Middle East
Israel partially opens W Bank road
Palestinians disappointed with decision, citing more roadblocks on major highway.
Last Modified: 28 May 2010 09:21 GMT
The Israeli army built a checkpoint for Palestinians on Route 443 in the occupied West Bank [Reuters]

Israel has opened part of a major West Bank highway, known as Route 443, to Palestinians after a discriminatory policy was challenged at Israel's high court by human rights groups.

But Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from the West Bank, said that Palestinians are not happy with the partial opening of the road and the introduction of even more roadblocks and checkpoints.

"As part of the preparations to secure the safety of those travelling on Route 443, vehicles that have undergone security inspection can enter and exit Route 443," an Israeli army press release said prior to the 0500 GMT opening on Friday.

Our correspondent said the Israeli army "has opened only a section of the highway to the Palestinians", referring to the road that connects the West Bank to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

"On one end of the road there's a Jewish settlement, which obviously the Palestinians don't have access through," she said.

Furthermore, a major checkpoint at the other end of the road will make sure that Palestinians from the West Bank cannot access Jerusalem or beyond, she said.

'Human rights travesty'

The Israeli army said that it was trying to "maintain the safety of the citizens of Israel, while taking into account the Palestinian quality of life as well as honoring Israeli law and supreme court decisions".

But what was hailed as a victory for justice, when the ban on Palestinian traffic was ruled illegal, now looks like it has been manipulated into a "human rights travesty", Dan Yakir, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), said.

An estimated 40,000 Israeli drivers used the road while Palestinians were banned [Reuters]

"The Palestinians are very disappointed by the fact that the road will be opened only partially," he said.

He successfully argued the case on behalf of petitioning Palestinians from nearby villages while Israelis tried to maintain the ban.

The 25km four-lane, divided highway runs from the coast to Jerusalem, but 14km of it runs through the occupied West Bank, and for the past eight years has been reserved for Israelis only.

Spokesmen for villages in the area said that the ban on using Route 443 tripled their travelling time to the West Bank's main city of Ramallah, where the jobs, hospitals, banks and government offices are.

"We might use this road to reach nearby villages, but we still can’t reach the nearest city, Ramallah, so what’s the point?"

Court ruling

Last December, Israel's supreme court ruled that keeping Palestinians off a route that was built on land confiscated from them by the occupying military power was illegal.

Palestinians say that they will end up using a mere 4km of the road between Israel's main westbound and eastbound checkpoints, and probably not even that if it proves faster to use existing roads and tunnels under it rather than queue at the new checkpoints.

"The idea of the new checkpoints is to make us tired of using this route so the army can go back to court and say, 'See, we opened the road but they don't use it'," Saleh Atya, a local Palestinian, said.

An estimated 40,000 Israeli drivers now use Route 443 daily, many preferring its fast curves and relatively light traffic to the twisting switchback of the main Highway 1 from Tel Aviv, which can be choked to a standstill at peak hours.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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