Situation This Month: August and September

The notorious roadblock between Ramallah and Surda village currently extends over half a km through the valley and across the settler by-pass road, now exclusively used by army vehicles. Taxis are lining up at both ends of the disruptions to take commuters to their destination. Pedestrians must overcome a series of obstacles, including two major dirt walls fortified with rocks, more rocks and dirt here and there, and a trench cutting through the road. People had diligently paved a couple of dirt paths through the lands of Surda village that allow sufficiently powered vehicles to get around the destroyed parts of the road: one is a serpentine creeping over a steep hill that leads to the crossing between the settler by-pass and Ramallah roads. This path can only be taken downhill because of the rough terrain and sharp decline, and there is no escape backwards! The other path, on the other side of the road, cuts through agricultural fields in the valley. Some daring taxis, small trucks, and ambulances use these paths when the road is clear of soldiers.

During the month of August, the Surda roadblock was rather quiet if compared to the preceding couple of months, with no human casualties recorded. The roadblock has been ‘unmanned’ most of the time. But almost daily, jeeps or an APC would sporadically ‘visit’ to make a show of power or immobilize cars trying to overcome the physical blockade. It is always a challenging cat-and-mouse game for the drivers because soldiers appear suddenly in full gear - for short periods - usually during the busiest times of the day: early in the morning and in the early afternoon. This is when thousands of villagers come to Ramallah to go to school or work, to seek health care and other public services, the market - and vice-versa, university students, faculty, and staff go to Birzeit campuses.

August was the time of school holidays, and Birzeit University students gradually finished their delayed spring semester courses. Lectures and exams had been decentralized and relocated locally in order to minimize commuting: a few classes were held in Birzeit for those living there and others in various Ramallah schools for Ramallah and other residents. Unfortunately, summer courses had to be suspended because time was too short and the situation too unstable. University administration was operating with a skeleton staff as usual during this time of the year, and Ramallah residents were confined to their homes during 13 days of curfew. Therefore, not surprisingly, there were only few people ‘on the road’. 

On August 31st the new school year started and since, large numbers of children and teachers from surrounding villages began to commute again on a regular daily basis to and from Ramallah. Since that day, APCs and army jeeps have been more frequently targeting the roadblock again.  

In the early morning of Tuesday September 4th, the army set up a full checkpoint stopping everybody from coming to Ramallah. It was the day when school children were expecting to receive their new books! Shortly after 8am, after most local children had reached their schools and adults their work places in Ramallah, army loudspeakers suddenly announced a strict internal curfew throughout the streets of Ramallah and al-Bireh. At the same time, the soldiers quite as suddenly withdrew from Surda checkpoint where by that time an immense human crowd had accumulated.  Thousands of people were suddenly released and poured towards Ramallah. While many of the children may have reached their schools – although late, most adults had to go back because by the time they made their way to town they found all public and commercial centers closed. 

Resumption of university classes throughout the Palestinian Territories is expected by Monday September 16th. What will happen on the Birzeit road? 

Chronology

Year 2000

September

Beginning of Al Aqsa Intifada
Majority of Gaza students never again able to return to the university.
University Classes suspended between September 30 October 8.
University Classes suspended again October 12 - 28

Year 2001

March

Ramallah-Birzeit Road Cut by two wide trenches on March 7.
Only pedestrian traffic can cross between Ramallah and Birzeit.
A peaceful protest march takes place on March 12t to fill in the trenches it is met with tear gas and sound bombs; one person is shot dead with live ammunition.
By March 12 the trenches have been allowed to remain re-filled but concrete blocks have been put as a permanent checkpoint that allows only one narrow lane of traffic to pass through.

April-May

Traffic jams become a way of life as commuters from both sides attempt to squeeze through the narrow passage. Soldiers man the post irregularly and create even more chaos. At the end of May, the soldiers regularly posted at the checkpoint play a daily game of changing the rules of which vehicles can pass through the checkpoint. On one day only private cars, on another only public transport, on another only people on foot. On one day (May 19) no one is allowed to pass at all.

June

A new checkpoint regime is in place. A permanent force of soldiers is stationed with an APC (and sometimes tanks) on the hill overlooking the checkpoint. A tent made of military netting and a holding tank made of concrete blocks is added to the checkpoint itself. A permanent crew of soldiers mans this more permanent checkpoint. All vehicles attempting to pass through are stopped, their identification papers checked and in most cases the cars are searched. There is no discernible pattern from day to day explaining who is allowed through the checkpoint. On some days all cars from the Ramallah side are turned back to Ramallah, on others it seems totally up to the whim of soldiers which individual cars are allowed to pass from either side.

Most people decide to forego the use of cars and walk. Young men regularly are stopped and held waiting before being allowed to walk through. A period ensues in which the checkpoint is either totally closed to both pedestrians and vehicles (June 5 and 6). This is followed by a period in which soldiers change the rules on a daily basis about where pedestrians are supposed to walk. On some days they are told to walk only down in the valley below the road, on others if they walk in the valley they are shot at. Petty harassment by soldiers becomes a regular part of the checkpoint experience.

June 9  
A peaceful demonstration is held by University faculty and staff at the checkpoint. A young female staff member is shot in the leg with a rubber bullet; a number of people are taken to hospital due to tear gas inhalation.

June 10
An additional two concrete blocks are set up approximately fifty meters away from the main checkpoint on the Ramallah end of the road.

June 12 Day's report

June 13
Hundreds of students and staff attempting to return home to Ramallah at the end of the work day are stuck on the Birzeit side of the checkpoint and not allowed to cross. They end up scrambling through the valley while tear gas and rubber bullets are fired at them.

June 20 Day's report

June 28  
Three Birzeit students are arrested at the checkpoint.

July

Situation at Checkpoint Remains the Same.  On the majority of days only ambulances and commercial vehicles carrying Israeli goods are allowed to drive through the checkpoint. On foot, young men and sometimes women randomly have their i.d.'s checked and sometimes have their bags searched. Petty harassment by soldiers continues to increase.

July 12 Day's report

July 16 Day's report

July 22 Day's report

July 29 Day's report

August

August 5 Day's report

August 14 Day's report

August 28 Day's report

September

Due to the ongoing tense situation at the checkpoint, the semester is postponed while the University attempts to find a solution to avert disaster when thousands of students returning for the Fall semester will have to pass through a volatile and tense group of soldiers manning the checkpoint.

September 6 Day's report

September 11 Day's report

September 13 Day's report

September 15 Day's report

September 17  
Classes commence, hundreds of commuting staff and students are stranded at the roadblock which is completely closed. The university administration persuades the soldiers to let those carrying a Birzeit i.d. card through.

September 18  
A female staff member attempting to reason with soldiers has her leg broken by a sound bomb fired at close range.

September 19 Day's report

September 20 Day's report

October

Situation at the checkpoint remains the same.

October 2  
In protest at the ongoing harassment and impact of the checkpoint on daily and academic life, the University holds a peaceful demonstration to the checkpoint. It is met by tear gas and rubber bullets.

October 16 
After the signing by Israel of a ceasefire with the PNA, the road is completely opened. For the first time in five months one can go to the University without facing humiliation and harassment by soldiers.

October 17  
The checkpoint is completely re-instated and totally closed for a period of three weeks while the northern part of Ramallah is occupied by Israeli tanks. Day's report

November

November 5
A group of international protestors march peacefully from Ramallah to the checkpoint. They are met with tear gas, and sound bombs. One is physically attacked by soldiers. The marchers return to Ramallah after failing to get through to the Birzeit side. Day's report

November 8
Checkpoint is re-opened, a new checkpoint regime is in place: a barbed wire fence is placed across the road before the concrete blocks. On most days all pedestrians must stop and have their i.d's checked -- this takes an average of fifteen minutes per check. Bags are regularly searched. No vehicles are let through until mid-month when ambulances and vehicles transporting commercial goods are once again allowed through after being searched.

November 12 Day's report

November 19 Day's report

November 20 Day's report

November 21 Day's report

November 25 Day's report

November 27 Day's report

December

The new regime at the checkpoint remains in place. Barbed wire, i.d. checks, no vehicles except for ambulances and commercial trucks.

December 27 Day's report

YEAR 2002

January

The new regime at the checkpoint remains in place. Barbed wire, i.d. checks, no vehicles except for ambulances and commercial trucks allowed through. However, there is an escalation in the treatment of young men being searched and questioned.

January 11
For no apparent reason, a Birzeit student is the victim of physical assault by a soldier. Young men whose i.d.'s are being checked are regularly made to sit on their knees with their hands behind their backs by the side of the road.

January 16 Day's report

January 28 Day's report

February

The new regime at the checkpoint remains in place but harassment and physical violence against young men continues to escalate.

February 1 Day's report

February 16 Day's report

February 18 Day's report

February 19
Three Birzeit students stopped by soldiers on their way home to Ramallah. They are handcuffed, blindfolded and in full view of commuters are beaten and kicked in the head as they are forced to lie on the ground in the concrete holding area at the checkpoint. Soldiers deny medical personnel access to treat them. Two of the three students are released and the third arrested. Day's report

February 21
The Israeli army once again digs huge trenches in the road -- making it impossible for the remaining vehicles allowed to use the road (ambulances and commercial trucks) to use it. For the following period, pedestrians have to climb up and down the high hill above the checkpoint in order to pass. Persons on stretchers have to be carried across to ambulances on the Ramallah side.

March

March 4 Day's report

March 5
Israeli army diggers create a two-meter high mound of earth barrier on the Ramallah side of the checkpoint. This means that the walk between the two ends of checkpoints is now more than 500 meters, and that persons on stretchers now have to be carried this distance to reach ambulances on the other side. The university starts the Spring semester despite the new barriers. Day's report

March 13-18
University closed due to Israeli invasion of Ramallah.

April

Ramallah like all other West Bank towns is invaded as part of " Operation Defensive Wall". The army stays in Ramallah between March 29 until April 21.

April 14  
Birzeit village is invaded and student dormitories are ransacked. Scores of students and staff arrested both in Ramallah and Birzeit village. For two days (April 21-22) there are no soldiers at the checkpoint and the community re-opens the road by filling in trenches and opening a path through soil barriers.

April 23
The University attempts to re-open but only a handful of students and faculty are able to reach the campus because of ongoing invasion effects throughout the West Bank.

April 24
Soldiers are back at the checkpoint and the former situation has worsened. There is a i.d. check of all persons attempting to cross.

May

A new barrier is made even closer to the Ramallah side of the checkpoint meaning that the walk between the two checkpoints is now more than 100 meters.

May 7
The university attempts to resume classes. The soldiers are more volatile than before, stopping young men in particular and often leaving them waiting on the side of the road for hours. Soldiers play petty games with the searches. Sometimes they check only young men, other times people wearing glasses, other times girls with headscarves etc. On some days the soldiers decide that only young women can pass through to Birzeit. Other days all are denied access.

May 29
The army totally closes the road preventing even pedestrians from crossing. Those that attempt to walk through the valley or on the hill above are shot at.

June

For the first two weeks of the month the university is unable to operate. In the morning pedestrian commuters arriving from Ramallah reach the checkpoint and no one is let through. Soldiers either bored or panicked lob tear gas and stun grenades at the crowds waiting to go through to the other side. On a number of days all young men are stopped from passing through to either side, on others the checkpoint is closed to all. Twice, staff and students attempting to return to Ramallah at the end of the day are stuck and not allowed to pass back home. On both occasions, those attempting to climb around the checkpoint (either through the valley or around the overlooking hill) are shot at.

June 15
A young man is shot by live ammunition as he tries to walk through the hills above the closed checkpoint. The person died the next day.

June 20
Ramallah is re-occupied by Israeli troops and all residents are put under 24 hour a day curfew.

June 23  
The curfew is lifted in Ramallah and a handful of staff and students living in Birzeit village attempt to cross the checkpoint into Ramallah. They are met by tear gas and stun grenades. The checkpoint remains fully closed while Ramallah is re-occupied.

 

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