Settlers praying in the middle of a road serving about a dozen Palestinian villages, along with prolonged security checks by soldiers, are for all intents and purposes blocking the road for thousands of Palestinians living west of Ramallah.
Road 450 connects the villages of Bitilu, Deir Ammar, Jamala, Ras Karkar, Jania and others to communities northwest of Ramallah and to the northern West Bank.
After a Palestinian man from Kaubar murdered three members of the Salomon family in their home in the settlement of Halamish in July, the army closed the road to local Palestinian traffic, which was redirected to a path leading from the road to the village of Deir Nizam.
This restriction forced Palestinians to make a large detour to reach their destinations. The order was extended a few times until December 24, but as the result of legal measures taken by local residents through human-rights lawyer Neta Amar Schiff, the closure order was not extended after that, and since then this part of the road is also officially open to Palestinians.
However, right after the Salomon murders, residents of Halamish built an outpost on the east side of the road and declared it a new neighborhood of the settlement. At the edge of the road, just south of Halamish, a sign was put up in Arabic reading: “The area where you are now is under the control of the Jews. Entry by Arabs to this area is completely prohibited, danger of death!” The sign, which was not put up by Israel’s Civil Administration, is often taken down but soon replaced.
In recent months, an army unit stationed at two military roadblocks on the road — one next to the outpost and the other a few hundred meters south of it — has conducted prolonged inspections of Palestinians and their vehicles at the roadblocks.
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According to testimony given to Amar Schiff, the soldiers do not make do with checking identification and opening the trunk or the hood of the cars, but make the passengers turn off the engine and get out of the vehicle. Sometimes they stop people from talking on their cellphones.
According to reports, sometimes a car will be allowed through the first checkpoint but not the second one.
Even before these reports reached Amar Schiff, on a number of occasions students taking the bus to Bir Zeit University were ordered off the bus. Soldiers frisked male students and searched the bags of female students.
As a result, students began asking the drivers to take the detour, to avoid the humiliation of the prolonged inspections and the body searches. Individuals who said they tried arguing with the soldiers reported being subjected to even longer delays or being turned back at the first checkpoint.
Sometimes when Israeli cars go through the checkpoint, soldiers will order Palestinians to wait on the shoulder of the road. Palestinians who gave statements to Amar Schiff on their experiences declined to give their names, out of fear of retaliation by soldiers. A few reported that they asked the soldiers why they were treating them this way, and said the soldiers told them outright it was so that Palestinians would take the detour (through Deir Nizam).
In addition, a few months ago, settlers began praying on Saturday morning in the middle of the road between the outpost and the settlement. On Passover the prayers were also held in the interim days of the weeklong holiday, thus blocking the road to Palestinians for several hours for each day.
Although the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman’s Office told Haaretz that the prayers were not authorized by the army, soldiers were present to guard the worshippers. Thus during these hours the road was blocked completely to Palestinian traffic. (On Friday the worshippers demanded that the Haaretz photographer not take pictures because of the holiday.)
Haaretz asked the IDF spokesman if this did not constitute a breach of the order of the general of command barring the extension of the travel restriction to Palestinians on this road.
In a response, the army said it endeavors to maintain public order and security in the Halamish area and the road near the settlement.
“This includes conducting inspections on the road from time to time, while attempting to minimize harm to the travelers’ routine. Claims of extreme behavior during the inspections are not known, and they will be checked if details are provided.”
The statement said that prayers held on the road described by Haaretz in its query had not been authorized by the army, adding, “The security forces are working to maintain order on the road and disperse gatherings that disrupt traffic.”
The closure of a few hundred meters of road 450 to Palestinians will enable it to become an “interior” road between Halamish and the outpost built to its east, which is constantly expanding. The eastern part of road 450 is already blocked; Palestinians have not been allowed to use it since the beginning of the second intifada, in October 2000; it has become an interior road for the settlements of Talmon, Dolev and Nahliel.