B’Tselem: Repeal order forbidding transport of Palestinians in Israeli vehicles

Palestinian and international peace activists opening a road, which the Israeli army closed, during a demonstration against the Israeli closure on Izbet Al-Tabeeb village near the West Bank city of Qalqilia, July 15, 2006. (MaanImages/Khaleel Reash)

On 19 November 2006, the commander of IDF forces in the West Bank, Major-General Yair Naveh, issued an order prohibiting Israelis and tourists from using their vehicles to transport Palestinians in the West Bank without a permit from the army. The order is to take effect on 19 January 2007. The order does not apply to Palestinians who hold a permit to enter Israel or the settlements, to Israeli bus drivers, Israel residents carrying Palestinians who are first-degree relatives, and soldiers and police officers on duty. Violation of the order is a criminal offense, for which both the Palestinian passenger and the Israeli driver are subject to punishment.

The order further aggravates the already harsh restrictions on the freedom of movement of West Bank Palestinians. For some time, Israel has restricted, completely or partially, Palestinian travel on major roads in the West Bank, which have been set aside for use of Israelis, primarily settlers. Despite these restrictions, Palestinians have been able to travel along these roads by taxi or other vehicles bearing Israeli license plates. The new order will close this “loophole” and increase the discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians on certain roads.

The order will also gravely impair family, social, trade, and political ties between West Bank Palestinians and Israelis, Arab and Jew. For example, a resident of Israel who drives a friend or a relative not of the first degree, such as a cousin or nephew, will be violating the order. The order also impedes the activity of humanitarian organizations, human rights organizations, and organizations providing assistance to the local population, whose work entails transporting Palestinians inside the West Bank.

The penalties prescribed in the order are also discriminatory. Whereas an Israeli who violates the order is tried in a civilian court, where he will not expect a stiff punishment, the Palestinian violator is tried in a military court, where the defendant can anticipate a sentence of up to five years in jail and loss of magnetic card, thus preventing the person from obtaining various permits from the Israeli authorities.

Under international law, Israel must respect the human rights of all persons under its authority. These rights include the right to equality, freedom of movement, maintain family ties and social ties, engage in political activity, and the right to work and earn a livelihood. The military authorities ignore the discriminatory nature of the order and justify it as a military necessity, for example, by restricting the number of Palestinians entering Israel in Israeli vehicles without a permit. However, even assuming that the order advances one security objective or another, the sweeping nature of the order, and the fact that it is not urgent (even in the eyes of the military authorities, who postponed its validity for two months) make the infringement of human rights in this case disproportionate, and therefore illegal.

The order is abhorrent, not only because it violates human rights and international law, but because of the extent to which it interferes in the individual’s private life. The separation between Israelis and Palestinians, however, is not new. Yet, until now, it was seen, primarily, in measures taken in the public sphere, for example, by building the separation barrier, prohibiting Palestinian vehicles on certain roads, and forbidding Israelis to enter Area A. The new order, on the other hand, penetrates into the private space of the vehicle, with the objective of separating two persons lawfully present in the area. Furthermore, the very use of legislation to force separation between people based on their nationality raises associations with the loathsome regimes that nobody seeks to resemble.

For these reasons, B’Tselem calls on the OC Central Command to repeal the order forthwith.

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