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For a month now, since the second week of December 2005, the Israel Defense Forces has severed the northern part of the West Bank from other sections, and prohibited residents from traveling toward Ramallah and points southward.

The ban applies to some 800,000 people, residents of the Tul Karm, Nablus and Jenin provinces. Until January 2, the ban applied just to residents of Jenin and Tul Karm. Since then it has been extended to Nablus area residents.

The IDF did not issue an order on the new arrangements, which people only found out about at the permanent and so-called flying checkpoints that have prevented them over the past four weeks from traveling southward from the Za'atara junction (the Tapuah checkpoint). They were not informed how long the travel ban would be in effect.

The IDF has also cut off direct traffic links within the northern West Bank. The main artery - Road 60, running from the Shavei Shomron settlement to the road leading to the settlements Mevo Dotan and Homesh, has been closed to all Palestinian traffic since mid-August by means of three steel gates. Military sources have told international organizations that this road will be closed to Palestinian traffic until the construction of an additional security fence around Shavei Shomron is completed.

At various hours, there is also an age restriction on leaving through various checkpoints. The restrictions affect people between the ages of 16 and 30.

The IDF also forbids Tul Karm residents from entering Nablus through the checkpoint at the western entrance, Beit Iba. Entry is permitted only from the northeast (via Tubas and Al-Badhan), which entails a detour of dozens of kilometers on long side roads.

The IDF Spokesman's Office told Haaretz, "In the wake of many intelligence warnings and attempts by terror organizations in northern Samaria to launch terror attacks against the Israeli home front, a few barricades were erected to prevent vehicular traffic by the residents of Jenin, Tul Karm and Nablus south of the Nablus-Tul Karm line. The decision to prevent passage was based on a periodic evaluation of the situation. Humanitarian cases are permitted to pass at any time."

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) stated in a letter last week to GOC Central Command, Major General Yair Naveh, that there is concern that the travel ban was imposed as a punitive measure against the civilian population and is "therefore improper by dint of being a collective punishment strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law."

The letter by ACRI attorney Limor Yehuda said that these "comprehensive travel bans" create "a disconnect between parts of the West Bank and populations and communities that are interconnected in all aspects of life, and brings in its wake a mortal blow to the ability of the entire population to maintain economic, social and cultural ties."

The IDF calls this prevention of movement from the northern West Bank to other areas "differentiation." It was implemented several times last year, for varying durations. Sometimes the separation is in both directions.

The "differentiation" can be felt in the small number of Palestinian vehicles on the roads, as well as in the very lengthy wait cars and people have to endure in exiting the Hawara checkpoint, south of Nablus, and at the flash checkpoints set up at exits from side roads used by Palestinians. However, according to activists from MachsomWatch, the human rights organization that is documenting the policy of restricting Palestinian freedom of movement, the "differentiation" is lasting longer this time and is being enforced more strictly.

At the Za'atara (Tapuah) checkpoint - which has been upgraded over the past two months into a giant "terminal" through which all Palestinian traffic from the northern and western West Bank is channeled - passage is being denied to Palestinians who have already passed through the screenings at all the preceding checkpoints, on foot or by car, and whose identity cards list them as residents of the northern West Bank. The villages along the road from Ariel to Tapuah are further blocked by fences, which prevent leaving through the orchards.

MachsomWatch activists have documented numerous occasions on which students and other residents from the Tul Karm and Jenin regions were either prevented from entering Nablus or else were warned that once they entered, they would not be allowed to leave.