Palestinian children add rocks to block a road during a protest.
Palestinian children add rocks to block a road during a weekly protest against the expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement of Halamish. Photo by AP
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Emil Salman
A checkpoint in Shoefat. Photo by Emil Salman
Yaron Kaminsky
Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky

A new report published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) last week stated that many of the movement restrictions in place on Palestinians in the West Bank were applied during the four years following the outbreak of the second Intifada, and most of them remain in place to this day, despite significant improvements in West Bank security.

The UN agency blamed Israel for harm caused to the Palestinian people, just days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas failed to mention a “series of easing measures” the Israeli government enacted for the benefit of that same population.

The OCHA report pointed out that although Israel has eased certain movement restrictions in the West Bank, it continues to prevent the Palestinian people from accessing sources of livelihood and basic services, including health, education, and water supply. The UN agency stated that “As the Occupying Power, Israel is responsible for the welfare of the Palestinian population under its control and for ensuring that they are able to exercise their basic human rights.”

The report mentions the close connection between Jewish settlements in the West Bank and movement restrictions for Palestinians, and points out that as the legal status of those settlements in question according to international law – the legality of the movement restrictions is questionable as well. Another OCHA report stated that 45% of the demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures in Area C implemented in the last two years occurred in closed 'Firing Zones' and caused the displacement of more than 820 Palestinian civilians.

The UN is calling on Israel to take immediate steps to lessen the harm caused to civilians suffering from sporadic access to basic services and means of livelihood, and to fulfill its  obligations as stipulated by international law. These measures should include the opening of all routes to urban centers, the revocation of the permit regime associated with the Barrier and East Jerusalem, the opening up of ‘closed military zones’ for Palestinian movement and use of the land, and the lifting of restrictions on vehicular access to the Jordan Valley and within the  Old City of Hebron.

The International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and East Jerusalem and their implications on Palestinians' rights is scheduled to arrive at Amman in early November. The Mission was formed last March by the UN Human Rights Council, despite the objections of Israel and the United States. When Israel announced it would not cooperate with it, the Mission invited Israeli and other experts and organizations to submit information in early November.

Official information published b yCoordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) indicates that in Area C, too, where it retains full control of security and civil administration, Israel neglects to fulfill its obligations to the Palestinian population. Although the Interim Agreement  (Oslo II) states that Israel's authority in this area 'includes land and infrastructure', the great majority of physical infrastructure projects, as well as construction of health clinics and schools for the Palestinian population,  are funded by the American relief agency USAID, the Quartet and the International Red Cross.

On the COGAT website, the homepage's 'photo of the week' shows photos of roads used by Palestinians, before and after upgrading, including access roads to the villages of Bizzariya and Beit Iba. The website states that the roads were upgraded by foreign entities, after COGAT has approved 47 such road upgrading projects in the last year.

According to the website, however, 26 of the projects were not implemented due to budgeting issues. In numerous locations in Area C Israel funds the paving and upgrading of roads leading to settlements, whereas parts of the same roads leading to Palestinian communities remain neglected.

Although Israel has long been considered a developed nation, and is not a USAID beneficiary, the American agency has undertaken numerous projects in Area C as part of the aid to the  Palestinian Authority. Since 1994, the USAID agency has invested some $700 million in the construction of road and water infrastructure in Areas A, B and C.