Collective punishment contradicts the right to personal liberty and the right to fair trial. It is prohibited by international humanitarian law, which grants the military commander the authority to act in the occupied territory, and which establishes that punishment of an offense must be grounded in individual responsibility.
This position paper presents two cases that vary in time, place, cause and effect. In both cases, the Israeli army collectively penalizes a large population that did nothing wrong and denies innocent people their right to freedom of movement.
In December 2018, the Israeli army blocked the junction outside Ein Yabrud, which connects tens of thousands of Palestinians to Highway 60, the main thoroughfare in the West Bank. It did so for alleged security reasons. Three months later, following correspondence with Yesh Din, the army decided to open the roadblock but only for four hours every day. Since March and until publication of this position paper, the army has arbitrarily opened and closed the road. The road is blocked most nights and weekends; soldiers occasionally open the road in the morning or at noon, and close it in the afternoon – or sometimes in the evening. A senior Israeli security official admitted that the decision to block the road during certain hours is not an operational decision but rather the settler leadership’s demand.
In early 2019, the Israeli army blocked off two of the three roads leading to Deir Nidham. The residents of the village were forced to use the long, steep and unpaved road. At the entrance to this road, the army established a manned checkpoint where soldiers check persons entering and exiting Deir Nidham. Residents of Deir Nidham who seek access to the central West Bank must now pass through an additional manned checkpoint located near the settlement Neve Tzuf (Halamish). The army arbitrarily opens and closes the roads to the village, without updating the residents. The road may be blocked for a few hours, a few days, or for even longer periods. The army claims that the roads to the village are blocked because children throw stones at the main road. And yet, it is unclear how alleged stone-throwing is related to the roadblocks.
In both cases, infringement of the right to freedom of movement is not used against individuals convicted or suspected of security or other offenses. Blocking roads does not serve a concrete security need, and the army randomly opens and closes roads. Furthermore, even the army admits that at times roads are blocked due to Israeli settlers’ demands.
Arbitrary roadblocks harm the lives of Palestinians, who are subject to constant uncertainty regarding their ability to move and plan their daily lives. They can plan when to leave their homes for school, work or shopping, but they cannot ever know when they will arrive at their destination or return home. The roadblocks also prevent emergency and rescue vehicles from swiftly accessing the nearby villages and urgently evacuating residents to hospital.
It is plausible that the army uses roadblocks as a measure to oppress and pressure the Palestinian community. Israel’s use of arbitrary and collective punishment is unacceptable; it contradicts international humanitarian law and severely infringes upon the right to freedom of movement of entire Palestinian communities in the West Bank, who are not suspected of any offense.