A day in Yatta: The effect of the roadblocks around the town.

by EAs Maria and Siphiwe, South Hebron Hills team, 

Today is almost certainly the last day of Ramadan – hopefully the new moon will be seen tonight and celebrations of Eid-al-Fitr will go ahead tomorrow. The holy month of daily fasts will be over.

While Ramadan is drawing to a close, there is less certainty about when life in Yatta will return to any kind of normality. As of the 5th of July, the towns of Yatta, As Samu’ and Bani Na’im are under indefinite closure. Mid-afternoon on Friday 1st July, there was a dreadful drive-by shooting of an Israeli family on Route 60, just west of Yatta, killing the father (Michael Mark) and seriously injuring his wife and two children (15 and 13 years old). The unidentified assailant/s escaped. [1] [2] Following the attack, the Israeli authorities closed the roads around Yatta and the surrounding villages. These villages were blockaded because they were suspected to be the place of residence of the perpetrators.

Yatta is a large town serving an even larger rural area, there are about 120,000 inhabitants in the Yatta Municipality area. The houses become less concentrated within 1 km of the centre, and there are small farms and fields on the outskirts. There are hardly any fences or gates, land slopes down across rocky hill tops down to more fertile valley areas which displays a mixture of fruit, vegetables, wheat, olive groves and grazing land.

UN OCHA oPt map showing Yatta and surrounding villages in the South Hebron Hills (Map by UNOCHA [3] )

Yatta map taken from UN OCHA oPt West Bank Access Restrictions September 2014

Yatta map taken from UN OCHA oPt West Bank Access Restrictions September 2014 

The main intercity roads surround the town – one lane each way, tarmac roads – are all in “Area C”, under Israeli control. There are many roads that join up with them, everything from tarmac roads leading from town centres to village access roads, and even ad-hoc access points to fields and farms. To block so many roads is a challenge, but one which can be quickly met by the Israeli military. Soldiers are posted at all the junctions they want to control until the blockade is complete. Some just require a padlock on an existing gate, while others are closed with concrete blocks (already there at the side of the road) or earth mounds.

 Road from Susiya in the South Hebron Hills: blocked by padlocked gate – no access for cars.

09.06.2016 South Hebron Hills, Road from Susiya padlocked, Photo EAPPI/M. Huff

09.06.2016 South Hebron Hills, Road from Susiya padlocked, Photo EAPPI/M. Huff

Whilst all this is happening, people are still travelling. If a road is still open, word spreads until it becomes so busy that it becomes unusable, with farmers, families and even lorries trying to pass. People know that within a few hours that these roads may also be closed off.

The next day Operation Dove went around Yatta to survey the road closures. They identified and photographed 17 roadblocks – shown on this map. Click on click on the red triangles to see a picture of the roadblock here. (Map by Operazione Colomba)

closures on SHH Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 20.11.28

Military obstacles in South Hebron Hills. Map by B’Tselem and Operation Dove 2016

As the closures continued through to Saturday the 2nd of July – people began to wonder what they could do to access services and livelihoods. One of the vendors of a busy market stall we spoke to, told us that it had taken him four hours to get supplies from Hebron; a task which normally it takes just 30 minutes. He reports that he had to cross a manned Israeli military checkpoint that had long delays. Others were attempting to find open routes in and out, via small, obscure routes.

Access to health disrupted

Today we spoke with staff at the Al Shaheed Abu Alhassan Qasem hospital in Yatta, a large general hospital. Dr Rayed Amro explained that those coming from outside Yatta, have the uncertainty of checkpoints to deal with during their travel. This morning it had only taken him an extra 30 minutes from the village of Dura. Another doctor told us that it if soldiers are making detailed checks on individual IDs and phone calls then it can take hours. When the Israeli authorities closed all movement to and from the town for three days following the attack in Tel Aviv on the 8th of June, [4] [ 5] he was unable to reach work for two days.

Hospital staff are not the only ones affected, for patients too there are consequences. The main roads into Yatta, where checkpoints are sometimes opened by soldiers, are far away from the rural areas in the south west. The only option available to patients living rurally is to arrange transport to a roadblock, and be met on the other side by another car. It’s probably easy to do with advance planning – but would be hard in an emergency. They do have outpatient clinics in some of the villages but for any serious conditions or urgent needs – Yatta is their hospital. UNOCHA reports that exceptions were made for humanitarian cases coordinated in advance. [6]

Yatta General Hospital is working well but staff and patients from out of the town face delays getting there.

5.7.2016 Yatta General Hospital Photo EAPPI M. Huff

5.7.2016 Yatta General Hospital Photo EAPPI M. Huff

People can still get in and out of Yatta without going through a checkpoint; on foot, or by motorbike or car, and arrange to be met on the other side of checkpoints – this fact belies the security justification for the blockade. These access restrictions are being imposed on people who have no charges against them nor evidence that they were involved in any attempt to harm Israelis. The sweeping access restrictions, imposed by the military closures on the residents of the South Hebron Hills, are a form of collective punishment and as such are prohibited under international law. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva convention specifically states that “no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.[5]

Restrictions on the right to freedom of movement impedes upon other rights such as the right to health. As the occupying power the government of Israel has a duty to respect and protect these rights at all times.

More information:

UNOCHA: Hebron Governorate Movement Restrictions, 5 July 2016

Operazione ColombaUPDATE: ISRAEL COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT, ROAD BLOCKS PARALYSE YATTA

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