Diaa Barakat, a resident of Nabi Samuel, a small Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank, says moving around freely feels like a privilege he can rarely enjoy.
“We can’t bring in more than one day’s worth of food supplies,” the 40-year-old labourer tells Al Jazeera. “We can’t receive visitors. And it takes hours every day to pass through checkpoints when leaving or entering our village.”
Like most towns and villages in the West Bank, Nabi Samuel, northwest of Jerusalem, has become a “cage”, according to its residents.
The separation wall, under construction by the Israeli army since 2002, fences in the village to the east and west, while a highway from Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport blocks it off in the north. Several checkpoints around the perimeter of the tiny village make everyday life near unbearable.
While the Gaza Strip is popularly referred to as “the world’s largest open-air prison” – with its two million residents caged in the coastal enclave as a result of an 11-year Israeli siege – Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to similarly severe movement restrictions.
Campaigners and residents say the vast majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank are effectively imprisoned in their own towns or villages due to hundreds of Israeli-imposed security checkpoints, artificial barriers, roadblocks and the separation wall, which remains under construction.
The separation wall was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a 2004 advisory opinion, but like the number and robustness of security checkpoints in the West Bank, the separation wall continues to grow, as Israel says it is necessary for its security.
Like many Palestinians living in the West Bank, Barakat’s daily commute to work involves several checkpoints and long delays.
“I usually have to pass through three small checkpoints and then another big one to get to my work in Ramallah every day. It could take hours,” he tells Al Jazeera.
Israel maintains hundreds of checkpoints and road obstacles littered throughout the West Bank – many located between Palestinian villages, creating tiny islands and pockets of land to which Palestinians have access while providing barriers to move beyond.
“[The checkpoints] take a heavy toll on everyday Palestinian life, restricting the movement of people to schools, hospitals or as part of their everyday commute,” Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), tells Al Jazeera.
“This not only restricts their right to free movement, but can also affect their ability to access medical care, education, and other basic rights.”
Even without checkpoints, access is restricted through the use of ID cards issued by the Israeli authorities to designate where Palestinians live and where they are allowed to move.
While no checkpoints have been set up between Nabi Samuel and Jerusalem, village residents face potential detention if they are caught by the Israeli authorities in Jerusalem.
“We [residents of Nabi Samuel] carry West Bank ID cards. Even though we legally have the right to access Jerusalem, we don’t have Jerusalem permits and get punished if we are caught there,” explains Barakat.
After the 1967 war, the Israeli military made it mandatory for Palestinian residents to obtain permits to enter or leave occupied territories.
The system was reinforced in 1981, giving Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza green IDs, and those in occupied East Jerusalem and Israel blue ones.
As a United States-led meeting convenes in Bahrain on Tuesday to discuss the economic portion of Washington’s Middle East peace plan, campaigners in the West Bank cast doubt on its objectives. They say the plan will have no bearing on Palestinian lives as long as they are denied basic human rights, including their right to freedom of movement.
“The economic plan is entirely disconnected from the reality on the ground and fails to actually address the issues associated with prosperity,” says Shakir.
Referring to the proposal’s plan to establish a $5bn transportation corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, Shakir says: “The problem is not the lack of roads. There are plenty of roads between the West Bank and Gaza, but Palestinians can’t use them because Israel cages them in an open-air prison.”
Maha Abdullah, a legal researcher and advocacy officer at al-Haq, a Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights NGO, tells Al Jazeera the checkpoints have detrimental effects on Palestinian life.
“It’s not only the humiliation and delays. There are numerous documented cases where people have been denied access to a hospital or medical facility as a result of these checkpoints. Some of these cases ended up dying, including children,” Abdullah told Al Jazeera.
One of the cases documented by the organisation is that of a 14-year-old girl who reportedly died while en-route to hospital as a result of tightened security checks at the Container Checkpoint in the West Bank.
According to Abdullah, Palestinians’ “right to life and integrity [is also compromised] considering how many Palestinians have been shot dead or injured at checkpoints, especially in recent years.”
One example is 26-year-old Ahmad Manasra who was shot dead in March by Israeli troops at a military checkpoint in the city of Bethlehem.
According to eyewitnesses, Manasra was targeted by Israeli soldiers when he got out of his car to help a man who had been shot and injured at al-Nashash checkpoint at the southern entrance of al-Khader village.
The Palestinian ministry of health at the time said that Mansara was shot in the chest and shoulder, while the first victim, identified as Alaa Ghayatha, was shot in the abdomen and critically wounded.
The Israeli military said at the time that a soldier stationed at a post near Bethlehem had “identified rocks being thrown at Israeli vehicles [and] in response, he fired his weapon”.
‘Occupation from within’
Residents and campaigners say the checkpoints and separation wall, which aim to keep Palestinians away from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, also act as a form of “control and occupation”, separating Palestinians from their land and resources.
“The separation wall has cut through much of the villagers’ agricultural lands and isolated us from accessing them without a permit,” says Barakat.
“Can you believe, we have to get authorisation to reach our own land?”
About 85 percent of the separation wall falls within the West Bank rather than running along the internationally-recognised 1967 border, known as the Green Line, which separates Israeli and Palestinian territory.
According to HRW, it “cuts off Palestinians from their agricultural lands and isolates 11,000 Palestinians on the western side of the wall who are not allowed to travel to Israel and must cross the barrier to access their own property and other services.”
Jamal Juma, coordinator of the Stop the Wall campaign which aims to end the building of the separation wall, says the security system has effectively isolated Palestinians and locked them in.
“The wall and checkpoints are all part of one system which aims to control the Palestinian people and subject them to the occupation,” Juma tells Al Jazeera.
“Palestinians have been locked into their villages with gates and barriers and are unable to access their land’s resources. On the other hand, Israeli settlers are free to move, making Palestinians dependent on their occupiers to live.”
Abdullah, from al-Haq, agrees: “Passing through these checkpoints, you see signs put up by the Israeli authorities referring to the checkpoints as crossings. It’s as though the checkpoints have become borders between two states.
“This system of checkpoints and barriers aims to separate the Palestinian population and divide the occupied territories from within. It is a way to control and monitor.”