'Travel on the road is not banned, but getting to it is'
A blockade ring of gates and cement cuts off Palestinian mobility on two main roads.
A large truck holding a few sheep was parked on the rocky soil. Three soldiers and a military Jeep stood next to it.
Two young men paced back and forth between them and the truck. A woman sat on a rock nearby, her arms around two children, a number of stuffed plastic bags by her side. It was Friday, January 6, on road 317, which connects the southern Hebron hills settlements of Susya, Beit Yattir, Ma'on and Carmel. The woman was returning from taking her children to the dentist in Yatta, and the truck was the only transportation she could find.
Except for two access roads north of the Yatta enclave - the Zif junction in the east and al-Fuwar in the west - the blockade around Yatta and some 12 surrounding rural communities was complete. The ring includes concrete blocks, gates, and mounds of earth, which close off the main roads - 60 and 317 - to approximately 70,000 people, and the access of thousands of others to Yatta itself.
Palestinians and field workers for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), say soldiers prohibit Palestinians from using road 317.
The Israel Defense Force responded to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) that Palestinian movement is not prohibited along road 317.
In any case, Palestinian cars on the road are few and far between, with the occasional truck or tractor managing to make its way over the rocky soil and the mounds of earth.
That Friday in January, the mother and the truck driver were on their way back to a small rural community southeast of road 317. The IDF patrol that spotted them detained them for a long hour.
When the soldiers were asked whether the Palestinians were prohibited from using the road, one explained, "travel is not prohibited on the road, but getting to it is prohibited." OCHA personnel believe that their presence and that of the media shortened the amount of time the Palestinians were detained.
In the last months of 2005, only the northwestern al-Fuwar gate, leading to the eponymous refugee camp, was left open for vehicular travel to Yatta. However this gate was closed as well following the terrorist attack near the settlement of Beit Haggai at the end of 2005. Because the gates were shut, the sick were transfered back-to-back on stretchers from cars or ambulances to ambulances waiting on the other side of the gate. About 100 tons of garbage piled up in Yatta. Merchandise was also transfered back-to-back and hand-to-hand.
An appeal by ACRI to the GOC Central Command led to the opening of the al-Fuwar gate om January 2. On January 5, ACRI called on the IDF to open a criminal investigation to find the individual who gave the order to block the only two access roads to Yatta. According to ACRI, the blocking of the roads broke a pledge the IDF had made to the High Court of Justice in response to a petition by Physicians for Human Rights at the beginning of the intifada that every "territorial unit" would have at least one outlet for vehicular traffic. The IDF told ACRI that it seemed no criminal act had been committed that would justify opening an investigation.
ACRI documented at least six more cases during 2005 of the blocking of access to vehicles on roads to various villages in the West Bank. According to ACRI attorney Limor Yehuda, additional villages and areas are probably being cut off that ACRI does not know about.
That is, the IDF relaxes or restricts access to the various enclaves in keeping with alerts, after shooting attacks in the West Bank, and as the separation fence and protective measures for settlements progress. According to OCHA, for example, the concrete barrier closing off road 317 blocks vehicle access to 22 rural communities that are home to 1,900 people.
Terms used in military documents or by soldiers at roadblocks
1. Territorial unit - a Palestinian enclave surrounded by roadblocks
2. Shunt - unblocked entrance to an enclave
3. Sterile road - off limits to Palestinian traffic
4. Differentiation - a ban that stops residents of a particular West Bank area from traveling to another
5. Life suspension - a ban on passage through a checkpoint due to a security warning
6. Fixed resident - residents of the enclaves between the Green Line and the separation fence who, by military order, require a special certificate from the military authorities confirming that they live in their house