Samuel Sockol
The Washington Post (Special Report)
October 23, 2007 - 11:02am

An Israeli human rights group charged Tuesday that Israel has used concrete barricades, fences, checkpoints and other measures to impose restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank that are "unprecedented in scope and duration."

The group B'Tselem called on Israel to remove the parts of its 456-mile separation barrier that dip into the West Bank, evacuate Jewish settlers from the territory and eliminate restrictions on internal movement. As it is, B'Tselem said in its 100-page report, restrictions imposed since the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000 have made Palestinian freedom of movement "a privilege that Israel grants or withholds as it deems fit."

Israel justifies the restrictions as necessary to thwart armed attacks.

The Ministry of Justice said in reaction to the report that the roadblocks and other measures were put in place to protect Israeli citizens, often after suicide and shooting attacks. "The threat of terror unfortunately requires in some cases the restriction of movement within the area. This need derives from the fact that the Palestinian terror operates from within the civilian population," the ministry said.

The B'Tselem report was published a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in the West Bank city of Jericho. Abbas promised Palestinians on Tuesday their lives would improve as a result of the meeting.

"Many issues which affect the Palestinians in their day-to-day lives will be resolved," Abbas told the Voice of Palestine radio station. Palestinian officials were quoted as saying they received assurances from Olmert that Israel would approve as early as next week the removal of some of the hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and barriers that restrict Palestinian travel in the West Bank.

David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, said no timetable has been set for easing such movements. "We are doing our best to make Palestinian life easier, and the matter will be decided soon," he said.

Pledges in the past to remove roadblocks have not been implemented following opposition from the powerful Israeli defense establishment.

B'Tselem communications director Sarit Michaeli said, "Israel systematically spreads false promises to ease the movement restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank, but the situation on the ground moves in the direction of the tightening of control, as the restriction regime in its entirety is becoming more institutionalized."

"One of the remarkable things is that the number of physical obstacles has actually gone up in recent years, even though the plan for easing restrictions and the building of the separation barrier were meant to lead to their reduction," Michaeli said. According to B'Tselem's calculations, 193 miles of main roads in the West Bank are forbidden to cars bearing Palestinian license plates.

Also on Tuesday, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Israeli police scuffled with settlers as officers forcibly evacuated two Jewish families squatting in empty shops in the wholesale market in the heart of the city. Israel's Supreme Court had ruled the settlers' presence there illegal, but they ignored orders to leave.

Hundreds of their supporters moved into the building in recent days, reinforcing the doors and windows with metal and concrete in preparation for the police raid. The protesters hurled stones, water, oil and cement powder as police, backed by army troops, broke through fortified doors and carried out the squatters one by one.

Ahead of the operation, 12 soldiers inspired by Orthodox rabbis refused to participate in the evacuation and were sentenced Monday to military detention for periods of 14 to 28 days.


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