The Legend of the Removed Checkpoints

Israel’s wall in the West Bank village of Al-Ram, north of Jerusalem, 20 February 2007. (Moti Milrod/MaanImages)

Last Monday’s paper gave us a small reason to be happy. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for the second time in just a few weeks. Reporting the meeting — described by Palestinian sources as “fruitless” — Ha’aretz noted:

“An IDF lieutenant-colonel also attended the meeting. The officer briefed the Palestinians on the plan to remove IDF roadblocks in the West Bank. According to the officer, the IDF has so far removed 44 roadblocks. He added that the IDF was planning to remove an additional 17 in the next stage of the plan. The sources said that the Palestinian delegation requested the removal of more roadblocks, and that Olmert expressed his willingness.”

Good News, Isn’t It?!

Hear, hear: the IDF removed 44 roadblocks! This may not be much, given the rather extensive list of restrictions imposed on Palestinians, i.e.:

Standing prohibitions

  • Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are forbidden to stay in the West Bank.
  • Palestinians are forbidden to enter East Jerusalem.
  • West Bank Palestinians are forbidden to enter the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing.
  • Palestinians are forbidden to enter the Jordan Valley.
  • Palestinians are forbidden to enter villages, lands, towns, and neighborhoods along the ‘seam line’ between the separation fence and the Green Line (some 10 percent of the West Bank).
  • Palestinians who are not residents of the villages Beit Furik and Beit Dajan in the Nablus area, and Ramadin, south of Hebron, are forbidden entry.
  • Palestinians are forbidden to enter the settlements’ area (even if their lands are inside the settlements’ built area).
  • Palestinians are forbidden to enter Nablus in a vehicle.
  • Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are forbidden to enter area A (Palestinian towns in the West Bank).
  • Gaza Strip residents are forbidden to enter the West Bank via the Allenby crossing.
  • Palestinians are forbidden to travel abroad via Ben-Gurion Airport.
  • Children under age 16 are forbidden to leave Nablus without an original birth certificate and parental escort.
  • Palestinians with permits to enter Israel are forbidden to enter through the crossings used by Israelis and tourists.
  • Gaza residents are forbidden to establish residency in the West Bank.
  • West Bank residents are forbidden to establish residency in the Jordan Valley, seam-line communities, or the villages of Beit Furik and Beit Dajan.
  • Palestinians are forbidden to transfer merchandise and cargo through internal West Bank checkpoints.

    Periodic prohibitions

  • Residents of certain parts of the West Bank are forbidden to travel to the rest of the West Bank.
  • People of a certain age group — mainly men from the age of 16 to 30, 35, or 40 — are forbidden to leave the areas where they reside (usually Nablus and other cities in the northern West Bank).
  • Private cars may not pass the Swahara-Abu Dis checkpoint (which separates the northern and southern West Bank). This was canceled for the first time two weeks ago under the easing of restrictions.

    Travel permits required

  • A magnetic card (intended for entrance to Israel, but eases the passage through checkpoints within the West Bank).
  • A work permit for Israel (the employer must come to the civil administration offices and apply for one).
  • A permit for medical treatment in Israel and Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem (The applicant must produce an invitation from the hospital, his complete medical background, and proof that the treatment he is seeking cannot be provided in the occupied territories).
  • A travel permit to pass through Jordan Valley checkpoints.
  • A merchant’s permit to transfer goods.
  • A permit to farm along the seam line requires a form from the land registry office, a title deed, and proof of first-degree relations to the registered property owner.
  • Entry permit for the seam line (for relatives, medical teams, construction workers, etc. Those with permits must enter and leave via the same crossing even if it is far away or closing early).
  • Permits to pass from Gaza, through Israel to the West Bank.
  • A birth certificate for children under 16.
  • A long-standing resident identity card for those who live in seam-line enclaves.

    Checkpoints and barriers

  • There were 75 manned checkpoints in the West Bank as of January 9, 2007.
  • There are on average 150 mobile checkpoints a week (as of September 2006).
  • There are 446 obstacles placed between roads and villages, including concrete cubes, earth ramparts, 88 iron gates, and 74 kilometers of fences along main roads.
  • There are 83 iron gates along the separation fence, dividing lands from their owners. Only 25 of the gates open occasionally.

    Main roads closed to Palestinians, officially or in practice

  • Road 90 (the Jordan Valley thoroughfare).
  • Road 60, in the North (from the Shavei Shomron military base, west of Nablus and northward).
  • Road 585 along the settlements Hermesh and Dotan.
  • Road 557 west from the Taibeh-Tul Karm junction (the Green Line) to Anabta (excluding the residents of Shufa), and east from south of Nablus (the Hawara checkpoint) to the settlement Elon Moreh.
  • Road 505, from Zatara (Nablus junction) to Ma’ale Efraim.
  • Road 5, from the Barkan junction to the Green Line.
  • Road 446, from Dir Balut junction to Road 5 (by the settlements Alei Zahav and Peduel).
  • Roads 445 and 463 around the settlement Talmon, Dolev, and Nahliel.
  • Road 443, from Maccabim-Reut to Givat Ze’ev.
  • Streets in the Old City of Hebron.
  • Road 60, from the settlement of Otniel southward.
  • Road 317, around the south Hebron Hills settlements.”

    So, given this list, as I was just saying, removing 44 roadblocks may not be much, but nevertheless, it is good news. Isn’t it?

    Back in December 2006 …

    Let’s refresh our memory. It all started last December, when Olmert met Abbas. Olmert promised to remove checkpoints in the West Bank: “I intend to personally supervise it,” he told Abbas, “so that the Palestinian society would feel the relief” (Ha’aretz, Dec. 24, 2006). The same day, Ha’aretz reported that Defense Minister Amir Peretz and his deputy Ephraim Sneh were actually working on a plan to facilitate Palestinian movement in the West Bank.

    The two must have spent the whole night in their office, devising a plan for dismantling not less than “45 out of approximately 400 checkpoints.” At dawn, just as they intended to retire for a short nap, they found Ha’aretz at the doorstep, the top of which headline read: “IDF Opposes Olmert Plan to Dismantle West Bank Checkpoints.”

    This sounded like a story worth following. In a democracy, the government sets the policy, the army carries it out. In other kinds of regimes, the army sets the policy, the government nods. Which regime is Israel’s?

    Olmert Withdraws

    A few days later (Ha’aretz, Dec. 27, 2006) the prime minister indeed ordered the army to dismantle scores of checkpoints — but “in a second phase, dependent on an additional decision of the political echelon.” So at the first stage, no checkpoints will be removed (and then we’ll see). This, as some Israeli sociologists claim, has always been Israel’s regime: instead of risking a dispute with the army, the government complies with the army’s demands.

    Meanwhile, Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz revealed that the “new” plan to dismantle 45 checkpoints was nothing but an old document, prepared by the Israeli army originally in English — an “export product” for American eyes — back in 2005. And never implemented, of course. So much for the sleepless night of Olmert’s aides: all they did was feed the media with an old army document.

    The Army Rewards

    Anyway, the prime minister gave the army a green light not to dismantle any checkpoint. The army, for its part, did not leave this ministerial gesture unrewarded. On Jan. 17 Ha’aretz reported that the Israeli army finally complied.

    “The Israel Defense Forces announced yesterday that it recently removed 44 dirt barriers that were located near Palestinian villages in the West Bank. In recent years, the army established nearly 400 barriers and permanent roadblocks. The move is one of a series of steps aimed at easing restrictions on the Palestinians that were announced following the December 24 meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.”

    So you see: Olmert did keep his solemn promise, and the Israeli army did carry it out and did dismantle 44 checkpoints. At least, that’s what the army announced, and the Israeli army always tells the truth. Well, almost always.

    Oops …

    In this exceptional case, it took less than a week to expose the dirty deal between the government and the army. Scores and dozens of such deals — among the government, the army, and the settlers — are never exposed; the entire Israeli colonial project is based on such deals, made behind the back of all democratic mechanisms. But this was an exception. On Jan. 22, following an embarrassing UN report, the army had to admit:

    The Israel Defense Forces admitted yesterday that the 44 dirt obstacles it said had been removed from around West Bank villages did not actually exist.

    Last Tuesday, the IDF announced that it had removed 44 dirt obstacles that blocked access roads to West Bank villages, to fulfill promises made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting a month ago. Olmert had pledged measures to ease the lives of Palestinian civilians.

    However, a military source admitted yesterday that these obstacles ‘had either been removed before the political level decided on the alleviations or had been bypassed by Palestinians earlier, and a decision had been made not to rebuild them.’

    So the 44 “removed” checkpoints, or dirt obstacles, didn’t exist in the first place. The Israeli lie probably counted on Israel’s information superiority: after all, who could count all those checkpoints better than the Israeli army? Alas, the UN turned out as an unexpected party-pooper.

    Yesterday’s Lie Is Today’s Truth

    But why bother to tell the truth when a lie is just as good? Three months later, Israel is again counting on our short memory. In an official meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president, no less, the army airs once again the legend about the 44 “removed checkpoints.” The lie exposed in January is recycled as truth in April, and everybody is happy: Israel can claim it kept its promise, the Americans can claim progress in the “peace process,” even President Mahmoud Abbas can claim an achievement.

    Who would bother to remind us that all this is nothing but a lie? The abused Palestinians haven’t felt any relief whatsoever, but have been cynically cheated once again. And all of us media consumers have been duped along with them.

    Remember this next time the Palestinians show their inexplicable ingratitude.

    Remember this next time you hear an official Israeli announcement.

    Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen’s work has been published widely in Israel. “Letter from Israel” appears occasionally at This article, which first appeared on, is republished with the author’s permission.