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Israelis Consider New Limits on West Bank Palestinians - NY Times, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    May 24, 2002 Israelis Consider New Limits on West Bank Palestinians By JOHN KIFNER
    Message 1 of 1 , May 24, 2002
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      May 24, 2002
      Israelis Consider New Limits on West Bank Palestinians


      RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 23 ? The Israeli Army is
      stringing barbed wire around this city as part of what
      aid workers fear are sweeping new restrictions that
      will further squeeze the Palestinians' already
      crippled economy and perhaps stoke more violence.

      The barbed wire, evidently intended to prevent
      Palestinian attacks, blocks what used to be a way to
      sneak in and out of Ramallah without passing
      checkpoints. It is likely only to increase the
      frustration at the nearby Kalandia checkpoint, the
      only approved way to and from Jerusalem. The
      checkpoint is already the source of deep Palestinian
      frustration and recently seems to have become more
      permanent with the addition of various concrete blocks
      to channel traffic.

      On different days in the last week, hundreds of
      Palestinians ? old women in head scarves carrying
      grocery bags, young girls in school uniforms,
      businessmen talking on cellphones ? plodded both ways
      along a fenced-in corridor after waiting in line to
      present their papers to Israeli soldiers hunkered
      behind sandbags.

      Clusters of taxis wait at each end. The roughly
      10-mile commute between cities now takes three taxis
      and sometimes two hours or more.

      "Look at this, it's horrible," fumed Walid Ahmed, 40,
      who gave his occupation as "nothing" because of the
      bad economy. "It's a shame to see old people, your
      mother, your father walking like this. Does this look
      like the entrance to a major city?"

      Things may get even more difficult.

      International aid officials said the Israeli Army
      outlined at a meeting on May 7 a plan to create eight
      zones in the West Bank, around each of its major
      cities. Palestinians needing to travel would apply for
      a special permit to enter or leave a zone, and the
      permits, to be renewed monthly, would be valid only
      from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., said several members of a
      committee of donor nations who attended the meeting.

      The Israeli plan, international aid officials said,
      would encircle the eight major cities of the West Bank
      and their outlying villages: Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm,
      Qalqilya, Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron.

      "All of us realize the Israelis have very legitimate
      security fears and concerns," said Nigel Roberts, the
      World Bank representative who attended the meeting.
      "But it is something of a dilemma. The closures have
      already had a devastating effect on the economy, and
      this will contribute to the impoverishment of the
      Palestinians and all the negative consequences that go
      with that."

      The Palestinian Authority, which under the Oslo
      agreements is supposed to be in charge of the eight
      cities, has not been formally notified of the new
      permit system, its spokesman, Yasir Abed Rabbo, said.

      If put into effect the plan would amount to a
      substantial tightening of the existing Israeli policy.
      Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in proposals outlined in
      recent weeks, has also talked of creating buffer zones
      and even a wall dividing the West Bank and Israel,
      similar to the fencing off of the Gaza Strip.

      The new plan would appear to go further, isolating
      sections of the West Bank from one another.

      The army unit that outlined the plan, the Department
      of Coordination and Liaison, is run by Maj. Gen. Amos
      Gilad. The Israeli Defense Forces, asked about the May
      7 meeting, responded with a statement. "The
      coordinator of government activities did not discuss
      nor approve any plan for the division of the West
      Bank," it said. "The coordinator of activities acts to
      make easier the situation for the Palestinian
      population. To that end, a procedure was suggested to
      facilitate the passage between areas in the West Bank
      which were under closure.

      "Ideally," the statement continued, "the closures
      around the cities would be lifted and there would be
      no need for such permits. Unfortunately, however, the
      reality of the murderous terror attacks makes such
      closures a security necessity and as long as the
      necessity exists, the coordinator of activities in the
      territories will try to find procedures to ease the
      situation in the territories as much as possible."

      If the restrictions outlined are carried out, people
      who were at the meeting said, trucks would not be
      permitted to cross from zone to zone. Instead, goods
      would have to be unloaded at a transfer point, then
      loaded back onto another, local truck. The system,
      called "back to back," is already in use in the Gaza

      For international aid agencies that move food,
      medicine or construction materials, this would mean a
      tremendous increase in workers, costs and time spent
      in transport.

      Further, those who were briefed say, no one with
      Palestinian papers would be permitted inside Israel.
      The Israelis are defining this as including East
      Jerusalem, a largely Palestinian area where many aid
      agencies have their headquarters, employing
      Palestinians from Ramallah and nearby areas who would
      no longer be able to go to work. Nor would
      Palestinians with Israeli identification papers ? like
      most Arab residents of East Jerusalem ? be permitted
      to cross into the West Bank.

      One official of an aid group said the United Nations
      agency that worked with Palestinian refugees alone had
      about 380 local employees based in East Jerusalem.
      Palestinian institutions like Mokassed Hospital, the
      main health care provider, many of whose doctors and
      other workers live beyond the city limits, would also
      be affected.

      It is by no means clear whether all the proposed new
      restrictions will be put into place, and if so when,
      the aid workers said.

      Some, at least, are being put into effect. The
      checkpoint here, for instance, had been open 24 hours
      a day, but it now shuts down at 7 p.m. A military
      official, asked about such measures as stringing
      barbed wire, said: "You can see it, yes, in a few
      places. What really will be the result in the end, I
      don't know."

      On a recent afternoon, Hassan Shibly, a 50-year-old
      engineering professor at Bir Zeit University, was on
      his way home to Jerusalem. He has just been offered a
      chance to run the master's degree program in his
      department. But, as a Jerusalem resident he will no
      longer be able to travel to work at the university.

      "It's terrible," he said of the checkpoint and life
      here in general. "Every day they think of something
      new. This will be terrible for the university."

      Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian minister for local
      governance, was more vehement. "It is the most
      disastrous, dangerous development we are facing," he

      International officials predict a dire effect if the
      measures outlined are fully carried out. "It could be
      a disaster," said Michael Keating of the United
      Nations special coordination office.

      The World Bank has estimated that the Palestinian
      economy shrunk by one-third during the first 15 months
      of what is now a 19-month uprising against the
      Israelis. The United Nations' World Food Program, in
      its most recent report, said half a million
      Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza needed food
      aid because they had lost their jobs or were unable to
      reach their fields.

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