Israel/Occupied Territories: Crippling movement restrictions condemned as collective punishment

Closures, blockades, checkpoints, curfews and a barrage of other restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on Palestinians have made even short journeys between towns and villages dangerous and often impossible. The report, Surviving under siege - The impact of movement restrictions on the right to work, condemns the restrictions as a form of collective punishment of all Palestinians, which is prohibited by international law.

The Palestinian economy has been destroyed as factories and farms have been driven out of business by dramatically increased transport costs and loss of export markets. Amnesty International is calling for an immediate end to restrictions on Palestinians' movement which have lead to soaring poverty and malnutrition. It also calls for the evacuation of Israeli settlers from the Occupied Territories, seen as the cause of many of the curfews and closures.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'The lives of Palestinians are being devastated by restrictions which make a twenty minute journey take three or four hours, often risking fire from armed guards at checkpoints on the way. Curfews can confine families to their homes for weeks on end. In these conditions people cannot work, cannot go to school or access healthcare - in short, they cannot have any decent standard of living.'

'Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are being made to pay for the crimes of a handful of individuals. People's movement should only be restricted if it is in response to a specific security threat. The current restrictions discriminate against Palestinians and are wholly disproportionate.

'As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation under international law to ensure freedom of movement, an adequate standard of living, and as normal a life as possible to the population in the occupied territories. The sweeping restrictions imposed by Israel violate these obligations.'

In the past three years, curfews have crippled many towns and villages. On 9 July 2002, almost half of the West Bank's 2.2 million population was under curfew in more than seventy different localities. From June 2002, apart from one month when it was under night-only curfew, Nablus was under 24-hour curfew for five consecutive months. During prolonged periods of 24-hour curfew, families are typically allowed out of their homes for a few short hours daily to stock up on essential provisions.

The construction in recent months of a wall deep inside the West Bank has resulted in further restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, cutting tens of thousands of people from the rest of the West Bank and from their farming land and irrigation water. Lesley Warner said: 'Israel's construction of walls and other permanent structures inside the Occupied Territories permanently restricts the free movement of Palestinians. It has caused the arbitrary destruction and seizure of their property. Such construction should stop immediately.'

Amnesty International also urged Israel to put an immediate end to the construction or expansion of Israeli settlements and related infrastructure and to take measures to evacuate Israeli settlers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Lesley Warner said: 'Israel should have never transferred its civilian population into the Occupied Territories. This is a violation of international humanitarian law. Now Israel must remedy this violation by taking concrete measures to evacuate the settlers.

'Not only are the settlements illegal, they are constructed and maintained in a discriminatory manner and are the cause of so many of the arbitrary restrictions on movement and other human rights abuses.'

Israel has the right to take reasonable, necessary and proportionate measures to protect the security of its citizens and its borders from attacks by Palestinian armed groups, including by restricting access to its territory. However it does not have the right to impose arbitrary, discriminatory or collective measures and punishment on the Palestinian population.

Amnesty International also reiterated its call on Palestinian armed groups to put an immediate end to their policy of killing and targeting Israeli civilians, including settlers, whether inside Israel or in the Occupied Territories.

Lesley Warner said: 'The Palestinian Authority should take urgent measures to prevent attacks by Palestinian armed groups and carry out thorough investigations in all cases. The Palestinian Authority must also ensure that those responsible for such attacks are brought to justice in proceedings that meet international standards for fair trial.'

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