On Closing Roads

Where I come from, closing even an unimportant road is really difficult. And if some event is important enough to close a road, this closure is made known to the public in advance, published multiple times in different ways. Not so in Jerusalem.

Jericho Road

After the death of a senior Jewish rabbi this month, local newspapers dwelt briefly on the closure of the Jericho Road, one of the main roads leading from the city center of Jerusalem to Palestinian neighborhoods through the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. I was affected by this closure because I live in one of these Palestinian neighborhoods, in Ras Al Amud. So I made my plans for the two days of closure. According to the newspapers, on the first day the road should have been closed from lunch until early evening. But as I tried to return at nine in the evening, my bus was first stuck in the chaotic traffic generated by the still ongoing closure, and then had to take a long way around which quadrupled the time I usually take to get home. The next day I decided to walk.

What was really impressive was the security apparatus laid out for the road closure, and also the infrastructure put up in the road - dismantled after the closure ended - to ensure good access and a pleasant stay for the visitors of the cemetery. Many are of the opinion that the frequent closures of the Jericho Road, which often happens on Jewish holidays, is a method used by the Israelis to exert control over the area.

Nothing new

With the expansion of the Jewish settlement Maaleh Hazeitim in Ras Al Amud, in the area of a former police station, fear is growing that a road leading into Jericho Road, separating the new and old part of the settlement, could be closed permanently to connect the two parts of the settlement. This would not be anything new. In Hebron, Al-Shuhada Street, once the main market road, was closed by the military to Palestinian vehicles and pedestrians. Also in Hebron there are streets which Palestinians can only use as pedestrians. These closures impact widely upon the daily lives of Palestinians, from the necessity of accessing their apartments from roofs or over much longer walking distances, to economical loses.

Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank. Following the Hebron Protocol, the city is divided into two parts: H1 under the control of the Palestinian authorities and H2, including the four downtown settlements under Israeli military control. According to a survey done by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 2007, 1829 Palestinian shops located in H2 have closed since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, mainly on account of military orders, curfews and the closure regime imposed by the Israeli authorities. According to a study by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2009, 77 percent of the Palestinians in Hebron's Old City in H2 live below the poverty line.

The closure of roads is a tool of power and control, temporarily or permanently affecting daily life and the economic status of Palestinians. Freedom of movement is restricted through the closures, giving those affected the feeling of being less important, only second class.