Israeli Closure of Ramallah Sows Confusion, Impotence Among Palestinians

Jack Khoury
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Israeli soldier checks the vehicles of Palestinians on their way out of the West Bank village of Ein Sinya, northern Ramallah on February 1, 2016.
Israeli soldier checks the vehicles of Palestinians on their way out of the West Bank village of Ein Sinya, northern Ramallah on February 1, 2016. Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury

What has rattled the Palestinian Authority the most about the restrictions on access to Ramallah imposed by the Israel Defense Forces late Sunday is the confusion and powerlessness the move has sown in the seat of Palestinian government.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians trying to leave or enter the city, for work, studies, medical care or shopping, have found themselves facing long waits at checkpoints. Some have sought other routes in or out of the city, while others simply give up.

A few hours after a PA police officer shot and wounded three Israelis at a checkpoint northeast of Ramallah on Sunday, the usual frustrations at the checkpoints worsened, prompting some to recall the days of the second intifada, which broke out in 2000 when the IDF cut off entire areas of the West Bank from one another and encircled Palestinian cities.

Some Ramallah residents say they are convinced that the new restrictions are not being taken for security reasons, as Israel claims, but rather are intended as collective punishment against the primary center of Palestinian life in the West Bank.

Since Sunday, the hot topic on social media in the Ramallah area is news about traffic and the checkpoints, accompanied by suggestions for alternate routes. Some websites have posted maps. Taxis and shuttle buses congregated on either side of the checkpoints to pick up and drop off people who preferred to navigate the roadblocks on foot. Some visitors to Ramallah have chosen to remain overnight in the city.

Father Ibrahim Shomali, the parish priest of Ramallah in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and principal of Ramallah’s Al Ahli school, had to accommodate more than 10 people overnight, including teachers and parents who were unable to leave the city Sunday night: They turned back after seeing that the lines of cars trying to get out were backed up for several kilometers long.

“We hosted several people in the monastery and know of many others who looked for a hotel in the city,” Shomali said, adding that there were students at his school who live outside of Ramallah who did not come to school Monday.

“I’ve directed the monastery and the school for the past year and a half and I’ve never dealt with such a situation,” Shomali said.

Saying that it recalled the period of the second intifada, this week’s limitations on movement were causing anger and frustration, Shomali noted.

Manal Diab, a counselor in Bir Zeit, just north of Ramallah decided to leave the area for Jerusalem at any cost to deliver important personal documents to an acquaintance in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood. He said he left Bir Zeit at 2 P.M. and didn’t get to French Hill in Jerusalem, roughly 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) to the south, until 11 P.M. Calling the situation Monday intolerable, he said he waited for hours, sitting in his car.

Fadi, a young Palestinian who works for a Palestinian communications firm, recounted his experience trying to enter Ramallah.

“We were six or seven in a taxi with student IDs from Nablus and one academic from Ramallah. The soldiers checked the car and wanted to send everyone back,” he said. When the passengers asked one of the soldiers why they were limiting movement, he said the soldier brashly answered that it was so they didn’t carry out terrorist attacks and “to teach the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian police a lesson that everyone will be punished.”

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