The security services recently began implementing a policy that makes it harder for East Jerusalem residents to travel to certain West Bank cities.

According to orders issued by the head of the Israel Defense Forces' Central Command, Major General Yair Naveh, the main crossing between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is now closed to Palestinians who hold Israeli identity cards.

An IDF spokesman confirmed that enforcement of the orders issued by the Central Command in October 2000, which forbade holders of Israeli identity cards to enter Area A (the Oslo Accords' term for areas under full Palestinian control) for security reasons, is now stricter. The spokesman added that requests to enter Area A are handled on a case by case basis.

However, Defense Minister Amir Peretz's office said that he was not aware of any such decision.

In practice, the policy is being implemented at only one crossing, albeit a central one. However, the intention is to expand enforcement to other crossings.

The new policy is upsetting East Jerusalem's 237,000 residents, the vast majority of whom are not Israeli citizens, as their lives are intertwined with the nearby West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, whether by family ties, commercial interests or culture. These residents are being cut off from their environs by the new IDF policy.

Thus Christians from East Jerusalem, for instance, who wish to visit the holy sites in Bethlehem now have to go to the Qalandiyeh crossing, north of the city, where the Israel Police have said that they are unable to implement the policy.

The IDF spokesman insisted that the crossing is the police's responsibility and it is their duty to enforce the order. In response, the police said that a Supreme Court decision forbids preventing East Jerusalem residents from visiting neighborhoods in the north of the city, which are categorized as either Area B (joint Israeli-Palestinian control) or Area C (full Israeli control). According to the police, it is the IDF's job to keep holders of Israeli identity cards from entering Area A.

Police sources expressed puzzlement at the fact that the IDF is setting policy but not implementing it.

The IDF said that "in view of the security situation, there has been a change in the enforcement policy of GOC Central Command Order 378, dated October 5, 2000, which forbids Israeli residents from entering Area A of the Palestinian Authority, such as Ramallah and Bethlehem." The order was issued to prevent Israeli citizens from being kidnapped by Palestinians. However, the police said that it is not aware of a single case in which a re sident of East Jerusalem had been kidnapped.

A senior Defense Ministry source suggested that forbidding East Jerusalem residents to enter Area A is just one part of a broader policy of making life harder for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. The source pointed out that this policy includes preventing students who have been abroad for long periods from visiting the city.