Rights Group: Israeli Army Using Phony Excuse to Keep Checkpoint Closed

The army cites security needs, but lawyers say tens of thousands of Palestinians are being inconvenienced.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

An officer in the military prosecution distorted the truth to justify the closure of a West Bank checkpoint that seriously burdens tens of thousands of Palestinians, a rights group says, based on documents that have been obtained by Haaretz.

“It’s very grave when the military commander’s legal adviser lets himself submit inaccurate information and thus excuse the undermining of the human rights of 100,000 Palestinians who are not allowed to cross a checkpoint and are forced to travel on narrow, long and winding roads,” said attorney Yadin Elam for the Center for the Defense of the Individual.

The Israel Defense Forces says the checkpoint in question is closed for security reasons, but the rights group has petitioned the High Court of Justice to open the road.

West of Ramallah, near the offices of the Civil Administration, is the District Coordination Office checkpoint, commonly known as the VIP checkpoint. The checkpoint separates Ramallah from villages to the west, among them Deir Debwan, Beitin, and Silwad.

This checkpoint is closed to Palestinians except for the 1,000 or so who hold VIP certificates. Occasionally the checkpoint is opened to the general public as well.

Last April the Center for the Defense of the Individual and the heads of the villages, represented by attorneys Elam and Nitsan Ilani, demanded that Central Command open the checkpoint.

They said its closure was causing tens of millions of shekels in damages to the Palestinian economy because of the huge detour that cars from the villages must take to get to and from Ramallah. But Beit El residents oppose the opening of the checkpoint because they don’t want Palestinians driving on the settlement’s access road.

In September the military prosecution sent a response, signed by Capt. Tamar Bokia, the consulting officer for operations and human rights. Bokia rejected the villagers’ claims and wrote that the impact on the Palestinians was minimal.

“This part of the road was paved on land seized for military needs during 1995 as part of the IDF’s redeployment outside the Palestinian cities following the [Oslo] interim accords,” Bokia wrote. “The road’s purpose was to enable the security forces positioned along it to travel toward Route 60.”

But the background material Bokia collected to craft her response suggests otherwise. In 2004, when a planning committee discussed widening the road, the legal adviser’s position was totally different. Palestinians who objected to widening the road argued that the road was being widened to serve the army and that the local people’s needs were not being taken into account.

“First of all, the route of the road set in the seizure order relies on planning from 1994, which was not for military purposes,” said a representative of the legal adviser at the time, Maj. Timor Paso. “The route in question constitutes an important link between Ramallah and Route 60.”

Bokia argued that “from a transportation perspective, the road that links Route 60 to northern El Bireh is not suited, as of now, to handle large volumes of traffic.” But the position of the professionals was completely different.

Bokia asked the Civil Administration’s transportation staff officer, Yisrael Efriat, a National Roads Company official, “Is there anything from a transportation perspective preventing the opening of the checkpoint to the free passage of Palestinians? If so, please explain in detail.”

Efriat replied: “There is no transportation-related reason preventing the opening of the checkpoint.”

Bokia also made an argument based on security. “Opening the checkpoint would cause a significant security risk to travelers, considering the heavy traffic loads that could be expected to result and the security situation in the region,” she wrote.

This sentence was ostensibly based on the opinion of Binyamin Brigade commander Yossi Pinto. But Pinto actually wrote that opening the checkpoint would lead to “an unreasonable security risk stemming from Israeli-Palestinian encounters and the danger of cars standing on the outskirts of the village of Beitin, which already poses a threat of stone-throwing.” Pinto did not refer to a “significant” security risk but to an “unreasonable” one.

According to the IDF Spokesman’s Office, “The IDF’s refusal to open the checkpoint at this time is based on the opinions of security officials, which constitute the main consideration in this matter.” It said the issue was reviewed “from time to time in accordance with situation assessments.”

IDF soldiers checking a Palestinian taxi driver in the West Bank.Credit: Reuters