PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS – ISRAEL

BLOCKED A Visit to the Villages of Salem, Deir al Hatab and Azmut

“…I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.”
(Deuteronomy XXXIV, 4)

Report on a Visit to the Villages of Salem, Deir al Hatab and Azmut, February 2, 2003
Written by: Research: English translation: Miri Weingarten and Hadas Ziv Salah Haj-Yehya, Ibrahim Habib, Miri Weingarten Shaul Vardi

“The Respondents [the Minister of Defense, the Commander of the Judea and Samaria Area, and the Commander of the Gaza Strip Area – PHR] do not deny the fact that the army has established physical roadblocks (by means of earth embankments or concrete blocks) in the areas of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. According to current policy, they state, there are no villages or areas (geographical cells, in the Respondents’ terms) to which access is totally blocked by physical roadblocks. In each geographical cell, there is (or at least, according to policy there should be) at least once access road not closed by a physical roadblock.”
(From the ruling in HCJ 9242/00, PHR-Israel v Minister of Defense et al.).

Background
In a High Court petition filed on December 18, 2000 (HCJ 9242/00), PHR-Israel demanded that earth barriers be removed from routes in the occupied territories and the policy of enclosure and physical roadblocks be ended, since this policy prevents the implementation of the Israeli army regulations for passage of residents who arrive at a checkpoint in a medical emergency (HCJ 3109/96). PHR-Israel argued that the existence of physical roadblocks effectively prevents the possibility of permitting selective passage for medical cases, and severely disrupts the functioning of the Palestinian health system.

The Court rejected the petition on the grounds that it was too general in nature. In addition, High Court Justices Heshin, Zamir and Beinish accepted the State’s claim that there was no single geographical cell that was entirely blocked by physical roadblocks – at least one access road was blocked by a staffed checkpoint, thereby permitting selective

passage.

The judges even recommended the proper way to confront the policy of

physical roadblocks: “The Court believes that this is indeed the course the Appellant should properly have taken, viz. to file individual complaints of specific cases in which the procedures are not observed, and to enable the Respondents to clarify and process such complaints.”

Since the petition filed by PHR-Israel, other petitions have been filed relating to individual cases, as a result of which roadblocks have been removed, only to be reinstated after a brief period. The need to file such petitions in itself reflects the fact that physical roadblocks are indeed used on a routine basis, contrary to the notification submitted to the High Court by the security forces.

In recent months, field work by PHR-Israel reveals the existence of numerous enclaves throughout the rural areas of the West Bank. The residents are trapped in an enclave without any physical possibility of access by vehicle – including by ambulance – to medical centers in the adjacent cities. The physical roadblocks are installed in addition to staffed checkpoints. The techniques used to create roadblocks are varied – concrete blocks, high earth embankments, concrete walls, deep ditches, and ditches into which sewage has been diverted, so that they cannot be crossed even on foot (see below). A sick person who manages to cross sewage ditches and makeshift embankments on foot may then encounter a couple of soldiers preventing access to the city. The same patient cannot be evacuated by ambulance, since ambulances are unable to cross ditches of a depth of 2-3 meters or climb embankments 5 meters high.

In such circumstances, the concept of “emergency evacuation” has become meaningless. Even if the patient manages to cross the embankment or ditch and to meet the ambulance, there is no guarantee that s/he will be able to obtain medical treatment. At best, the ambulance may be permitted to pass through some of the countless checkpoints scattered

throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip - but only after extensive delays.

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Israeli

security sources claim that these delays are due to the need to undertake strict security checks. However, testimony received by PHR-Israel, as well as the personal experience of the association’s fieldworkers, reveal that in many cases ambulances wait for over thirty minutes, and sometimes as long as one hour, before the security check is undertaken.

A specific and factual petition describing a particular closed “geographical cell,” to use the language of the security forces, may lead to the opening of a dirt track, where an ambulance may possibly be allowed to pass. After more than two years of the policy of physical roadblocks, however, it is more than time to realize that the only way to enable the Palestinian health system to resume its function is to eliminate all these roadblocks immediately. We hope that the case studies of the villages of Azmut, Deir al Hatab and Salem will open the eyes of those who use security excuses as justification for the use of roadblocks as a means of pressure on the Palestinian population for various purposes.

Azmut, Deir al Hatab and Salem: One Example of the Physical Blockage of a Rural Enclave
Geographical background The villages of Azmut, Deir al Hatab and Salem are situated to the east of Nablus, on which they depend for health and education services, as well as for economic life and employment. Road No. 57 passes through this area from the south to the north, lying between the settlement of Elon Moreh to the east and Balata and Askar refugee camps to the west, along with the city of Nablus. Before the current Intifada, the three villages

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Ms. Catherine Bertini, Personal Humanitarian Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Mission Report, 11-19 August 2002. In her recommendations, Bertini demands that Israel ensure that the delay of ambulances at any checkpoint shall not exceed 30 minutes – a delay that is dangerous to urgent cases. The report does not take into the account that an ambulance traveling in the Occupied Territories is obliged to pass more than one checkpoint, as well as traversing disrupted routes. The ICRC cites 15 minutes as the maximum delay for security checks at a checkpoint, and also fails to relate to the wider context of the journey.

were connected to Road No. 57 by three dirt tracks. The three villages themselves were also connected by dirt tracks, one of which continued to the settlement of Elon Moreh, which is in turn connected by a by-pass road to Road No. 57 to the south.

The adjacent villages of Salem and Deir al Hatab are situated opposite Balata refugee camp. Azmut is situated further to the north, northeast of Askar refugee camp.

Staffed Checkpoints to the South and East of Nablus

Hawara checkpoint is situated approximately 10 km to the north of the village of Hawara, and approximately 10 km south of Nablus, at the intersection of Road No. 57 and the by-pass road leading to the settlement of Elon Moreh to the northeast. The checkpoint has two lanes, one for vehicles and one for pedestrians. Since there is a single lane for those entering and leaving Nablus, those passing in each direction must wait in turn. The edges of the lanes are lined with blocks and concrete divides, and the

pedestrian lane is fenced on either side. There are a large number of positions and soldiers at the checkpoint, as well as various army vehicles. The checkpoint is

accompanied by constructed observation points. The checkpoint has the appearance of a border crossing. For many months, private Palestinian vehicles have not been permitted to cross the checkpoint. On the day of our visit, trucks carrying humanitarian equipment were also prevented from passing, and pedestrians were only allowed to cross if they held a permit from the Israeli Civil Administration. At the time we visited the checkpoint, a line of some one hundred people were waiting in the hope that they would be permitted to cross.

Awarta checkpoint is situated to the east of Hawara checkpoint, and to the north of the village of Awarta, at the intersection of the by-pass road leading to Elon Moreh and the dirt track leading from Awarta to the north, where it connects to Road No. 57. Here, too, a narrow lane is lined with concrete divides. There are observation points and army vehicles. During our time at the checkpoint, we saw a long line of some 30 trucks

carrying humanitarian equipment waiting to be permitted to enter Nablus. In the opposite direction, from north to south, there was a similar line. During our entire visit, we did not see the lines move.

Bet Furik checkpoint is situated to the northeast of Awarta, and to the northwest of the village of Bet Furik, at the intersection between the road leading from the village to Nablus and the by-pass road leading to the settlement of Elon Moreh. The checkpoint is situated on the western side of the by-pass road, and includes an army outpost, approximately five soldiers and an iron gate. The road has been ripped up and destroyed at this point, so that there is no possibility for private vehicles to cross. When trucks or four-wheel drives vehicles are permitted to pass through the gate, the driver must open and close it himself. Trucks carrying humanitarian equipment are only allowed to cross if they hold permits; the same applies to pedestrians. On the day of our visit, we saw a group of some twenty women sitting by the checkpoint. When we asked who they were, they replied that they were students from the surrounding villages who had tried to travel to An-Najah University in Nablus by passing round the checkpoints. After they were caught, the soldiers at the checkpoint ordered them to wait for several hours. When we asked the soldiers about the matter, they replied that the women were “escapees” (Hebrew barkhaniyot).

Balata checkpoint is situated further along the road from Bet Furik to Nablus, on the outskirts of Balata refugee camp. The road has been completely destroyed here, and has been replaced by earth mounds; the area was full of mud on the day of our visit. The checkpoint is staffed by several soldiers and has an iron gate similar to that at Bet Furik checkpoint. While we were at the checkpoint, a soldier inspected a truck. He opened each box separately, and when we left after fifteen minutes, he was still engaged in his inspection. We also observed a father with his sick daughter painstakingly climbing the earth mounds as they left the checkpoint.

Physical Roadblocks around the Villages

To the north of Deir al Hatab, the sole road leading from the village to the settlement of Elon Moreh is blocked; this is the only road connecting to the by-pass road that runs southward to Road No. 57. In addition, the Israeli security forces have excavated two ditches between Azmut and the villages of Deir al Hatab and Salim to the south. One ditch is two meters deep and three meters wide. The other ditch is full of sewage water diverted by the Israeli army from the city of Nablus in order to prevent pedestrians crossing.

The by-pass road from the settlement of Elon Moreh to Road No. 57 passes to the east of Deir al Hatab. There are no roads leading east from the villages toward the road; the land is rocky and cannot be crossed by private vehicles.

The by-pass road (which passes to the north, east and south of the villages) is situated to the south of Salem. Parallel to the by-pass road, a ditch 2 meters deep and 3 meters wide has been excavated through flat fields. Private vehicles cannot cross the ditch, which was extremely muddy on the day of our visit. Earth mounds have also been piled along the roadside, and an earth mound and rocks block the site of a former pedestrian path leading from the road to the village of Salem. An IDF outpost overlooks the fields; the residents report that the soldiers open fire on anyone who attempts to cross the area.

To the west of Deir al Hatab, Salem and Azmut, three trails connect to Road No. 57; all have been blocked by earth embankments. In addition, a ditch 3 meters wide and 2 meters deep has been dug parallel to Road No. 57; here, too, the ditch cannot be crossed by vehicles. Earth mounds along the roadside prevent access to the surrounding area. Patrols pass along the road, and, according to the residents, open fire on pedestrians attempting to cross the fields.

A Journey to the Villages A team from PHR-Israel answered appeals from the residents of the villages to come and observe the impact of the roadblocks on their daily lives and on their access to health

services, education, commerce and employment. We left Tayeh, Israel, at 11:00 am in a four-wheel drive vehicle suitable for difficult terrain.

We entered the West Bank via checkpoint 105 to the south of Tulkarem. We then continued along Road No. 357, which leads east toward Nablus. At the intersection with Road No. 57, we turned right (southeast), and at “Shomron” intersection (to the west of Deir Sharaf intersection), which connects Road No. 57 and Road No. 60, we turned south onto Road No. 60.

We drove past the intersection of Road No. 60 and the Qalqilya – Nablus road. Access to Nablus from this intersection has been completely blocked by large rocks, concrete blocks and earth embankments. There are IDF outposts along the road, which is the only access route linking Qalqilya and Nablus. Palestinians wishing to reach Nablus must cross Road No. 60 on foot, continue on foot to the adjacent village of Sarra, and then proceed by vehicle to Nablus. The residents report that when the soldiers see them crossing the road, they shoot teargas canisters at them.

We continued along Road No. 60 to the “T” intersection, where we turned onto Road No. 57, which leads to the north, parallel to the eastern outskirts of Nablus. Slightly to the north of the turn, before the Hawara checkpoint, we turned east onto the by-pass road leading to the settlement of Elon Moreh. We traveled on to Bet Furik checkpoint, where we wished to turn west in order to view the ditches along the road and to reach the villages from the northwest. The soldiers allowed us to pass, and we continued to drive toward the Balata checkpoint. At the checkpoint we asked permission to travel to the northeast and on to the villages. The soldiers refused, saying that Nablus was under curfew. We retraced our route through the Bet Furik checkpoint, and then turned north onto the by-pass road, traveling in the direction of the settlement of Elon Moreh. To the east of the village of Salem we saw an earth embankment blocking a small path leading to the village. Our four-wheel drive vehicle just managed to turn down into the field. We then reached a ditch, and at a certain point managed to cross through the mud, with great difficulty; two of the passengers had to descend from the vehicle and cross on foot.

It was only while we were crossing the field that we noticed the nearby IDF observation point. The residents later informed us that when the soldiers see cars or pedestrians attempting to cross at this point, they open fire, or bring them to the checkpoint where they are forced to wait for hours. We managed to reach Salem and Deir al Hatab through the fields. Within Salem, and between Salem and Deir al Hatab, we did not encounter any difficulty traveling by car.

When we attempted to leave Deir al Hatab in the direction of Azmut, we were once again forced to turn back after the residents told us that there were soldiers along the ditches blocking our route. They warned us not to go near the ditches, since the soldiers might open fire. We could see the soldiers from a distance, and retraced our route. We then climbed a hill to the north of Deir al Hatab in order to observe the roadblocks.

The Return Journey As noted above, the by-pass road to the settlement of Elon Moreh passes to the east of Deir al Hatab. The land between the village and the road is rocky and cannot be crossed in a private vehicle. Moreover, anyone crossing the area on foot or by vehicle is liable to be shot at by Israeli soldiers at any time. Nevertheless, we crossed the area, waving flags bearing medical emblems. We reached the by-pass road unharmed, and then traveled along the road until we reached the point where we had left the road earlier. We then retraced the route detailed above, without encountering any delays.

Along our entire route, and particularly along road No. 60, we noticed that every access route to the by-pass roads, even very narrow dirt tracks, had been blocked, excavated or destroyed. In addition, the verges of the roads were all lined by rocks and earth mounds, preventing access to the road by vehicles or pedestrians from the fields. The roads were almost completely deserted due to the sweeping prohibition on travel by Palestinian vehicles along the roads in the West Bank. Sometimes we saw donkeys carrying merchandise along dirt tracks between the villages. The situation was in stark contrast to the past, when the roads would have been crowded with Palestinian vehicles of all types.

Details of Our Visit and Information about the Villages The three villages have a total population of approximately 11,000 – 5,000 in Salem, and 3,000 each in Deir al Hatab and Azmut.

The only medical center in all three villages is situated in Salem. The center is run by a Palestinian NGO called The Union of Health Work Committees. We spoke to the physician and one of the nurses, as well as to a number of residents and members of the village councils.

The medical staff comprises one general physician and two nurses. The physician lives in Azmut, and is not always able to reach his work, despite the short distance involved, due to the obstacles along the way. At other times he is obliged to sleep in Salem. One nurse lives in Salem and the other in Deir al Hatab; they staff the clinic on a daily basis. In addition, a gynecologist comes to the clinic twice a week from Nablus, but he is often prevented from entering or leaving Nablus. As a result, pregnant women in the villages cannot be ensured regular monitoring. The center has equipment for taking blood and stool samples, but these must be transferred to Nablus for laboratory tests. Sometimes the gynecologist is able to take the samples to Nablus, but sometimes this is impossible.

In the past, the clinic served all the villages in the area, including Bet Furik and Bet Dajan, which are further away and more isolated from the medical facilities in Nablus. Today, this is no longer possible. In the past, specialists from Nablus came to the clinic once a week, enabling residents to receive specialist treatment even if they could not travel to Nablus. Now the physicians are not allowed to reach the villages; neither can the residents travel to Nablus.

Chronic Patients Sixty-four diabetes patients in the three villages require monitoring and treatment with insulin. The clinic in Salem does not stock insulin, and patients must travel to Nablus on foot. This is extremely difficult, and therefore does not always happen regularly. There

are no renal patients in the villages requiring dialysis, but there are several residents who suffer from high blood pressure and heart disease. These patients are obliged to

overcome numerous obstacles in order to undergo treatment and monitoring at medical centers in Nablus.

Emergency Evacuation The physician told us that it is impossible for ambulances to enter the villages. Patients must walk on foot to the ambulance, which waits on the road. Sometimes, however, the ambulance is unable to reach the road, since it must pass through at least two staffed checkpoints along the way. The physician reported two cases when patients have died due to delays in evacuation. One occurred approximately two months ago, when the village pharmacist suffered a cardiac incident and was taken on foot toward the road where an ambulance was waiting. He died on the way. The second case occurred approximately one month ago. A woman in labor attempted to walk from Azmut toward the road, but her passage was blocked by soldiers. She gave birth in the open and her child died shortly after.

In Deir al Hatab, we learned of an additional violation of health rights. This time the obstacle was not physical, but was the creation of the General Security Service (GSS). During our tour of the village, we made a house visit to a man who requires back surgery due to a work accident sustained in Israel. The man has been recognized as eligible for care by the National Insurance Institute, but during the processing of his file, he was summoned to a meeting. Only after he arrived did he realize that the person he was meeting was not a representative of the National Insurance Institute, but an agent of the GSS. The man informed him that unless he agreed to collaborate and forward

information to the GSS, he would not be able to undergo the operation. We collected testimony from the patient and intend to take legal action in order to prevent the security forces from abusing access to medical treatment as a form of pressure.

As mentioned, we were unable to reach the village of Azmut. We observed the village and the roadblocks in the area from the adjacent mountain.

Behavior of soldiers

At the Bet Furik checkpoint – “There’s no ‘Area A’ any more.” We spoke to one of the soldiers at this checkpoint, as well as to the checkpoint commander. They examined our identity cards and expressed astonishment that Israelis wanted to enter areas populated by Palestinians. The soldier told us that he was concerned for our safety, and advised us to take care. At one point, when we stated that we were not entering “Area A [areas defined under the Oslo accords as Palestinian-administered – PHR],” one of the soldiers commented “There’s no ‘Area A’ any more.” The soldiers allowed us to pass in both cases, and even recommended the best way to enter the villages. As noted above, the Palestinian women students were treated differently, and were termed “escapees” after they attempted to circumvent the checkpoint and reach university in Nablus. Their punishment was to be forced to sit by the checkpoint for several hours. When asked, the soldier told us that they would be permitted to leave “soon”.

At the Balata checkpoint: “We leave them there… Let them dehydrate, let them die.” When we reached the iron gate, we saw two soldiers standing inside a Palestinian truck, painstakingly opening box after box. Occasionally the soldiers made comments about the content of the boxes and laughed. The driver waited by the side. When one of the soldiers saw us, he angrily shouted at us to move back to the other side of the gate. He turned to the Palestinians who were working at the checkpoint (installing communication lines), and told them to tell us to close the gate by ourselves. We refused to do so. The soldier approached us along with another soldier, and angrily asked why we had not closed the gate. We asked why we should do that, and he did not respond. We explained that we wanted to approach the villages from the west. They took our identity cards, and carefully scrutinized those belonging to the Arab passengers. They expressed astonishment and amazement at our presence at the checkpoint. They stated that there was a curfew in Nablus, and there was no chance that we could get in. We explained that we did not intend to enter Nablus, but to the visit the villages to the east. We also asked them why they were shouting at the truck driver, and why they needed to

inspect its contents, since the truck was attempting to enter Nablus, not to enter Israel. One of the soldiers replied that the Palestinians often smuggle ammunition into Nablus “and then fire at us.” They called their commander; when he arrived and heard that we were Israelis, he laughed loudly. He told us that we were crazy. We explained that we wanted to examine the roadblocks that prevent the villagers from receiving medical treatment in Nablus. He told us that the area behind us was “Escapee Valley.’ Anyone who tried to circumvent the checkpoints and reach Nablus on foot was caught by the soldiers and made to stand at one of the checkpoints. The soldiers “leave them there… Let them dehydrate [lit. ‘dry up’ – PHR], let them die.” He laughed loudly throughout his comments. He told us that “There is no chance, you do not have permission to cross the checkpoint” and went away. Another soldier looked at us uncomfortably and said “You get it? And he’s our commander.”

While we waited at the checkpoint, a father was allowed to cross, carrying his young daughter in his arms. He told us that his daughter is mentally retarded, and he asked for our help in referring her for medical treatment. We took his details so that we could continue to process the case at PHR-Israel’s offices. After nothing came from our waiting at the checkpoint and we were refused permission to cross, we turned back.

Discussion

Our visit clearly showed that Palestinian residents are deliberately being prevented from traveling between different areas within the West Bank. As the occupying power, the Israeli security forces are bear full responsibility for the well-being of all the residents of the occupied area. In practice, however, the State of Israel implements a system of gross discrimination within the occupied area, clearly preferring the well-being, security and health rights of the Jewish settlers to those of the Palestinian residents. Even the

unacceptable argument that Palestinians are prevented from reaching the by-pass roads only in order to protect the settlers using these roads loses credibility when one realizes that at no point when Palestinians need to cross the by-pass roads in order to move from one Palestinian population center to another (e.g. from the Qalqilya District to the Nablus District, or from Bet Furik to Nablus) has Israel made arrangements to enable them to do so (e.g. by means of a staffed checkpoint).

The claim that the roadblocks are needed in order to prevent the passage of persons smuggling arms, explosives and so on is also contradicted by moral and logical standards as well as simple considerations of cost-effectiveness: (1) Staffed checkpoints could achieve the same goal, while permitting the rapid passage of patients and medical staff. (2) A healthy person is able, albeit with some difficulty, to cross the physical barriers, whereas the sick, the elderly and the weak are prevented from doing so. (3) It is unclear why such roadblocks are needed within the West Bank, in addition to the checkpoints along the Green Line or the “Seam Line” (an entity which, we note in passing, is fluid and defined solely on the basis of Israeli interests).

Accordingly, we believe that this is a deliberate policy of collective punishment, with the goal of applying pressure on the Palestinian population. It would further appear, contrary to the State’s claims, that these are not temporary security measures, but rather a plan designed to lead to the permanent fragmentation of the various Palestinian population centers. The results of this policy include the destruction of most types of

communication between population centers – roads, mail, deliveries and commercial

routes – and the paralysis of systems based on connections between the various centers and the communities they serve, viz. the health and education systems, and other economic and civilian systems. The damage this causes to the Palestinian community is enormous, both in immediate terms and in the long term. If, at some unknown point in the future, the Israeli government decides to desist from this policy, the rehabilitation of infrastructures will be protracted and costly. The liability for this will rest with the State of Israel, and the financial and organizational burden will be considerable.

The Israeli argument that the international aid organizations that have moved in to assist the civilian population meet its needs, and that they are allowed to work freely is inaccurate, and reflects a cynical and hypocritical attitude. Localized assistance in the form of water, food or medical equipment cannot compensate for the lack of a balanced infrastructure enabling the passage of merchandise and services from one place to the next. Allowing aid vehicles to pass freely while the Palestinians are reduced to using animals to carry merchandise is just one example of the deliberate undermining of Palestinian civil society, which is being pushed back by decades.

As we left the villages behind us, we felt that we were moving not only from one region to another, but from one era to another. As the iron gate swung shut, we were aware that we had been transient visitors in the largest prison administered by the State of Israel – a prison in which millions of Palestinian civilians are held: the prison of the Occupied Territories. Neither a High Court petition nor a formal procedure drafted by wellintentioned officers can change this reality. The policy of checkpoints, roadblocks and curfew must be uprooted. The concrete damage this policy causes is evident to anyone who has eyes to see.