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November 23, 09

NEWS / No improvement in Palestinian access to Israeli-occupied West Bank land, UN reports

23 November 2009 – Israel continued to increase freedom of movement for Palestinians between most urban centres in the West Bank over the past six months, but access to land has not significantly improved, with 60 per cent of the area remaining largely off-limits for use and development, according to a new United Nations report released today.
“The easing of Palestinian movement between urban centres is a welcome step,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its monthly update, noting that access still continues to be severely restricted to and from areas behind the barrier – which Israel says it is building to keep out suicide bombers and other attackers – including East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, as well as within the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron.

“Further measures aimed at restoring Palestinian control over West Bank space are required in order to make progress towards the fulfilment of the above obligations,” it added, referring to Israel’s responsibility under international law for ensuring the humanitarian needs of people under its occupation, including the right to free movement, work, housing, health, education, and to freedom from discrimination.

It called on Israel to take several initial steps, including revoking the permit regime associated with the barrier which is partially built on occupied Palestinian territory, opening up closed military zones and nature reserves for Palestinian use, lifting access restrictions to the Jordan Valley and within Hebron, and freezing all settlement activity.

Among recent progress, the report cited the removal of two checkpoints and the shifting of four others, the relaxation of crossing procedures at most checkpoints to the east of the barrier, the extension of opening hours, and the performance of searches and documentation checking on a random basis only, as well as the removal of 46 earth mounds and roadblocks that prevented vehicular access to main routes from various communities.

All this resulted in a significant reduction in travel time between the main urban centres, excluding East Jerusalem. But the barrier continues to be the single largest obstacle to Palestinian movement, with no improvement noted regarding access of Palestinians holding West Bank identity cards to areas isolated between it and the Green Line [the border before the 1967 war], including East Jerusalem.

Moreover, although Israel issued additional permits and opened dozens of seasonal gates for the olive harvest season that started in October, productivity was hindered due to lack of access throughout the year. Israeli settlements remain the most important factor shaping the system of movement and access restrictions, including the barrier’s route, the report said.

As of the end of October, there were a total of 578 closure obstacles inside the West Bank, including 69 permanently staffed checkpoints, 21 partially staffed checkpoints, and 488 un-staffed obstacles such as roadblocks, earth mounds, earth walls, road barriers and gates, and trenches.

But the report noted that while the large majority of obstacles are un-staffed roadblocks and earth mounds, most are designed to channel Palestinian traffic into staffed checkpoints, making the latter a key component of the closure system. As a rule, fluctuations in the number of checkpoints provide only a partial indication, since the ability to move across a given point varies depending on the policy implemented there.

Additionally, given that the checkpoints along the barrier allow limited access to areas that would be otherwise blocked, a decrease in the number of these checkpoints may indicate a deterioration, rather than an improvement, in freedom of movement, and vice versa.

Equally important, the report stressed, is that the number of closure obstacles at a given time does not reflect other key dimensions such as the so-called Area C, covering 60 per cent of the West Bank, which remained largely off-limits for Palestinians.

While the overwhelming majority of Palestinians reside in Areas A and B, Area C holds the land reserves necessary for the development of the main centres, a significant part of the agricultural and grazing land, and is critical for any large-scale infrastructure project.

Any Palestinian construction in Area C, for housing, health, education, infrastructure, tourism or industry, is subject to an Israeli permit regime, and in practise Palestinians are prevented from obtaining such permits in most of Area C, which was registered in the past as state land and subsequently included within the jurisdictional areas of Israeli settlements.


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