IDF Closes Off Central Palestinian Town to Vehicles

Soldiers place large boulders across all four lanes of the main entrance to A-Ram, a Palestinian town of 60,000, blocking incoming and outgoing traffic.

The Israel Defense Forces is not allowing vehicles in or out of A-Ram, a Palestinian city of 60,000 northeast of Jerusalem, because of a recent increase in stone and firebomb throwing at army patrols by local youth, the army said.

Late Sunday night, soldiers placed large boulders across all four lanes of the road at the city's main entrance to block incoming and outgoing vehicular traffic. Pedestrians are not restricted, the IDF said.

Emil Salman

City residents have another road at their disposal, added the IDF. But the residents say it is a narrow dirt road some four kilometers from the main entrance. Because of the distance and difficulty driving on that road, many residents have to improvise ways to get in and out of town.

"This is collective punishment," said A-Ram Mayor Sarhan Jasir Saleima. "It's true, there were incidents. But how many people were there? No more than 20 to 30 little kids who see this as a game.

"If something like this would happen in Tel Aviv, would they close down the whole city? And why would there be army or police patrols around here anyway? Israelis don't come here," Saleima said.

A-Ram is on the main road leading to Ramallah, between the Kalandia checkpoint and the Dahyat el-Barid checkpoint. As such, the city is a major crossroad through which almost anyone trying to get to other cities in the West Bank must pass. Many of these travelers reach their destinations via shared taxis and other organized transportation originating in A-Ram.

Drivers at A-Ram Taxis say they can't make a living if they can't drive in or out of town.

"Our station is at the city entrance," said Mohammed, one of the drivers, who, like his comrades, has had to place his taxi on the road beyond the barrier at the entrance. "People are used to riding with us, but now they aren't coming. "When they told me they'd blocked the junction I ate my heart out," he continued. "Even without this there isn't much work. From morning until now I've made 10 shekels." It was 4 P.M.

According to Sasi, another taxi driver, all the stores near the city entrance have been affected, as has the Abu-Shalbak gas station located near the entrance, which on normal days is always busy.

"I sent 15 workers home today," said Morad, one of gas station owners. "There are still 14, but by next week I may have to fire all of them, too. There's no work."

As for the stone-throwing, residents claim it's done by children whose parents don't always know about it.

"By us, if a kid is eight years old, his mother doesn't take him to the park or to the beach," said Mohammed. "Here we don't have a beach, so they come here."

Only minutes afterward, two children came out of the entrance to the road and threw a stone. Almost immediately an IDF force stationed some 200 meters away shot a smoke grenade in their direction. The many shocked passersby in the area scattered in every direction.

"This happens all the time," said Mohammed. "Last week the windshield of my friend's taxi was broken. It cost him a thousand shekels."

The blocking of the city's entrance affects far more than just the adjacent businesses, since more than 70 percent of A-Ram residents work in Israel proper, while nearly 60 percent of the city's pupils study in Jerusalem or in schools out of A-Ram.

According to Saleima, tens of thousands of people come in and out of the city every day.

"They haven't told us when it's going to end," said Ahmed, a city resident. "I, and others like me, are standing at the junction. We don't know if we should go to steal, go to work or just kill ourselves. We aren't even dogs anymore."

The IDF Spokesman said that during the past few weeks, "representatives of the Civil Administration approached area residents and officials of the Palestinian Authority and asked them to stop the violent and dangerous behavior; when there was no response, the obstacles were placed.

"Placing obstructions in Judea and Samaria is done in accordance with situational and security assessments. The IDF works to assure a normal life for all the residents of the region, while taking all necessary security precautions."