-high concrete wall, will be over 700km long on completion.

Israel, like all states, has a legitimate right to defend and protect its population. This includes the right to build a barrier along its borders. The route of the Barrier, however, was found to be illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. This is because 85% of the Barrier does not run along the internationally recognised border between Israel and Palestine, known as the Green Line but instead deviates up to 18km inside the West Bank, annexing Palestinian land and many vital natural resources to Israel.

Percentage of the Separation Barrier route that runs along the Green Line: 15%

Jordan 15%

Percentage of the Separation Barrier route that runs through Palestinian land: 85%

Jordan 85%

Image of the Separation Barrier in Bethlehem

Checkpoints

According to UNOCHA, there are 140 checkpoints with permanent infrastructures which do not run along the Green Line. This includes 32 military guarded checkpoints along the Barrier, or on roads leading to Israel. Between January 2017 and the end of July 2018, the Israeli authorities also erected an additional 4,924 ad-hoc ‘flying’ checkpoints, or nearly 60 a week. These involve the deployment of Israeli military for several hours on a given road for the purpose of stopping and checking Palestinian drivers and vehicles, but without any permanent physical infrastructure on the ground.

A Palestinian farmer waits at an Deir al Ghusun agricultural gate to have his ID and permit checked by the military

Palestinians wait at the Akkaba agricultural gate to access their land

Permits

The Israeli authorities use a system of permits to control the passage of Palestinians through the various checkpoints in and around the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as between the West Bank and Israel, whether it is to enter Israel to work, travel to the Gaza Strip, leave occupied Palestine to travel elsewhere in the world, or access their own agricultural land. The types of permit vary in duration and the specific limitations of access, from long-term permits to travel to Israel to work, or a single day’s entry for medical treatment. They can also specify the hours in which the person can cross the checkpoint.

Obtaining a permit to cross a checkpoint can take months. The bureaucratic system is complex and often arbitrary and opaque. Permits can be denied without justification or recourse to appeal and can also be revoked without explanation at any moment. People may be added to a ‘blacklist’, meaning they cannot apply for permits, for reasons of ‘security’, though they are not informed what these reasons are.

‘Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the occupied territories are subject to a sweeping “blacklisting,” one of the most serious aspects of the occupation regime. A significant portion of the blacklistings has no justifiable basis.’ Machsom Watch

Palestinian children in Hebron cross a military checkpoint and watchtower on their route to school

Palestinian commuters queue at a military checkpoint to access work

‘On one occasion, at 5am, when the main line was crowded, I tried to persuade soldiers to open the gate for a ten-year-old girl on her way to hospital with her mother. They refused.’ EA, Helen

Whether through the incomprehensible permit system, large checkpoints with complicated infrastructure and soldiers managing them, an agricultural gate that opens at certain times of day, or because of an invisible barrier that nonetheless poses risks to Palestinians such as Hala, this system constitutes a significant restriction on freedom of movement. It has grave and continually evolving implications for the Palestinian people seeking to build their businesses, families and lives in the context of the occupation.

What does international law say?

'Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.'

Article 12, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966

'All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.'

Article 1, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966

'The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.'

Article 6, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966

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