The Defense Ministry sealed off on Wednesday morning the Ras Khamis checkpoint, one of the only two exits of the Shoafat refugee camp, which serves 65,000 people. The move contravenes a 2008 High Court ruling.
Replacing the checkpoint, another portion of the separation barrier will be constructed. The barrier already seals the camp off from three directions. This is despite the fact that the refugee camp is part of the Jerusalem Municipality.
The Defense Ministry’s decision to remove the checkpoint was taken despite High Court of Justice guidelines stating that such a move requires that the remaining crossing leading to Shoafat would be accessible to the thousands of people who will be forced to walk the extra two kilometers in order to pass through.
Three years ago, residents of the refugee camp were informed that the Defense Ministry intends to close the Ras Khamis checkpoint.
With the help of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the residents petitioned the High Court, which set conditions for the closing of the crossing. This included expanding the main checkpoint to four lanes for vehicles and eight paths for pedestrians, and that the crossing would be open 24 hours a day.
Sealing off the checkpoint began two weeks ago, with the dismantling of security cameras. At the time, the Defense Ministry stated that the checkpoint would be sealed off by the Jewish New Year, which took place earlier this week.
The checkpoint was finally closed for crossing on Wednesday morning, and has already sparked confrontations between residents and security forces stationed at the entrance to the camp.
“Students were still able to pass through the Ras Khamis checkpoint Wednesday morning,” said Jamil Sanduqa, head of the refugee camp’s residents’ committee. “At 8:30 they stopped traffic and started dismantling the checkpoint. Border Police arrived at the scene and allowed the people to cross,” he added.
According to Sanduqa, when the students returned from school in the afternoon, and found the checkpoint sealed off, they got "annoyed and started throwing rocks at the soldiers."
Since being informed of the plan to close the checkpoint, thousands of residents have protested and held rallies, in addition to turning to members of the Knesset and ministers to act on their behalf.
The Defense Ministry said in response: "The Ras Khamis checkpoint is a tiny crossing that originally served solely as a temporary passage. The residents of Ras Khamis will pass through Shoafat main checkpoint, built with high standards in order to serve thousands of residents."
"The central checkpoint is equipped to handle the more than 5,000 people [per day] who pass through during peak hours, and meets the High Court's guidelines, and was done in cooperation with ACRI and the court."