Early every morning during the past three weeks, an Israel Defense Forces jeep has blocked the road that runs between the Palestinian village of Anata, just north of Jerusalem, and the Hizmeh checkpoint into the city. The army has said the move is related to security factors, but local residents believe the object is to prevent early-morning traffic jams at the checkpoint at a time of day when residents of West Bank Jewish settlements are on their way to work in Jerusalem.
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Traffic has meanwhile gotten heavier over the past month at the checkpoint outside the Shoafat refugee camp, which is within the city limits of Jerusalem but on the West Bank side of the security barrier. Area residents now seek to pass through there to avoid the long waits that have developed at other checkpoints. The longer wait at the Shoafat site developed as security checks have become more thorough there.
Tens of thousands of Jerusalem Palestinians live on the other side of the Shofat checkpoint, within the municipal limits of Jerusalem, either in the refugee camp itself or in adjacent neighborhoods. Residents of these areas said it now takes an hour and a half to get through the checkpoint there, requiring them to get up at 4 A.M. to be at work in Jerusalem proper by 7 A.M.
In an effort to avoid the wait, these residents have now been making a detour via Anata to the Hizmeh checkpoint. That checkpoint is closed to Palestinian residents of the West Bank, but as residents of Jerusalem with blue Israeli ID cards, people living in the Shoafat area are allowed to pass through Hizmeh.
But because the Hizmeh checkpoint normally serves West Bank settlers who work in Jerusalem, there is generally heavy traffic there – even without the additional traffic from Shoafat residents now seeking to avoid the wait at the checkpoint closer to their homes.
The Palestinians now claim the army has begun closing the road from Anata and Hizmeh, which they have been using to get to the checkpoint. In support of their claims about why the army is blocking the route, they say that at 8 A.M. every day, after most of the settlers have already been through the checkpoint, the IDF reopens the road for Palestinians.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in response: “In accordance with a situation assessment and security needs, it was decided to install a checkpoint during the morning on the highway connecting the village of Anata and the Hizmeh checkpoint. To prevent traffic jams, passage into Jerusalem for Shoafat residents is available at two other crossing points. The checkpoint has been set up in accordance with the security situation.”
One resident of the Shoafat camp, who asked to be identified only as M., said he has been late for work in Jerusalem nearly every day over the past two weeks. “You wait in traffic jam for an hour,” he said, “you get to the [IDF] jeep and [the soldier] tells you to turn around.”
Shoafat activists have been warning that the situation involving the checkpoints could spark violence.
“The situation is very difficult. We are not a strong group but we are managing to make the area stronger. There have not been stone-throwing [incidents directed at Israelis] for a considerable period. But if the situation continues this way, we won’t manage to calm the situation,” said Baha Nabata of the Ras Shehadeh neighborhood committee.
On Monday, a confrontation developed between young people from the Shoafat camp and police seeking to detain a witness in connection with an investigation.