Israeli settlers are preventing the opening of a West Bank road that has been closed to Palestinians for 20 years, connecting the Palestinian town of Azzariyeh with the main road to Bethlehem.
Last week, work began to remove the roadblock, but settlers successfully prevented it from continuing, so the road remains closed. Azzariyeh residents said they were told it would open soon.
The road was paved in 2003 for settlers from Kedar due to the second intifada and has been closed to Azzariyeh residents since its inception. Until 2003, settlers reached Kedar by going through Azzariyeh.
The road’s other end is a major artery used by Palestinians traveling between the northern and southern West Bank, known as the Wadi Naar road. The connecting road is still the only way Kedar residents can reach their settlement. But the head of the army’s Central Command recently decided it could be opened to Palestinians as well.
Kedar, founded in the 1980s, is located near Ma’aleh Adumim and is essentially a suburb of Jerusalem. It currently has 1,500 residents, many of them secular. The residents say they are there for the quality of life rather than on the basis of ideology.
Last Wednesday, Kedar residents learned that a crew from the Netivei Israel roads company had come to remove the roadblock. They demonstrated at the site and prevented the work from continuing. Yossi Azar, a member of Kedar’s executive committee, said this was the fourth time they had done so.
“The Wadi Naar road is an evil one,” he said. “All the hardcore Palestinians use it, and there are hostile villages here. Just a month ago, there was a pipe bomb here. We’re talking about tens of thousands of cars; we’ll become the minority.”
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Another resident protested the description of the access road as an “apartheid road.”
“I’m forbidden to enter Azzariyeh; the apartheid is against us,” he said. “Look at how they pass, at their driving culture. In the past, we experienced security incidents, but since we haven’t been on the road with them, we’ve had peace and quiet.”
The settlers said that after their demonstrations, they met with the head of Central Command. At that meeting, they agreed to stop disrupting the work, but in exchange, the road will remain closed to Palestinians until further discussions are held.
The decision to open the road stemmed partly from a request by Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel. In a letter to Central Command, he said this would ease the traffic jams around his city.
The army looked into the issue and concluded that opening the road to Palestinians wouldn’t endanger Kedar residents. Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli supported the decision and provided a budget of 2 million shekels ($620,000) to do the work.
Some Kedar residents said the real problem is that the road can’t handle the volume of traffic expected if it’s opened to Palestinians. Nevertheless, their campaign has revolved around the security argument. Residents also plan to petition the High Court of Justice against the army’s decision.
The army said the road is being reopened to “improve the transportation situation.” It added that the issue “was examined by all the relevant parties” and approved “after it turned out that opening the road wouldn’t pose a security threat to the residents.”
Peace Now said that “for 20 years, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian cars have had to travel every day on a slow road full of traffic jams while a handful of settlers had a parallel road available. But when it was finally decided to open the road to Palestinians, settlers prevented it by force.”