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Road Blocks Removed, but Skepticism Remains

June 29, 2009

PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/CHECKPOINTS

Reports Israel will be removing many West Bank roadblocks hasn’t been a source of optimism for everyone – indeed it’s become a point of derision for some.

An op-ed featured on the Arabic language news source Al-Arabiya today scoffs at positive reactions to a report from Haaretz, the left-leaning Israeli daily (note: this article is in Arabic). Ha’aretz recently reported the lifting of several roadblocks and checkpoints, saying that “the latest easing of travel for the Palestinians allows Israel to claim it is meeting its promises to lift restrictions and is contributing to the bettering of the Palestinian economy.”

But Barhoum Al-Jaraysi, whose article was featured on Al-Arabiya, says “the occupying army removed ten military road blocks in the occupied West Bank and “only” 16 manned checkpoints remain inside the West Bank. [Ha'aretz] went so far as to bring us the “good news” that the time of travel between Jenin in the northern West Bank and Ramallah, which is 70 km away, now takes “only” an hour and a half” as opposed to the several hours it used to take. Al-Jaraysi’s article, entitled “On the Israelis’ ‘Only’ Story”, states that the numbers cited by the IDF relate only to certain parts of the West Bank.

An activist of  MachsomWatch, an organization of Israeli women activists that monitor Israeli checkpoints, is quoted in the liberal Daily Kos blog saying: “In the Southern West Bank, no improvement. No checkpoint or roadblock removal, and no change in inspection procedures, same for Greater Jerusalem… Most of the alleviation is in the Northern West Bank. Usually, the physical checkpoint is still there, the soldiers are around but hidden from sight and do not actively stand at the checkpoint .”

A report by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)says there are still 613 “closure obstacles” remaining in the West Bank, of which 68 are manned checkpoints.

Skeptics doubt that the removals are final. “Just to remind you,” says al-Jaraysi, ” the talk of removing military checkpoints started years ago… Israel would always promise to remove a big portion of them, but all the evidence suggests the opposite…in the previous Olmert government there were approximately 530 blocks in the occupied West Bank, and the next year there were 573 blocks, now OCHA says there are over 613 blocks-the numbers say everything.”

Tami Cohen, the spokesperson for MachsomWatch, was more tentative, saying that the organization has noticed that some checkpoints were removed. As to what this means for easing of Palestinian movement, she said it seemed efforts were being made to ease restrictions, but “it’s very difficult to make any conclusions yet.”

PHOTO:Checkpoint near Ramallah being removed. Reuters, Fadi Arouri. June 3, 2009.

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