Israelis Consider New Limits on West Bank Palestinians - NY Times, USA
- May 24, 2002
Israelis Consider New Limits on West Bank Palestinians
By JOHN KIFNER
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
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
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
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
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
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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