By EA Veronica, Southern West Bank.
Driving out of Yatta, a large town in the South Hebron Hills at the southern tip of the occupied West Bank, we bump slowly along a crude rocky track. The same track travelled by many of the villagers who use Yatta for shopping and business. All the usual roads, 47 of them, leading to small villages, towns and, in some cases, to agricultural land, are closed either with earth mounds, concrete blocks or gates (information gathered by Israeli human rights organisation, B’tselem).On Friday November 13, two Israeli settlers were shot dead as they were driving close to Otniel settlement in the South Hebron Hills. This tragic incident added to the growing number of victims of the recent outburst of violence in occupied Palestine and Israel, in which 19 Israelis and 117 Palestinians have been killed to date. Immediately afterwards, in the hunt for the perpetrator, the Israeli military put in place roadblocks and checkpoints, closing roads leading to the scene of the crime as well as many others in the area. By the evening of the following day the perpetrator of the attack – a Palestinian man from nearby Hebron – was in the custody of the Israeli army.
One essential road between the town of Al Karmel and a host of villages was closed with an earth mound for three days after the shooting. Then, one night, some locals with a digger cleared the road, reopening it for Palestinians to get in and out of the town. Three days later, the earth mound was replaced by the Israeli military. We asked the soldiers what the roadblock was for and how long it would be there. They said that they were trying to control the movements of people coming out of the town for security reasons and it would be there “for as long as the situation continues”.However, soldiers are very rarely present at these roadblocks to monitor people, including at Al Karmel. And the roadblocks are not actually preventing people from moving around. At Al Karmel, once the earth mound was replaced, Palestinians started driving through a field immediately parallel to the road. The route is essential to their livelihoods, so they find solutions. If it were necessary for security, the army should be monitoring each road closure.
Using these alternative routes is difficult, time consuming, more expensive and damaging to vehicles. When the rain comes, many of them will become impassable. Kifah Al-Adrah from the nearby village of At Tuwani says, “This is the main road that connects At Tuwani and the villages of the area to the main city. Now that it is winter, everything is harder and people can’t use alternative roads”.
Another woman from At Tuwani, Sana, said, “Due to a leg problem I can’t walk long distances and our car isn’t good enough to go off-road. If I can’t walk to the city, what should pregnant or old women do? We want to be able to move freely from one place to another. We don’t want checkpoints or any other rule telling us whether we can or cannot pass through”.As these roadblocks continue unmonitored by the Israeli military and with the perpetrator of the crime in custody, they cannot be justified as a security measure. Such acts of collective punishment are illegal under international law (Article 50 of the Hague Regulations of 1907). The Fourth Geneva Convention clearly prohibits the occupying power from punishing a group for the actions of individuals. No protected persons i.e. civilians subject to military occupation, may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed, and “collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited” (Article 33, Fourth Geneva Convention). In addition, the rights of access to education, freedom of movement and access to work are all enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 26, 13 and 23 respectively) and are being severely hampered by these measures.