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Israeli forces allow Palestinian residents to reopen roads to their villages after week of closures

Sept. 11, 2016 1:16 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 12, 2016 4:45 P.M.)
NABLUS (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces allowed the Palestinian residents of several Nablus area villages to reopen the main entrances to their villages in the northern occupied West Bank Sunday morning, according to locals and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials.

Sources in the PA’s liaison office told Ma’an that after “exerting pressure on the Israeli side,” Israeli authorities agreed to reopen the roads, which Israeli forces had sealed off for a week under security pretexts, claiming rocks had been thrown by Palestinians at settlers vehicles on the main road of the Huwwara village, which leads directly to the city of Nablus.

Israeli forces had closed the main entrances to the villages of Beita, Einabus, Urif, and Huwwara, significantly affecting the mobility of residents and the businesses of merchants in the area.

General commander of the Palestinian liaison office in the occupied West Bank Jihad al-Jayousi told Ma’an that his office considered the road closures to be “collective punishment,” adding that they would continue to exert pressure on Israeli authorities to reopen other side roads in the villages of Beita and Madama that remained closed.

An Israeli army spokesperson did not comment on the reports, saying that since the Palestinian residents physically opened the roads themselves, and not Israeli forces, it was not within the army’s purview to comment on the matter.

An Israeli Civil Administration spokesperson said they were looking into reports, and could possibly provide further comment.

Israeli forces claimed that the closures were implemented as a result of rocks being thrown in the area at Israeli settlers’ cars, though Hashem Abu Zaitoun, a bus driver working along the Beita-Nablus road, told Ma'an that witnesses and surveillance cameras had caught an Israeli settler stepping out of his car and smashing his own window several days ago near Huwwara road, reportedly in an attempt to frame Palestinians for throwing rocks.

Israeli forces have been searching for Palestinian stone-throwers for more than a month, but have yet to detain anyone despite deploying dozens of soldiers and erecting checkpoints and cameras around communities, Zaitoun said.

Prior to Sunday’s reopening of the roads, and the PA’s claim that it came as a result of their pressure on Israeli authorities, several residents of Beita and the nearby villages told Ma’an the PA had not stepped up and taken responsibility for the closures, expressing concern that the restrictions on movement would severely restrict the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins on Monday.

A Palestinian military liaison told Ma’an at the time that the Awarta checkpoint had been closed with an iron gate, while the Einabus-Huwwara, Beita-Awarta, Beita-Udala, Beita-Huwwara, and Beita-Zaatara roads, in addition to the main Beita road and the road connecting Madama to Einabus were all closed by Israeli forces.

The occupied West Bank has seen an increase in arbitrary military road closures since October when a wave of unrest first erupted across the West Bank and Israel, leading to periodic blockade of Palestinian villages, towns, checkpoints, and entire districts.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently unveiled a "carrot stick" policy toward Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, whereby harsher punishment would be imposed upon families and villages from which "terrorists" originate, while economic benefits would be granted to areas that "have not produced terrorists."

“We will implement a differential policy in Judea and Samaria,” Lieberman said last month, using an Israeli term for the West Bank. “Its purpose is to continue to give benefits to those who desire co-existence with us and make life difficult for those who seek to harm Jews.”

"Anyone who is prepared for co-existence will prosper, while those who opt for terrorism will lose.”

During a raid into the town of Sair in the southern occupied West Bank last week, when Israeli forces reportedly threatened to detain a 10-month-old girl after breaking into and ransacking her family's home, soldiers hung a written warning on the front door that read: “In the wake of destructive attacks coming from your area against civilians, the Israeli defense forces and the Israeli security forces will operate with increased effort against terrorists and against anyone involved in such activity,” in what seemed to be among the first reported implementations of Lieberman's new policy.

Meanwhile, Israeli settlers routinely throw stones at Palestinians, burn Palestinian agricultural lands, threaten, and harass Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, however they are rarely held accountable for their actions.

Palestinian stone-throwers, in stark contrast, face harsh penalties by Israeli authorities, including up to 20 years in prison if charged with throwing stones at vehicles and a minimum prison sentence of three years for throwing a stone at an Israeli.

Israel detains hundreds of Palestinians for alleged stone-throwing every year, and Israeli rights group B'Tselem reported that from 2005 to 2010, "93 percent of the minors convicted of stone throwing were given a prison sentence, its length ranging from a few days to 20 months."

Settler attacks on Palestinians seldom result in any actions being taken by Israeli authorities.

According to UN documentation, there were a total of 221 reported settler attacks on Palestinians in 2015, with 77 attacks reported since the start of 2016.

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