February 2013

Note: Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) refers to East Jerusalem, West Bank and the Gaza Strip which have been under Israeli occupation since 1967

Apartheid Roads and Restrictions on Freedom of Movement

Israel has created a system of extensive roads in the Palestinian territories, primarily in the West Bank, which connect Jewish colonies to each other and to Israel. These roads are largely off-limits to Palestinians even though they are built on occupied Palestinian land. Palestinians are forced to use an alternative road network of inferior and more circuitous roads that run between the Israeli road network. In effect a two-tier road system – Israeli and Palestinian – operates side-by-side[1].

The first major impact of the forbidden road regime is that it has placed severe restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, effectively stifling the economy. A scheme of manned checkpoints,the Separation Wall, road blocks and a permit system ensure that Palestinians use the alternate system of sub-level streets, dirt roads and tunnels to by-pass settlements [2]. While Jewish settlers can travel freely without any hindrance on roads, Palestinians are required to present permits and need to be approved by IDF soldiers[3]. They are subject to constant delays, long lines and humiliating searches at check points. Access to receiving and providing medical services is also a serious concern; at least 39 cases of Palestinians dying due to delays at check points have been documented [4].

The second impact of the apartheid roads is that it has lead to territorial fragmentation of the West Bank, as can be seen here. Each Palestinian Bantustan is surrounded by these roads and is isolated from the neighboring enclave. The occupation forces not only prevent Palestinians from using ‘settler-only’ roads, they also prevent them from simply crossing the roads[5]. As a result, they can’t just drive across a road to the neighboring Bantustan; they have to take long routes to by-pass Israel’s road regime. A 10-20 minute journey now takes 2-3 hours [6]. In addition, each road has a 50–75m buffer zone on each side, where no construction is allowed. As a result, for each 100 km of road about 2,500 acres of West Bank land is confiscated [7].

Israel defends this road regime on security grounds. However, the security pretext is a racist one as it assumes that all Palestinians are a security risk; indigenous people have to prove their innocence to receive a permit – something rarely granted. Critics have objected to the roads being called ‘Jewish-only’ as they are accessible to anyone with Israeli citizenship. However, the roads are meant to service the settlements which are for exclusive Jewish use. This system resembles the “pass laws” of apartheid South Africa, which required black South Africans to demonstrate permission to travel or reside anywhere in South Africa [8].

Home Demolitions and Discriminatory Legal Enforcement

In areas of the OPT under its absolute authority(East Jerusalem and 60% of West Bank), Israel exercises complete control over any construction activity that takes place. Any Palestinian construction needs approval from Israeli authorities; else it is deemed ‘illegal’ and is subject to demolition. Thus, when Palestinians construct, repair or renovate homes, schools and hospitals without Israeli permission, they are at the risk of being bulldozed. [9] [10]

Despite the need to accommodate population growth and rebuild ageing infrastructure, this approval is rarely granted and Palestinians are forced to either renovate without permission or abandon their breaking homes. 94% of permit requests were rejected between 2000 and 2007; over 1600 buildings were bulldozed in this period – effectively displacing thousands of people. The UN reported that Israel demolished at least 25 schools in 2009 alone which served 6000 students [11].

On the other hand, Jewish colonizers have built buildings, roads – even entire settlement outposts – without Israeli authorization and they have not been demolished [12]. Unauthorized ‘outpost’ settlements are illegal even by Israeli law, yet they are not bulldozed (all settlements are illegal under international law). A few outposts which were demolished were rebuilt and the same number remains today. Settlement infrastructure continues to expand and the permit regime poses no obstacles to it. While settlers have moved to the Palestinian territories from abroad, Palestinians have no choice but to build illegally if they wish to remain in their native land [13].

Discriminatory Distribution of Resources (Farming and Water)

Israel has placed severe restrictions on agricultural resources available to Palestinians. By the creation of the illegal Separation Wall, Israel has isolated some of the richest and most productive farmland from the West Bank. Despite this ‘seam-zone’ area lying within the OPT, Palestinians farmers require permits to access their own land in the area. Requirements to obtain a permit are extremely stringent; only 40% of farmers were given access in 2006 [14].  Even when access is granted, it is for a very limited time with the gates often closing sporadically – they aren’t allowed to stay overnight. This regime prevents the ploughing, pruning, spraying and weeding required throughout the year that is necessary or optimum yields [15]. Farmers live in constant fear of being totally dispossessed of their land if the restrictions are increased. By contrast, Israelis and Jewish settlers face no such restrictions and do not require any sort of permits. [16]

Restrictions on farming and fishing are even more severe and brutal in the Gaza Strip, which has been subject to the US-backed Israeli siege. Israel has declared a buffer zone that extends for 1,500 meters into Gaza from the border fence (17% of the Strip); fishing has been restricted to three nautical miles from the shoreline [17]. The buffer zone has taken away 35% of the agricultural land available in Gaza. Farmers, fishermen and even children are shot at if they dare cross into this ‘buffer zone’ – despite this area being within the Palestinian territories. Since March 2010, the IDF has shot 17 children while they collected building gravel in this area [18]. In addition to these extra judicial killings, the Israeli military routinely levels agricultural produce in this area using tanks, bulldozers and fires in order to terrorize farmers and squash any hope they have left [19].

waterDiscriminatory distribution of water to Jews and Palestinians is one of the most inhuman, yet hidden, policies of this regime. The Mountain Aquifer serves as the sole water source for Palestinians; Israel allocates just 20% of its water for them [20]. As a result, Palestinian per capita water consumption barely reaches 70 liters/ day – this is well below the recommended daily minimum of 100 liters per day set by the World Health Organization  (WHO). By contrast, Israeli daily consumption (including settlements) is 4 times that. In some parts of the West Bank, Jewish settlers use 20 times the water consumed by neighboring Palestinians, who survive on 20 liters of water per capita a day. This is the emergency amount set by the WHO in cases of disasters for ‘short-term relief’ in cases such as Darfur and the Haiti earthquake. In the Gaza Strip, 90% of the water is contaminated and unfit for human consumption [20] [21].

While settlements enjoy well-watered lawns, swimming pools and large irrigated farms, Palestinians down the road barely have enough water to suit domestic needs. They often have to rely on buying water from portable water tanks which can cost them 1/6 of their income. Like other oppressive policies, Israel also uses water restriction as a means of expulsion. The IDF has attacked and confiscated water tankers and transport equipment from villagers; offering to return them in return for leaving the land. Palestinians, being the resilient people that they are, continue to rebuild their homes and live in dire conditions- refusing to abandon the land which is rightfully theirs. [22] [23]

Next Post: More Policies and Conclusion 



[1] The Humanitarian Impact on Palestinians of Israeli Settlements and other infrastructure in the West Bank.  UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2007, pg 68

[2] Ibid , pg 58

 [3] Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Human Rights Watch, New York 2010 – pg 15,16

 [4] Forbidden Roads: Israel’s Discriminatory Road Regime in the West Bank, B’Tselem. August 2004. pg 19

 [5] Ibid , pg 70

 [6] United Nations Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur, John Duggard. ID: A/62/275, August 2007 – pg 16

 [7] Apartheid Roads: Promoting Settlements, Punishing Palestinians. Ma’an Development Center, Ramallah. December 2008 – pg 3

 [8] United Nations Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur, John Duggard. ID: A/HRC/7/17, January 2008 – pg 16

 [9]  Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. FAQs

 [10] Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Human Rights Watch, New York 2010 – pg 11, 40, 43

 [11] Ibid

 [12] Ibid

 [13] Ibid

 [14] The Humanitarian Impact on Palestinians of Israeli Settlements and other infrastructure in the West Bank.  UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2007, pg 110, 111

 [15] Ibid

 [16] Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in theOccupiedPalestinianTerritories. Human Rights Watch, New York 2010 – pg 15,16

 [17] Between Fence and a Hard Place  – UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

 [18] United Nations Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk . ID: A/HRC/16/72, 2010 – pg 15

 [19] Between Fence and a Hard Place  – UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

 [20]  Taking Control of Water Resources – B’Tselem, May 2011

 [21] Thirsting For Justice, Amnesty International, 2009

 [22] Ibid – pg 5

 [23] Separate and Unequal: – pg 19


First published at MuslimMatters on Dec 13th, 2012 

Amidst the Presidential elections, Operation Pillar of Cloud, Palestinian bid at the UN, unrest in Egypt and a host of other issues, the Syrian conflict has been relegated to the back pages of our papers. Despite all this, the brutality of the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.

The death toll of this murderous rampage has now exceeded 40,000. That’s right; over 40,000 Syrians have died since this started almost two years ago. In addition, over 440,000 people have fled the region and are registered as refugees; many more probably out there unregistered. 1.2 million people have been displaced internally; nearly half of them are children.

Despite the conflict turning into a long bloody episode which has thrown the whole region into turmoil, Bashar Assad is still determined to fight to the end. He has vowed that he won’t leave Syria and will die if he has to; despite talk of him being allowed safe passage if he ends the civil war. “I am not a puppet, I was not made by the West for me to go to the West or any other country…I am made in Syria, and I will live and die in Syria”, he declared.

The latest round of diplomatic bickering between Syria and the West has been on the issue of Patriot Missiles and chemical weapons. Turkey demanded NATO to provide it with the system to deploy along the Syrian border for defense against cross-border firing. NATO has approved this request only on grounds that the Patriot system be used for defense. This also means that hundreds of American and European troops will be deployed to the frontier for the first time; the closest form of intervention to date. Britain has also stated that it will supply rebels with training and equipment. A no-fly-zone, similar to the one in Libya, is still out of the question in this conflict.

The second issue that is dominating the discourse is the use of chemical weapons. Reports have emerged that point to the possibility of the Syrian regime deploying chemical weapons on it’s on people. Unnamed US intelligence officials have said that poison gas might be used by the government. America has warned Syria that such action would cross a ‘red line’ and will necessitate retaliatory action.

However, the veracity of reports about these Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) continues to be questioned. Syria has accused the West of forging this intelligence to serve as pretext to invade the country; its Deputy Foreign Minister stated, “Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide”. Is the US trying to pull-off-an-Iraq?

Robert Fisk seems to agree with this assertion. He points out that stories of Hafez-al-Assad employing chemical weapons 30 years ago are nothing but fairytales. As a journalist covering the conflict, he distinctly remembers never coming across any evidence of their use – despite the bloody massacre that happened then, chemicals were not employed. And they won’t be employed this time either; in his estimation that is.

As one journalist rightly asked US government officials, why do these chemical serve as the ‘red line’ to finally take some kind of action? Is the death of 40,000 people not enough? Why does it matter what means is deployed to kill innocent civilians? The moral ‘red line’ has long passed – talk about these superficial limits and threats of retaliation appear to be nothing but a game of diplomatic ping-pong. Everyone is dancing around the issue, trying to buy time, hoping that the conflict takes care of itself.

Signs are starting to emerge that perhaps, God-willing, an end to this bloodshed might be approaching. Syrian rebels are approaching Damascus as government forces weaken with continued defections. There is growing talk of a looming battle-to-the-death in the streets of Damascus. Fighting around the capital and airport has intensified, forcing the latter to be shut down twice this week – the airport has been declared a ‘legitimate target’ by rebel forces. Rebels have also made strategic gains such as capturing military bases, disrupting supply routes and seizing weaponry.

As we sit in our homes, helplessly reading these stories in horror, prayer is the strongest weapon we have in our hands. Scholars advice increasing our acts of worship, our dua and recitation of Quran. Prayers such as Dua al-Nasiri have specially been written for times like these. Please keep the people of Syria in your prayers.