Though the Palestinian towns of Beitin, Deir Debwan, 'Ein Yabrud and Burqa are located only a few kilometers east of Ramallah, it takes the villagers anywhere from 45 minutes up to an hour to reach the city. Ever since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, the main road that leads from the villages to Ramallah has been closed off, forcing Palestinians to take a detour. Not only does the detour cost the villagers time and money, it also hinders access to education and endangers the lives of residents in need of urgent medical care.
Up until the Second Intifada, a great deal of traffic passed through Beitin and the village attracted investors interested in the construction of housing units and businesses because of its close vicinity to Ramallah, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem states.
When Israel blocked two entrances to Beitin for alleged "security reasons", the town transformed from a thriving place with many small businesses and a growing population into a quiet one with empty buildings and high unemployment. The main entrance leading to Al Bireh, as well as to the illegal settlement of Bet El, was blocked with a metal gate and a dirt mound. The entrance leading to Road 60, was also blocked with a dirt mound.
TAKING A DETOUR
Only Palestinians with VIP passes and staff of international organizations are allowed to pass throughthe District Coordination Office (DCO) checkpoint on the road between Beitin and Al Bireh. For all other Palestinians, the only way of reaching Ramallah is via a small road that winds through other villages, taking a detour of about 15 to 25 kilometers.
"Beitin is only two kilometers from Ramallah," Village Counselor Said Jaraba relates. "By foot, I would get there faster than by car under these circumstances. Yet since 2008, we’re not even allowed to pass the road block on foot anymore."
Other villages in the area are dealing with the same problem. "Burqa is seven kilometers from Ramallah, but now we have to take a detour of about 25 kilometers," Sayel Kanan, Deputy Mayor of Burqa, told the Palestine Monitor.
Ahmad Baraka, Mayor of Burqa, concludes that the village feels like a big prison these days. "Our village is surrounded by four settlements and Road 60 in the north. We need help from NGOs to open up the main road to Ramallah again."
LIVES AT STAKE
The lives of pregnant women and others requiring urgent medical are put in danger due to the unnecessary, yet compulsory, detour, as the closest hospital is in Ramallah. Said Jaraba of Beitin has a seven-year-old son who is suffering from cancer. "Sometimes he gets very sick and I have to take him to the hospital in the middle of the night, just like my six-year-old disabled nephew who stops breathing sometimes. When I was taking him to the hospital in June, soldiers stopped us and refused to let us pass. His life was at stake, so I told them 'I’m going anyway, shoot me if you want.’"
"It’s so unjust," Jaraba continues. "We are all human beings, but the soldiers think they are humans and we are animals, worse than animals. They think they are above the law, above the international community."
LOCAL BUSINESSES GOING DOWN
After the roadblock was put in place, Farid 'Abd a-Rahman Hamaeyl saw the sales drop by 90% in the stone and marble business he owns with his two brothers in Beitin. "The road connected Ramallah to the northern West Bank and there was an incredible amount of commercial traffic on it. Everyone used this road, Arabs and Jews. The state of commerce in the area was fantastic," he told B’Tselem. According to the head of the village council, Diab Muhammad Badwan, about half of the village’s population is currently unemployed.
The rising cost of transportation has also caused farmers in the region to struggle in getting their produce to the market in Ramallah, and as a result, has put many of them out of business. The cost of public transportation to and from Ramallah has tripled as well. "Before, a direct bus from Ramallah would cost two shekels, now it costs 6 shekels because of the extra gas needed for the detour," Sayel Kanan, Deputy Mayor of Burqa, told the Palestine Monitor.
Israel justifies the roadblock by stating that it is necessary to protect the safety of the settlers living in the vicinity of the Palestinian villages. Yet the Mayor of Beitin questions the veracity of this argument.
"There is no need for this roadblock. It makes no sense. We are allowed to use the same roads as the settlers when we are coming from Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarem, but then when we get close to our villages, we are not. Why?"
According to Said Jabara, village counselor of Beitin, the settlers are the main problem making any future Palestinian state impossible. "Their presence limits our freedom of movement and they attack the farmers and villagers. A few weeks ago some settlers burned six cars and the mosque in Burqa,"he states. "We respect anyone who wants to come here and live, but not as a thief, not to kick me out of my home and destroy my nation. They just want to make life hard for the Palestinians, hoping that we will emigrate."
Beitin’s Mayor concludes that the suffering caused by having to take a detour is unnecessary. "Time, money and human lives are being wasted. In the US, I had a lot of Jewish friends and here I have some Israeli friends who are activists. We eat together, live together, do business together, so why can’t it be like that with everyone?"
PROTEST AND COURT CASE
"In the past we demonstrated together with other villages, but the protests were always met by tear gas and rubber bullets," Said Jaraba recounts. "In July, seven people were injured at a demonstration. The last protest was three months ago."
After a meeting with the mayors of Ramallah and Al Bireh and nine village councils, an Israeli lawyer working for HaMoked, the Center for the Defence of the Individual, contacted Major General Nitzan Alon in April 2013 demanding that Palestinian residents of all villages east of Ramallah be allowed to cross the checkpoint in between Beitin and Al Bireh. When no reply followed, the lawyer contacted the State Attorney’s Office on 22 August, stating that a petition would be filed to the Israeli High Court of Justice, B’Tselem reported.
"Until today, we are still waiting for a response," Deir Debwan’s Mayor concludes.