B’Tselem Confirms that Checkpoints in Judea and Samaria Not so Bad
Those who protest against the Israeli so-called ‘occupation’ always bring up the subject of prevention of freedom of movement in the Palestinian Authority (PA). For example, Machsom Watch, an organization that reports on the supposedly inhumane behaviour on the part of soldiers manning the checkpoints makes the claim that:
Almost every time a Palestinian steps out of his home he will have to go through a checkpoint.
Such an accusation is routinely heard in the social media, in speeches given during Israel Apartheid Week events held on campuses in the United States and perhaps elsewhere, on Zoom panel sessions run by the various anti-Israeli organizations that question Israel’s right to exist at all, and even in academic articles (for one example click here). There is often the claim that there are over 100 checkpoints that make life unbearable for Palestinians. However, even Machsome Watch claims there are 59 checkpoints within the PA. A reliable source who travels in the PA told me that:
There are different kinds of checkpoints: permanent ones and temporary ones, permanently manned, such as those at the border between Israel and the PA, and those that are only manned when there is the need for it. Because they are generally not consistently manned, the inconvenience is minimal.
Oded Revivi, the Mayor of the Judea & Samaria town of Efrat, says that, given international pressure, the number of checkpoints has been dramatically reduced, especially over the past ten years. According to him:
One can drive from the northernmost to the southernmost parts of the region without encountering a single checkpoint.
It appears, however, that the current freedom of movement is quite inconvenient for propagandists who would prefer to use outdated images and repeat outdated claims of restrictions to freedom of movement for Palestinians within the PA.
The notoriously anti-Israeli NGO, B’Tselem, conveniently made a list of all the checkpoints and road blocks in what has become known to the world as the West Bank. I went through the list and separated out the internal checkpoints that are supposed to restrict Palestinian movement within the PA. I left out three categories of checkpoints: (1) those related to the City of Hebron as that is a special case and needs to be explained separately, (2) those related to crossing between the PA into Israel, and (3) Gaza checkpoints, which are at the border between Israel and Gaza.
Below are screenshots of the items on the list naming checkposts within Judea and Samaria. Note that some of these are permanently staffed (11) and some only intermittently (25). But even permanently staffed checkpoints do not necessarily hold up the movement of Palestinians from one side to the other. I marked the nature of contemporary checkpoint activity with a yellow rectangle. I invite you to come to your own conclusions.
The Efrat/Wadi Rakhal Checkpoint demands explanation. An Efrat resident residing there for over 30 years told me that he remembers when there was no checkpoint. There is privately owned Palestinian land within Efrat and goatherds used to come in freely, grazing their herds next to a children’s playground. The residents of a neighbouring Arab village were always welcome and there were good relations between the two communities. But then, a suicide bomber who intended to blow up the local grocery store was killed before he could pull the trigger mechanism. On another occasion, a terrorist entered the MADA First Aid station and killed one of the medics. In 2016, there were two instances of stabbing within the community. It seems that this is a perfect example demonstrating the security needs that lie behind the implementation of checkpoints across the land. Even in a UN document reporting on the economic impact on the PA of the separation barrier we can find evidence of recognition of this:
It may very well be that the fence’s location will affect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, when and if they take place. But the protection of Israel’s citizens must take priority over such considerations. Even Condoleezza Rice will understand that.
Rice was very adament that barriers and checkpoints be taken down within Judea & Samaria and in 2008:
“Rice said she had discussed the lifting of Israeli roadblocks, but did not say Israel made her any new promises. When Rice visited in March, Israel promised to remove 61 roadblocks. The United Nations reported that only 44 have been dismantled, and most of them had no or little significance.”
“At the same time, she acknowledged there is a “real security dimension” for the Israelis.
There was one suicide bombing last year and two so far this year. That’s down from a high of 59 in 2002, the year Israel began building a separation barrier along the West Bank and multiplying its military checkpoints and roadblocks.”
The table above is concerned only with the characteristics of checkpoints within Judea and Samaria and does not deal with the behaviour of the soldiers there. There is no doubt that some people have disturbing encounters with Israeli soldiers and border police, but my source cited above recalls his experiences of soldiers who were polite and wished him a good day as he went through the checkpoint.
Image Credit: Aviados, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons (note that this photo was taken in 2005 and according to the table above, it is now rarely manned and people generally pass through without being stopped)