Israeli Bypass Roads: Separate But Unequal ~ by Maysoon Zayid

The Daily Beast | by Maysoon Zayid | Aug 12, 2013

The highlight of our summer vacations in the West Bank was the nightly jaunts from our olive-tree-carpeted village to the big city, Ramallah. In the evening after dinner, we would pile into my grandfather’s green Volvo and drive to the greatest ice cream parlor that ever was, Rukab. Their ice cream is one of a kind and it is the best I’ve ever had. Thirty years later, Rukab still stands and I still love their rainbow ice cream. Unfortunately, the trip from Deir Debwan to Ramallah no longer takes 15 minutes, with Grampa driving slowly. It takes 90 minutes on a good day and up to three hours if the Israeli settlers are feeling frisky.

A Palestinian protester waves his national flag as Israeli security forces try to calm down a Jewish settler shouting at him from a car on Route 60, mainly used by settlers, near the Palestinian village of Al-Khader in the occupied West Bank on May 24, 2013. (Ahmad Gharbali / AFP / Getty Images)
A Palestinian protester waves his national flag as Israeli security forces try to calm down a Jewish settler shouting at him from a car on Route 60, mainly used by settlers, near the Palestinian village of Al-Khader in the occupied West Bank on May 24, 2013. (Ahmad Gharbali / AFP / Getty Images)

With the birth of the settlements came the birth of the bypass road. Israel created these roads so settlers could have access to their brand new, shiny apartments in the West Bank and so they would be able to “bypass” Palestinian neighborhoods without having to look at them. Bypass roads also conveniently create facts on the ground, and are built on confiscated land which Israel hopes to retain for all time and eternity whether it’s two states, one state, or this current state.

The Israeli-only roads that crisscross the West Bank have come a long way since the beginning of the Second Intifada. The bypass roads are a system of exquisitely paved highways with traffic lights, street signs, and even street lights, while those designated for the Palestinian population are dark, dangerous detours that add miles to their journeys. Gas is $8.00 a gallon, so those forced to use these designated routes are wasting both time and money they don’t have.

Originally when the villagers started using the segregated roads, they weren’t just poorly paved, they weren’t paved at all. People who had been cut off from the city dug out alternative routes over the mountains and through the woods to regain access. The dirt roads were even more dangerous than today’s permanent replacements, but not much more. The new Palestinian roads were built by the United States Agency for International Development. USAID facilitated Israel’s unjust system of roads by building the Palestinians an alternative route so they would not demand access to the Israeli-only roads.

According to Israel, the point of bypass roads is to keep the illegal settlers safe from their Palestinian neighbors by keeping their roads separate, but unequal. The idea that these roads serve any function security-wise is bat shit crazy because the two peoples’ roads intersect at various points. This means Israeli settlers and the Palestinian locals end up driving on the same roads anyway. If Palestinians are that dangerous, then why merge the segregated roads?

There are some Palestinians who are allowed to drive on the Israeli bypass roads even when they don’t intersect with the Palestinian routes. The chosen few are the laborers who have permits to work in Israel or the settlements and Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, American citizenship, or citizenship in any other country Israel considers friendly. The presence of Palestinians on these roads that were meant to bypass them is proof that this system serves no other purpose than to inconvenience Palestinians while solidifying Israel’s stranglehold on the land meant to house the future Palestinian state, John Kerry insists is being created at this very juncture.

The settlers and their religiously-segregated compounds are the reason why I must now drive on detour roads, which are pothole-ridden, with death-pin curves and wild boars instead of deer jumping in front of my rental car. The road that used to link my Deir Debwan to the city was a straight shot, the alternate route is not. And I am constantly lost. Google Maps may have recognized Palestine, but the GPS still doesn’t, so you are on your own. If you make a wrong turn you are likely to bump into an armed Israeli settler who doesn’t believe you have a right to exist and is very angry you actually do. Israel doesn’t provide motorists with nice, bright orange detour signs to follow either, all you have are the Star of Bethlehem and billboards to guide you. Luckily, some of the more enterprising businesses in my village put up billboards advertising their services along the detour’s route. These smart cookies included arrows on the ads that point you in the right direction. So now, when I want to go to Deir Debwan I just follow the signs for Tina’s Salon and Star Pizza. Both are written in English which is extremely helpful. They are the yellow brick road that guides me home.

My father is buried in Deir Debwan. I live in America. I can only visit his final resting place when I come to Palestine. In my faith, we believe it brings great peace to the soul that has passed to have their loved ones sit by their graveside to read, pray or talk to them. My father was my very best friend in the world and I would like to go pray by his side daily, but I cannot. In my five days here, I have only gone once because I now live in Ramallah and the detour roads are simply too dangerous and too much to handle as a woman with cerebral palsy driving alone, even with Tina’s Salon and Star Pizza to guide me. Israel makes the journey so difficult that even privileged, Americans like myself forego the hassle and voluntarily stay in their cage rather than endure another checkpoint, detour or degradation. Fewer Palestinians on the road does not mean more security for Israel. It just means less traffic for the settlers, which will make them happy. And after all that is the entire point of the bypass roads.

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Maysoon Zayid is a comedian, actress, and writer. She is the Co-executive producer of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival and founder of Maysoon’s Kids. Follow her on twitter @MaysoonZayid and see her work at

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Israel’s Checkpoints: The Facts

Welcome to West Bank Palestine: Daily Harrasment, intimidation, discrimination, racism, humiliation, denial of humanitarian treatment, respect and even medical aid, women dying at checkpoints during labor, or elders in need of medical assistance, violence, interrogations and even killings. Open your eyes and SHARE, so the world witnesses the truth. 64 years ongoing now. It has been enough!

Below some remarks transcripted from the video below

“Animals. Animals. Like the Discovery Channel. All of Ramallah is a jungle. There are monkeys, dogs, gorillas. The problem is that the animals are locked they can’t come out. We’re humans. They’re animals. They aren’t humans we are.”
– Israeli border police (you can find at 5:03 of this video)

We let them suffer, in the sun, in the rain, that’s it. That’s what I wanted to say. Let the whole world know.”
– Israeli border police

“When the Palestinians come…we put on our show.”
– Israeli border police

“Nobody knows about us here. Nobody in the world.”
– Palestinian businessman

“Look at what they do to us, do to our children. Look!”
Mother with two children

“Food for my wife, Christmas tomorrow. Meal for my family! I’ll be back in the morning!”
– Elderly Palestinian man

Violence and Harassment at Israeli Checkpoints.
Watch the rifles pointed at children. People endless waiting. Refused to enter, demolishment of property … and more

“The right to freedom of movement provides that people are entitled to move freely within the borders of the state, to leave any country and to return to their country.”

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. December 10th, 1948

Movement Restrictions: The Facts

– By September 2008 there were 699 closure obstacles in the West Bank– approximately 130 of these have been added after the Annapolis Conference began in November 2007.
– 630 of the obstacles have been identified: trenches (3%), partial checkpoints (3%), earth walls (7%), road-blocks (11%), road barriers (12%), checkpoints (12%), road gates (16%) and earth mounds (36%).
– 74 % of the main routes in the West Bank are controlled by checkpoints or blocked entirely.
– In the period from April to September 2008 the weekly average of flying (or random) checkpoints was 89. Due to their unpredictable nature and more intensive search procedures, the flying checkpoints are usually even more problematic for the Palestinians than the regular ones.
Movement Restrictions

Over the last forty one years of the military occupation of Palestinian land, Israel has implemented a policy of movement restrictions including checkpoints, earth mounds, trenches, gates, roadblocks, bypass roads, the Wall, and a complex system of permits.

From 1967 to 1991, restrictions on the movement of Palestinians were relatively light. However, with the beginning of the first Intifada in 1987, Israel increasingly restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement by implementing a permit system; and in 1988, Israel began preventing Palestinians from traveling between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. With the start of the first Gulf War in 1991, the Israeli Military imple-mented further restrictions on the permit system. Every Palestinian was required to obtain an individual permit, instead of general permits that applied to the population as a whole. In 1993, Israeli military check-points were established along the 1949 Armistice Line between the West Bank and Israel; between the West Bank and East Jerusalem; and between cities within the West Bank.

From the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, the Israeli Military increasingly restricted Palestinians from moving freely. In 2001 it became illegal for Israeli citizens to travel into Area A (areas under full Palestinian control) in the West Bank. From 2002 to the present, closure policies have substantially tightened and the entry of Palestinian workers into Israel has drasti-cally decreased.

Israeli and Palestinian security-controlled areas map-

Since the onset of the Annapolis Peace Process, there have been no changes in Israeli policy, and in fact a recorded increase in the num-ber of movement restirctions face by Palestinians in the West Bank.
Economic Impact

According to the World Bank, the recession in the Palestinian economy since 2000 is “among the worst in modern history”. The restrictions on freedom of movement that Israel has imposed on Palestinians since the outbreak of the second In-tifada is the primary cause of the decline of the Palestinian economy and chronic increases in unemployment and poverty across the Occupied Territories. Examples of the fragmentation of the local Palestinian economy includes, but are not limited to: economic separation between the West Bank and Gaza, severe limitations on economic interaction with Israel, no access to mar-kets for vendors of perishable products, isolation of markets in East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and a decline in investments due to uncertainty and inefficiency.

A report by the World Bank published in May 2007 stated that economic recovery and sustainable growth within the West Bank would ”… require a fundamental reassessment of closure practices, a restoration of the presumption of movement, and review of Israeli control of the population registry and other means of dictating the residency of Palestinians”.
Access to Health Care

Restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians have seriously affected their access to medical care, including emergency medical treatment. The ability to reach medical care and healthcare is very uncertain and depends on a number of arbitrary decisions and restrictions.

Soldiers at checkpoints consistently stop ambulances and patients. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, has reported 112 deaths and 35 stillbirths as a result of preventing medical personnel and patients from crossing checkpoints. The World Health Organization deplores “the incidents involving lack of respect and protection for Palestin-ian ambulances and medical personnel (…) as well as the restrictions on movement imposed on them by Israel, the occupying power, in violation of international humanitarian law”.

Checkpoint Births

According to the World Health Organization, at least 71 women have given birth at check-points the the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September of 2000 to 2006. These women endure labor in some of the most unsanitary and inhumane conditions possible.

The risk to themselves and to their babies is grave.Out of these 71 cases recorded by WHO, 35 of the newborns have died and a total of five mothers have also perished. In all of the instances, whether the baby lives or dies, the mother carries deep emotional scars.

As is so often the case, the statistics vary from one source to another. The most recent reliable source has been the UN General Assembly, Annual Report of the UN High Commissioner from the 1st of February 2008, which states that by the time of the meeting, the number of women giving birth at checkpoints remained the same as the year before, i.e. 69 (paragraph 3). However, if you read further to paragraph 6, the report refers to at least 2 more births in December 2007 alone.

Furthermore, There is another case which has been reported to have taken place, but which has yet to be published in the findings of any human rights organization. In all of these cases, neither the state of th mother or the child is known.

The recent case of Halah Yousif, as reported by the Palestine Monitor in October of 2008, is only one example of how this cruel statistic unfolds. This young woman, who was diagnosed with a condition called Toxemia, was not allowed to pass the Erez checkpoint separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, and separating Halah and her child from desperately needed health care. Despite the fact that she had been granted permis-sion from the Israeli authorities to cross, she was not allowed by the border police.

As this book goes to print, we are awaiting news of the fate(s) of her and her unborn child. Though there is a chance that she has received the attention she needed on time, she is only one more story in this most disturbing of statistical categories.

Visualizing Palestine - Checkpoint Births (Click to enlarge)

Visualizing Palestine – Checkpoint Births (Click to enlarge)

Avoidable Death of Pregnant Women & Unborn at Israeli Checkpoints

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.

Art. 16. “The wounded and sick, as well as the infirm, and expectant mothers, shall be the object of particular protection and respect”

In their home just outside of Bethlehem, a young couple, Farid and Nadia, put their son to bed. First-time parents, they tiptoe in and out of his nursery. The view from the window is dominated by the drab grey slabs of the Separation Wall, which stands just 20 metres from the house. ‘I fear that he will grow up thinking this is normal,’ Farid says.

Nadia is a Jerusalem ID holder. Farid, however, only holds a green West Bank ID card and is prohibited from owning property or driving a car in the district. ‘The night that my wife went into labour,’ Farid recalls, ‘we made our way to hospital. Because I wasn’t allowed to drive I had to sit beside her. She was in severe pain. I thought she was going to deliver in the car. At the checkpoint, we were made to wait. They wouldn’t allow us to switch so I could drive, although she was clearly in severe pain.’

After the delay, the Israeli military who guard the checkpoint forced Nadia to drive herself to hospital.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 10 per cent of pregnant Palestinian women were forced to endure labour or childbirth at a checkpoint between 2000 and 2007, resulting in the death of at least 35 babies and five women during the seven-year period. This data is at the centre of a new research abstract published this week in the leading medical journal, The Lancet.

The abstract’s author, Halla Shoaibi, is a lawyer at the University of Michigan. She believes there may be grounds for Israel to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity for obstructing pregnant Palestinian women as they try to reach medical care during labour.

Israel has over 500 checkpoints and barriers across occupied Palestine; a journey that should take minutes can take hours. Approximately 18,000 pregnant Palestinian women each year will develop complications.

Sexual and reproductive health consultant Carol Bradford says that checkpoint delays complicate an already fragile situation: ‘The Thaddeus and Maine “Three Delays Model” identifies the main causes of needless death of a mother and, often, her newborn. The first delay is getting out of the home when a woman needs emergency care; the second is in getting to the facility; and the third is when the facility can’t help her because it doesn’t have the right equipment or supplies. All three are at play in the occupied Palestinian territory.’

Checkpoint outside Qalqilya, West Bank. Photo by Vadim Lavrusik under a CC licence.

The Fourth Geneva Convention states that ‘expectant mothers shall be the object of particular protection and respect’. Yet, in 2009, the Committee Against Torture said it was ‘seriously concerned’ by the ‘undue delays and denial of entry’ at Israeli checkpoints of those seeking urgent medical care. Shoaibi’s analysis will investigate a claim against Israel based on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7 (1) (k), which prohibits ‘inhumane acts…intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health’.

Individual testimonies lodged with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights certainly indicate inhumane treatment, great suffering and the loss of life as a result of checkpoint delays. A testimony given in August 2003 reported the birth, and death, of a baby girl at a checkpoint in northern West Bank. The mother was prevented from reaching an ambulance on the other side. The baby died after the father was forced to cut his baby’s umbilical cord with a stone.

Yet, despite the gravity of individual cases, Shoaibi will need to show that Israel’s actions are intentional, widespread and systematic. The statistic of one in 10 [women giving birth at checkpoints] would suggest a widespread problem. But it’s very likely that even this number is a huge underestimation, because many cases from isolated rural areas never get reported.

Proving Israel’s strategic intent to cause suffering will be a challenge. However, there have been indications of an attitude of aggression amongst the Israeli military towards childbearing Palestinian women. In March 2009, there was international outrage over a set of t-shirts commissioned by Israeli soldiers depicting a pregnant Palestinian with a target over her belly. Over the image were the words One shot – two kills.

Graffiti on the Apartheid Wall. Photo by upyernoz under a CC licence.

Whether or not Shoaibi is able to validate a claim to the International Criminal Court, the fact that a significant number of pregnant women have routinely been denied safe passage to a hospital must raise alarm bells. The international rule of occupation requires Israel to enable the people of occupied Palestine to live as ‘normal’ a life as possible.

‘Is it normal that our women are giving birth at checkpoints?’ asks Farid. ‘If you think it’s normal I have nothing more to say.’


Birth at Qalandiya Checkpoint – video

Palestinian pregnant young lady in labour forced to take her cloths off and shoot her husband dead

Documentary: Witness Daily Reality at Checkpoints

Israeli Checkpoints – The Documentary in 8 parts

End the Silence

How many more dead corpses of Palestinians, pregnant woman, nearly, never or just born infants does the international community need to see in order to act?

How many more cruelties and violations of Human Rights, Regulations and International Law will be needed to intervene so this ongoing warcrime is being stopped once and for all.

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Other Sources

Restrictions on Movement and Related Documents

Machsom watch | Continuous status, pictures, video’s and updates about situation at every checkpoint (Machsom) in West Bank Palestine


Checkpoint – Machsomim – Full Documentary
Avoidable death at checkpoints, 35 babies died
Israelis stealing Palestian’s food on way to work
Obstacles on course to school

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