Israel’s use of the military checkpoint is remarkable in its connection to land confiscation policies and their widespread ramifications for Palestinians. The Israeli military checkpoint regime is now being emulated by other militaries in the post–September 11 world, especially the US military in its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
EMERGENCE OF CHECKPOINTS
The origin of the checkpoint in the region can be traced to the late 1800s when the Ottoman empire was at its most powerful. The practice continued after British take over. British Mandate "encirclement" practices, which started extensively after the 1936 general strike (Arab Revolt), used widespread troop deployment, curfews, road closures, demolition of structures obstructing military access to population centers, and building of fences that disrupted supplies and communications. Similar methods were employed under the 1945 Emergency Defense Regulations intended to clamp down on Zionist groups.
CHECKPOINTS & LAND CONFISCATION
It was only after Israelzzz*zs establishment in 1948 that movement restrictions became a means of land confiscation. In 1950, the new Israeli government instituted military rule over Palestinian citizens of the state, including common martial law powers that regulated freedom of speech, movement, and assembly. These regulations were based on earlier British edicts and allowed the detention, search, or deportation of any individual suspected of activities “inimical to public safety.”
Viewing the indigenous Palestinian population as a fifth column in its midst, Israel dispatched the Israel militaryzzz*zs Frontier Corps (the precursor to today’s Border Police) to patrol border areas. These regulations and troop deployment further tightened the state’s hold on Palestinian villages depopulated during and after the 1948 War. These practices also paved way for settlement by new waves of Jewish immigrants.
Thus, approximately 1,500 residents of Palestinian villages inside the new Israeli border were removed from their homes and barred from returning. This change was facilitated by the Absentee Property Law of 1950, which meant that even “present absentees” could have their land confiscated by the state. Under this law, 40 percent of Arab land was confiscated from Palestinians who were living inside the new Israeli borders at the time. Areas where Palestinians lived were designated “closed areas,” and residents were restricted from leaving without a military permit. Jews living nearby, on the other hand, enjoyed freedom of movement.
One of the most important means of controlling the movement of the Palestinian population - and thereby their access to and ownership of the land under the law - was the military checkpoint system.
Israeli policy after its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip initially emphasized the economic integration of Palestinians newly under Israeli control. The military checkpoint was rarely employed and Palestinians were allowed fairly free access to Israel and the occupied territories.
The Border Police (who operated under the Israeli police instead of the military) were dispatched to maintain law and order under the military administration. In 1972, Israel issued general exit orders that allowed Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to move in and out of Israel and Jerusalem save between the hours of one and five am. In June 1989, however, Israel began to restrict these general exit permits, using West Bank and Gaza checkpoints.
In January 1991, during the first Gulf War, Israel revoked the general exit permits of 1972, and every resident of the occupied territories was required to carry a personal exit permit to enter Israel.
After the 1993 signing of the Oslo accords, this permit policy became more restrictive. In addition, Israeli checkpoints that marked the outlines of Palestinian territory under the agreement were bolstered by Palestinian Authority checkpoints on the other side.
At this time, both Israeli and Palestinian checkpoints were rudimentary structures along roadways marked by a national flag, perhaps a small observation structure or a military vehicle blocking the road and armed soldiers. Only periodically did Palestinian checkpoints actually monitor traffic; they were symbolic markers of Palestinian sovereignty. Israeli checkpoints, on the other hand, determined the mobility of not only Palestinian civilians but also officials and police, who were required under the Oslo agreements to request Israeli permission to move from one Palestinian Authority area to another.
Checkpoints are found in many forms: permanent and partially manned checkpoints, temporary checkpoints, roadblocks (consisting of rows of 1-meter concrete blocks), metal gates, earth mounds, earth walls (a long series of earth mounds), trenches, and road barriers.
According to Bzzz*zTselem reports, as of March 31, 2009 the Israeli military maintained 63 permanent checkpoints inside the occupied West Bank, 18 of which are situated in the vicinity of Hebron.
Between 2003 and 2006 the total number of checkpoints and roadblocks hindering Palestinian movement in the West Bank ranged between 376 and 735. Developing in tandem with this grid of control was the system of Israeli-only and Palestinian-only roads running through the West Bank. Access to each was available only through checkpoints or gates.
Presently, manned checkpoints usually require Palestinians to show the orange or green identity cards that designate them as Palestinian residents of the occupied territories (versus Israeli settlers, who carry Israeli citizenship and blue identity cards).
Some manned checkpoints do not check all passengers, but soldiers stationed there determine whether to stop or check individuals based on their appearance. Travelers can be denied passage on the basis of their identity cards, their places of origin, their ages (for instance, men aged between 16 and 35 are frequently denied entry), the origin of their vehicles (some checkpoints are reserved for permit carrying commercial or noncommercial vehicles), or even the whim of the posted soldier.
Some manned checkpoints include a mandatory search of the vehicle and accompanying luggage, using hand searches, metal detectors, x-ray scanners, or dogs. Major manned checkpoints are closed at night, although soldiers periodically slow traffic and even stop traffic altogether during the day. Drivers are then forced to seek detours through remote back roads that extend the journey times. Unmanned checkpoints, composed of physical barriers, prevent the travel of vehicles and require passengers to pass through on foot.
Human rights organizations have documented numerous cases of beatings, soldiers imposing extended wait periods on Palestinians, the opening of fire on civilians, and other human rights abuses. In addition, the checkpoints have largely restricted Palestinians from access to proper health care. Women in labor, dialysis patients, and critical cases have been held up by the military cordon, resulting in dozens of deaths.
FURTHER LAND CONFISCATION
Between August 2005 and February 2006, Israel requisitioned 7,884 dunams (1,950 acres) of West Bank land for the construction of a series of concrete walls, fences, guard towers, electronic monitors, and gates (the "Wall") that surrounds and isolates Palestinian population centers in the occupied West Bank.
Israeli authorities said the Wall would reduce the number of checkpoints, give greater protection to Israeli soldiers monitoring Palestinian movement and ultimately prevent Palestinian access to prime Israeli interests such as Jerusalem, border areas with Jordan, water aquifers, and Israeli settlements.
Initial reports by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs show that in areas where the Wall has been completed, checkpoints have increased in number. Rudimentary checkpoints created at the start of the 2000 Intifada have been converted into major “crossings” between Israel and regions of the occupied West Bank.
GAZA AFTER DISENGAGEMENT
In the Gaza Strip, one of the consequences of the August 2005 Israeli unilateral disengagement was the removal of checkpoints that had severed the strip into several isolated regions. Still, the “supercheckpoints” (now operating more like border crossings) on Gaza’s fenced borders prevent the movement of Palestinians and their goods in and out of the Gaza Strip.