Israeli Rights Group B'Tselem Slams West Bank Checkpoints as 'Illegal'

B'Tselem says restrictions on movement in PA 'collective punishment;' Justice Ministry: Roadblocks prevent terror attacks.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem said Tuesday most of the dozens of manned checkpoints and hundreds more physical roadblocks set up in the West Bank are "illegal" and constitute collective punishment.

B'Tselem stated in a report that some 47 Israel Defense Forces checkpoints and 455 physical obstructions on roads currently exist throughout the West Bank.

The roadblocks were originally erected in response to "specific security threats" during and since the outbreak of the current Palestinian Intifada (uprising) against Israel almost seven years ago, the human rights group conceded.

But since then, their purpose has also become to facilitate the safe passage of settlers on roads restricted to Palestinians, B'Tselem said, calling this an "ulterior interest" that made many of the roadblocks illegal under international law.

On a total of some 312 kilometres of main roads in the West Bank, cars with Palestinian license plates are forbidden or restricted, the organization said.

"Even if all the restrictions are intended to achieve legitimate security interests, many of them would violate the principle of proportionality and therefore are illegal," the report said.

B'Tselem said the roadblocks split the West Bank into six hardly-connected sections, and make it complicated for Palestinians to reach medical services, travel to work, transport goods and visit relatives.

The restrictions therefore gravely affect economy and trade in the West Bank because of the high costs of transportation, impede social and family ties and even harm law enforcement, the report warned.

The human rights group called on Israel to "immediately remove all" restrictions on movement in the West Bank, including its security fence, and evacuate all settlements there.

The Justice Ministry said in a reaction that the roadblocks were erected to protect Israeli citizens and that they were put in place after a "long range of" of suicide and shooting attacks by Palestinian militants since the beginning of the Intifada in September 2000.

The roadblocks have in the past years prevented hundreds of attacks "aimed at Israel's civilian population," said the ministry.