An Israeli regional council has illegally built a road on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank, allowing Israeli citizens to avoid traffic jams at a busy junction north of Jerusalem. The bypass is not accessible to Palestinians from the West Bank.
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Route 437 runs northeast of Jerusalem through the West Bank and is used by both Palestinians and Israelis. It feeds into Route 60 – the main north-south highway in the area – and is the scene of frequent afternoon traffic jams near the Jewish settlement of Geva Binyamin (also known as Adam). In recent years, Jewish residents of the area have complained about major traffic congestion getting onto Route 60.
In an effort to relieve congestion at the intersection, this week the Civil Administration issued an order expropriating 5.4 dunams (a little over an acre) of privately owned Palestinian land, to widen the highway near the Adam junction. Palestinians contend that the plan could result in the demolition of several privately owned buildings at the site.
However, in addition, in recent weeks the Mateh Binyamin regional council has arranged an alternative route for Israeli motorists in the afternoon hours, over privately owned Palestinian land. At 3 P.M., a gate is opened at the settlement, which adjoins the main highway. A guard at the site said Israelis may enter what he claims is land belonging to the settlement to bypass the traffic. In the evening, the gate is closed and all traffic is redirected to the main road. The road was built without any authorization from the Civil Administration (the Defense Ministry agency that constitutes the civil authority in Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank).
A demolition order has been issued for the proposed new route, a portion of which is a security patrol route for the settlement – paved at the initiative of the Israel Defense Forces. But the IDF has not stopped motorists from using the new bypass route.
Dror Etkes, a researcher into settlement activity, told Haaretz that the new road was paved on an illegal thoroughfare that the settlement built illegally in 2002-2003 to expand Geva Binyamin’s boundaries. Portions of it cross land owned by residents of the nearby Palestinian village of Jaba, he claimed.
The coordinator of government activities in the territories, of which the Civil Administration is a part, provided a response that related to Route 437 but not the new road through the settlement itself. “The new highway serves both Palestinians and Israelis,” a spokesperson said. “First and foremost it was renovated to improve safety due to the many accidents that have taken place there. In addition, the renovation of the highway will reduce traffic congestion in the region for all its residents.”
Mateh Binyamin regional council responded: “The Adam-Hizmeh highway was declared a dangerous road from a safety and security standpoint by professionals, because it doesn’t have an alternative access route and, in the event of an accident or security incident, it is not possible to reach [the scene] to evacuate the injured. In addition, there is insufferable traffic congestion at the location, which includes waiting for hours in traffic jams, which imposes substantial difficulties on both the Israeli and Palestinian populations.
“In an effort to provide a temporary solution until the Transportation Ministry deals with the problem, the Adam community is opening its security route during periods of heavy traffic, in favor of an alternative access route with access for residents of the community and holders of blue [Israeli] identity cards – Jews and Arabs alike (in accordance with directives from security authorities) – thereby providing a safe and secure response on one hand, and easing the highway congestion on the other.
“The council is investing major efforts into solving the difficult problem and providing a solution for all of those who travel on the highway. It is unfortunate that Haaretz has chosen to relate to this dangerous highway only with regard to the opening of the access route, and not with regard to the danger for all who travel on it.”
The head of Jaba council, Abdel Karim Basharat, told Haaretz, “There is no doubt this involves an apartheid road paved on Palestinian land.” The road was paved, he said, after the Adam settlement fenced in the section where the road has run since 2003, citing security concerns. Now it is being used to ease the situation for the settlers, but the fencing has deprived Palestinian villagers of access to their land, he said. Basharat said the village also plans to appeal this week’s order expropriating Palestinian land for the widening of Route 437. He has also approached Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah seeking the prime minister’s intervention.
Basharat said there are also plans for a larger highway interchange and bridges, which will involve the expropriation of more of Jaba’s land and will serve the settlers in the area rather than benefiting Jaba’s residents.
“This story encapsulates the microcosm of the existence of the occupation and dispossession that Israel has created in the West Bank, which is gradually becoming open and unimpeded apartheid,” Etkes said. “It’s an apartheid that benefits Israelis in every aspect of their daily lives and, as in this instance, is always carried out at the expense of West Bank Palestinian residents whose property and respect are totally up for grabs in the eyes of the Israeli authorities.”
The IDF spokesman responded, “Most of the route is part of the delineated plan for the Adam settlement and is within the local council’s jurisdiction. As for the additional part of the road and its connection to route 437, the inspection unit has issued orders to stop its construction. Until the supervision procedure is regulated, the route has been blocked by a locked gate.”