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Monday, 24 December, 2001, 16:49 GMT
Eyewitness: A life of blockades
Israeli troops stop a Palestinian at the Kalandia checkpoint, south of Ramallah.
It is very difficult for Palestinians to move about
By Alex Klaushofer in Bethlehem

It is mid-morning and hundreds of Palestinians are slowly making their way through the mud-soaked checkpoint at Kalandia, south of Ramallah.


The long term effects of these restrictions mean that many Palestinians are now without employment

An Israeli soldier refuses passage to a Palestinian, but tries to justify himself to a well-intentioned Israeli woman who has intervened his on behalf.

"What can I do? It's because they bomb Jerusalem, Haifa. He can't go to Ramallah, he has to get work close to his home," the soldier says.

In recent weeks, the lot of Palestinians trying to move between the towns and villages of the West Bank has worsened amid tighter Israeli restrictions following suicide attacks in early December.

The lucky ones - Palestinians with the right papers living in areas where movement is governed by checkpoints - have a lengthy journey, taking taxis and walking.

'Breathing closure'

Those who live in communities 'closed' by the Israeli authorities are not allowed to leave their towns and villages.

But under what is known among Israeli soldiers as the policy of 'breathing closure', there are opportunities to leave for the brave and determined.

Palestinian youths demonstrate
The frustration often boils over into violence

Some 25 miles (15km) north of Ramallah, a cluster of villages south-west of Nablus has been under closure by the Israeli authorities for the past year.

Nasfat Khuffash, a resident of the village of Marda and a community worker for the US non-governmental organisation World Vision, explains the strategy.

"People always try to go out. You check - if there's soldier in the road, you don't go," he says.

The long term effects of these restrictions mean that many Palestinians are now without employment.

"Before they worked in the fields, factories, in Nablus and for employers in Israel," Mr Khuffash says.

"Now these people are without jobs."

Supplies limited

Meanwhile, the price of food has gone up as blockades limit supply and increase the cost of transport.

In the nearby village of Deir Istiya, resident Nazmi Said watches as crates of fruit and vegetables are unloaded from a lorry on one side of the roadblock.

They are then carried from that lorry at the village entrance - a mound of rock and soil dug out of the road - to a second lorry on the other side of the roadblock.

Mother and children at Kalandia checkpoint
Health and education are suffering

To feed a population of 4,000, the process - which takes several hours - has to be repeated every two days.

Even then, he says: "Many people can't afford to buy food."

The lorry driver, Wafi Hait, adds that sometimes Israeli soldiers stop him on his way to the village, and he has to throw his cargo away.

The United Nations Relief Works Agency (Unrwa), which is responsible for providing most of the services in the West Bank and Gaza, finds that the blockades have dramatically reduced people's access to healthcare and education.

Unrwa estimates that, since the second intifada began 15 months ago, home births have increased by 26% as women find it difficult to get to hospital.

Stillbirths have risen by 11%.

Spokesman Sami Mashasa says that educational achievement has suffered.

"There has been a dramatic drop in results in subjects such as Arabic, English and maths."

Ways to compensate

But service providers are trying to find ways to compensate for the blockades.


There has been a dramatic drop in results in subjects such as Arabic, English and Maths

UN spokesman

Last June the health ministry of the Palestinian National Authority established a temporary emergency hospital in the town of Salfit to provide a medical staging post for patients unable to access mainstream services quickly.

A huddle of small concrete buildings, the 10-bed hospital serves a population of 70,000 in Salfit and 19 outlying villages.

A young boy is carried out screaming, on his way to Ramallah for emergency treatment.

His journey, which would normally take 35 minutes, will last three hours.

How was he injured?

"He fell down running from Israeli soldiers," the nurse said.

See also:

24 Dec 01 | Middle East
Bethlehem tensions soar before Mass
24 Dec 01 | Middle East
Christians quit Christ's birthplace
21 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israeli channel pulls Arafat TV game
22 Dec 01 | Middle East
Palestinians bury their dead
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Israeli incursion in Gaza
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