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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Analysis: Palestinians' disrupted journeys
Palestinian traffic in the hills around Nablus
Palestinian commuters take to the hills to reach Nablus
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Martin Asser
By Martin Asser
BBC News Online

Israel has imposed severe restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and Gaza as part of its efforts to cut down on militant attacks that have been such a feature of the current intifada.

But the vast majority of Palestinians just trying to go about their business see the restrictions as a humiliating collective punishment that fuels their frustration and anger.

  Click here to read about a typical commuter's journey

The Israeli security regime consists of three main elements:

  • Permanent checkpoints outside Palestinian towns and at strategic locations
  • Temporary checkpoints to target specific security threats
  • Unmanned barricades (of bulldozed earth, boulders or large concrete blocks) on roads leading to Palestinian villages

The net effect of these measures is to prevent traffic originating in the Palestinian-ruled territories - distinguished by green number plates rather than the Israeli yellow ones - from entering Israel or the Israeli-occupied parts of Jerusalem.

Palestinian traffic is also directed away from Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.

Complexity and danger

Travel restrictions mean most Palestinian journeys have become increasingly complicated, time-consuming and costly, and often quite dangerous as well.

All barricades and some permanent checkpoints require a change of transport for passengers, who must pass through on foot.

Kasarat crossing into West Bank
Unmanned blockades prevent traffic out of Ramallah
So any journey between towns in the West Bank typically requires a taxi to the outskirts of one's home town, a shared "servis" taxi to the outskirts of one's destination, another "servis" into town and sometimes a fourth private taxi to the precise address.

The journey times are extended by sometimes lengthy waits to walk through checkpoints, as soldiers check everyone's papers, while the increased cost of multiple taxi journeys is self-evident.

The main danger comes at permanent checkpoints, and sometimes at temporary ones when Palestinians stopped from passing are compelled to skirt around them on foot.

Live fire

Recent deadly attacks on checkpoints by Palestinian militants have left the soldiers manning them feeling extremely exposed and likely to shoot first, ask questions later.

Kalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah
The atmosphere can be intimidating and oppressive
Soldiers open fire regularly at Kalandia checkpoint, for example, which controls Palestinian traffic in and out of the main West Bank city of Ramallah.

As well as the use of lethal force to stop real or suspected attackers, the soldiers regularly shoot into the air to prevent people approaching and shoot out the tyres of vehicles being driven erratically.

The checkpoints have posed a particular danger to people with medical conditions or women in labour who are being rushed to hospital.

Commuters' nightmare

But for most Palestinians, the blockade is just an intimidating and oppressive part of everyday life.

Nevertheless people continue to commute between towns on a daily basis, despite the fact that - for example - the 45 minutes it once took to travel between Ramallah and Nablus has now increased to 3 or 4 hours.

As the yellow-plated cars speed along metalled roads, green-plated shared taxis are forced to take dirt roads connecting agricultural communities and passengers have to dismount and walk for long periods across country.

Such demands have caused many Palestinians to stop travelling altogether - choosing to work from home or live closer to where they work, and not to visit friends or relatives in other towns, until the blockade is lifted.

See also:

06 Apr 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: West Bank commuter odyssey
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