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
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?
Beginning of Al Aqsa Intifada
Ramallah-Birzeit Road Cut by two wide trenches on March 7.
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.
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 12 Day's report
June 20 Day's report
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 5 Day's report
August 14 Day's report
August 28 Day's report
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 19 Day's report
September 20 Day's report
Situation at the checkpoint remains the same.
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
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
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 16 Day's report
January 28 Day's report
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
March 4 Day's report
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.
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.
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.