Israel restricts Palestinian movement within the occupied Palestinian territory through a combination of physical obstacles, including the Barrier and checkpoints, bureaucratic constraints, such as permit requirements, and the designation of areas as restricted or closed. This multi-layered system impacts the flow of people and goods between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, including the West Bank; into farming and fishing areas within Gaza; and within the West Bank, in particular into East Jerusalem, in areas isolated by the Barrier, ‘firing zones’, the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron city (H2), and land around or within Israeli settlements. Combined, these restrictions impede access to services and resources, disrupt family and social life, undermine livelihoods and compound the fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian territory.
Samer Zahdeh, a 35-year-old father of four, resides in Ash Shuhada Street. This is the most restricted part of H2, the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron city, where the Israeli settlement compounds are located. His three-year-old son Adam, suffers from diabetes and requires frequent monitoring and provision of insulin. On 17 July, Adam needed his insulin, but the insulin pen they had at home was broken. Samer rushed to ‘Checkpoint 56’, which controls movement between Ash Shuhada Street and Bab az Zawieh, one of Hebron’s commercial areas in H1 (the Palestinian-controlled area of the city), in order to reach a pharmacy. “The soldiers at the checkpoint told me that I cannot leave. I tried to explain the situation to them, but they told me that it’s not their problem and that I cannot cross until the clashes that were ongoing on the other side of the checkpoint were over”.
Um Fuad, a 45-year-old registered Palestine refugee, lives with her husband and four children in Wadi al Khazrak in the northern Jenin governorate. Her small Bedouin hamlet is one of seven Palestinian communities that make up the Barta’a enclave, located between the Barrier and the 1949 Armistice Line (‘Green Line’), and now physically separated from the remainder of the West Bank.
“The dump site here ruined our lives. The air we breathe isn’t clean and the environment we live in isn’t healthy,” said Abu Ahmad, a father of seven, who lives in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, next to an informal dumpsite. “I love Beit Lahia. It used to be an agricultural area, where we could eat what we plant. The water was good as well. Now, the area is damaged, and the aquifer is polluted. I really hate saying this, but I wish I could leave.”
On 16 April, 40-year-old Issa Qattash and his brother were severely beaten and injured by a group of Israeli settlers, while having a picnic with their families in a forest outside of Jibya village (north of Ramallah). “One of the settlers carried a rifle and another an axe”, Issa explained. “My brother Moussa managed to escape to call for help… I laid some time injured on the ground and then the settlers began dragging me out of the area… but then Israeli soldiers arrived and released me, while letting the settlers go.” Fatima Qattash, Issa’s 70-year-old mother, who witnessed the event added: “we were all shocked and scared… the children are still having nightmares!”
To contain the spread of COVID-19, governments around the world have imposed sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement of people, severely disrupting their lives. While the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is no exception, with measures being imposed by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, these have served to exacerbate longstanding access restrictions that are imposed by the Israeli authorities.
Ahmed, a 50-year-old father of six from Gaza City, was diagnosed in 2018 with advanced colon cancer. Since then, he has been regularly referred to the August Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem for chemotherapy treatment. The suffering related to his disease has been amplified by the uncertainty of the process required to obtain an Israeli-issued exit permit and the hardships of the travel. “It took me about five hours to reach the hospital. It’s physically and mentally exhausting,” Ahmed explains.