Why most checkpoints are unnecessary: a primer

When my previous post about the checkpoint at Sheikh Sa’eb was published in July, in slightly different form, I received an angry email from a friend of a friend. An excerpt:

“If the IDF says we need all of them [the checkpoints], who are you to say they’re wrong? Where do you get off giving military advice to Israeli generals from your liberal American playpen? [Israelis] need the checkpoints and they need the wall just where they are, thank you. If the killers stop coming after them, Israelis won’t need the checkpoints and the wall. End of story.”

Love that phrase, “liberal American playpen…”

Today, Sadie Goldman and Jason Proetorius over at Israel Policy Forum supplied a response. They have come up with an excellent explanation of the checkpoints and barriers, the VAST MAJORITY OF WHICH ARE THERE TO MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR ISRAELI SETTLERS, and have nothing to do with protecting anyone in Israel proper. More and more Israeli security experts who have outgrown their playpens think Israel should eliminate most –although not all– of them. Here’s their analysis, quoted in full:

Understanding Checkpoints

By Sadie Goldman with Jason Proetorius and IPF Staff

One of the most onerous aspects of the situation in the West Bank is the system of checkpoints which block Palestinians from getting to work, school, hospital or even to visit friends a few miles (sometimes a few blocks) away without being stopped and delayed, often for hours. This is well-known here in the United States, especially because the Bush administration has made clear that it wants many of the checkpoints removed.

Less understood is that very few checkpoints separate Israel from the Palestinian areas. The overwhelming majority of them are internal barriers which serve not to protect Israel from terrorists but simply to ease life for settlers and to make Palestinian lives miserable. In fact, no one suggests taking down any checkpoint or border crossing that separates Israel from the West Bank or Gaza. The entire controversy is over the internal checkpoints and their onerous effects on Palestinians trying to get about their lives. Terrible as the situation is, some people find humor in it, so ridiculous is the rationale for aspects of the checkpoint system.

A Hummous Hut employee is stopped by a soldier who misunderstands “hummous” for “Hamas.” A woman driving with her dog is stopped at a checkpoint and explains that, while she does not have papers to enter Jerusalem, her dog does. These light-hearted vignettes—from the 2005 Oscar winning short film “a West Bank story” and Suad Amiry’s book Sharon and My Mother-in-Law, respectively—use humor to explain the physical barriers scattered throughout the West Bank in simple, human terms.

For Israelis, the reason for instituting roadblocks and checkpoints since the beginning of the second intifada in which over a thousand Israelis were killed is also simple and human—to stop suicide bombers from entering Israel. “The method of roadblocks has proven itself,” Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a group of soldiers on February st. “There is no way to effectively fight terrorism without actual daily control of the area,” he said.

However, according to a group of twelve retired Israeli generals, some of whom were involved in setting up West Bank barriers, the system of over 560 roadblocks and checkpoints, which increased by 50% in two and a half years, needlessly harms Palestinians and ineffectively protects Israelis. (According to the Israeli human rights group, B’tselem, as of November 2007 there were 99 permanent checkpoints, 36 of which were on Israel’s border and 63 within the West Bank. The remaining 486 barriers [as of November 2007] are roadblocks, such as dirt mounds, concrete blocks, fences, trenches, and gates.)

At a Van Leer Institute conference on February 13, these experts, informally called the “checkpoint team,” presented a position paper, which they also sent Barak. In it they assert that, while some barriers stop terror, others damage the Palestinian economy, breed resentment, and, in turn, create more terror. According to Shlomo Brom, one of the group’s members and former chief of the army’s planning committee, quoted in Laurie Copans’ February 13th Associated Press article, “The feeling of humiliation and the hate the roadblocks create increase the tendency of Palestinians to join militant groups. . .”

These barriers, furthermore, do not always stop attacks. They did not stop the February 4th suicide bombing in Dimona that killed one and injured eleven, Brom went on to note.
But the major problem that the defense officials cite is not with the few checkpoints on Israel’s borders (to stop attacks like the one in Dimona, they support finishing the fence along Israel’s border). The cause of the most needless hardship, they say, is the hundreds of barriers that form a complicated network of checkpoints and roadblocks, which divide the West Bank into separate, isolated sections.

From the outside, the technical terms that are often used interchangeably to explain West Bank barriers seem confusing. According to the group, however, the differences are important and should be demystified.

The West Bank barriers fit into two major categories: checkpoints and roadblocks. Checkpoints can be permanent (toll-both like) structures manned by Israeli soldiers or temporary checkpoints (flying checkpoints) that are placed according to intelligence and are meant to be taken down. The majority of West Bank barriers are roadblocks that come in many forms, such as concrete blocks or earth mounds or trenches that stop cars from using a particular road.

It is this mixed system of barriers that can make a thirty-minute trip from the village of Azun to Nablus take two hours. In a March 6 Washington Post article, Griff Witte described such a trip taken by emergency-room doctor Karim Edwan. To get from his village of Azzun to work in Nablus, Witte writes, “Dr. Edwan must take at least two cabs, skirt a barbed-wire fence, climb a dirt mound, talk his way through multiple Israeli checkpoints and remove his shoes for a full-body security check.”

The checkpoint team calls for a reevaluation of the barriers that cause hardship, like that caused Dr. Edwan, without serving a specific security purpose. One of its members, retired Brigadir-General Ilan Paz, who served in the West Bank during the Intifada, gave the example of a checkpoint that he established that no longer serves its intended purpose. “I founded the Qalandia checkpoint years ago as a flying security checkpoint for a specific reason,” he told IRIN, a U.N. news source, on February 14 “to prevent a specific attack we had intelligence on . . . that checkpoint hasn’t been removed years later.”

According to Paz, the Qalandia checkpoint demonstrates that when there is specific intelligence, checkpoints can be very effective in stopping attacks. However, as things change on the ground, they can become useless and even detrimental. In some instances, the defense experts noted, barriers were put in place, not to stop terror attacks but to separate roads used by Israelis and Palestinians. And, while no longer serving that purpose, they remain in place.

According to Ron Schatzberg, another member of the group, “Near Jenin there is an Israeli settlement called Sheve Shomron. Since the start of the intifada Palestinians have not been allowed to travel on the area’s main road, due to security concerns. A three-meter-high wall has since been erected, a new road has been built for settlers and an army division has based itself there.” “However,” he was cited in IRIN, “Palestinians still can’t use the main roads.”

The team believes that by ending the system of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank not only could earth mounds that stop car traffic be removed, but Israeli security could be enhanced because “militants would find it harder to mount attacks without harming Palestinians,” IRIN reported.

Furthermore, instead of maintaining ineffective checkpoints inside the West Bank, the team proposes finishing constructing the barrier around it, and removing some permanent checkpoints, particularly those that have a major impact on Palestinians without providing Israelis security. These checkpoints could be replaced, as needed, with temporary “flying” checkpoints that rely on intelligence that is gathered and used in cooperation with Palestinian security services, as was done before 2000.

These changes, they propose, would ease Palestinian movement and enhance Israeli security in several ways, not the least of which, through strengthening the economy in the West Bank and aiding in the confidence building demanded by the current U.S. led peace process.

This process, and the U.S. administration officials that are pushing for it, have been frustrated by inaction on checkpoints. In a March 9th David Ignatius op-ed, a U.S. official described this frustration, “What they [the Israeli military] said they would look at hasn’t happened. The IDF has been doing the same stuff the same way [on checkpoints] for seven years, and they haven’t bothered to change.”

The checkpoint team has proposals for change, but without concerted efforts, it could become just another proposal. Making it something more, in clearly difficult times, will take risk, work, and coordination by both Palestinians and Israelis. Or, as Elvis Presley once put it, “a little less conversation, a little more action please.”

44 thoughts on “Why most checkpoints are unnecessary: a primer

  1. The settlers, who actually are in violation of international law that prohibits a conquerer from settling its own population among a conquered people, should be responsible for their own security or they should be evacuated. There is no security benefit from having settlers in densely populated areas of the West Bank. There is also no sense sinking money and risking the lives of soldiers for something that serves as an aggravating factor for terrorism. Instead Israel’s resources should be used to protect its legal population inside Israel.

  2. The maze is also much less defensible than the green line.

    One reason for the maze is for it to thicken to the point that the Israeli controlled portion makes integrated Palestinian life thinner and less organically connected over time, until it is no longer viable.

    And, in the event of a war, the maze makes possible total annexation and removal, whereas the green line functioned as an actual boundary, that bounds a Jewish state.

  3. “””the VAST MAJORITY OF WHICH ARE THERE TO MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR ISRAELI SETTLERS, and have nothing to do with protecting anyone in Israel proper.”””

    I am unclear as to the point being made here.

    Is it that Israeli settlers deserve to die if they won’t leave the West Bank, so efforts to protect them are wrong?

  4. Jon,
    I think you get the point.

    Its the same one. That the settlers extract a disproportionate amount of the losses in money and life and integrity, for either a vain or cruel project.

  5. Is the point that Israel shouldn’t have checkpoints to protect the settlers who are there?

    Or is the point that the settlers should leave?

    Those are two different points.

    If the settlers stay then should the checkpoints stay?

  6. Well, ultimately it depends on the sovereignty of the negotiated borders (if they ever get around to that).

    If its Israel, then Israeli institutions would have to provide policing and security. If its Palestine, then Palestinian.

    The current though is the worst. A very large drain on Israeli resources in all respects.

    Only making sense as a state enterprise if the intent is to annex. That objective is ridiculous, cruel, illegal, isolating, hypocritical (soul-destroying in requiring self-deception to advocate for).

    Time to decide already, to put backbone into effort, rather than live like a stinging jellyfish.

  7. Jonathan,
    Why should soldiers risk their lives for the sake of protecting a settlement effort that is in violation of international law and therefore causes Israel considerable problems in its foreign relations? Why so soldiers risk their lives to protect one set of religious Jews when another set is avoiding military service altogether?

  8. “””Why should soldiers risk their lives for the sake of protecting a settlement effort”””

    I don’t know.

    However, my preference would be that terrorists not murder the residents of settlements, so if the soldiers are protecting the residents of settlements I am in favor of that.

    If the soldiers want to expel the residents in order to protect them, then fine. That happened in Gaza.

    But leaving the residents in place and withdrawing protection from them might result in many civilian deaths, including deaths of infants, nursing mothers, and so on.

    “””Why so soldiers risk their lives to protect one set of religious Jews when another set is avoiding military service altogether?”””

    I don’t see the connection. Are the residents of settlements avoiding military service?

  9. In the occupied territories, what is the basis of title for the settlements?

    I’m sure it varies, but there must even be some analysis of intelligible categories.

  10. Or Israel could just withdraw its military protection and let them decide if they want to remain or not.

    In the American West miners and others squatting on Indian land did not have the protection of the Army. But the miners could decide if their prospecting was worth the risk of being scalped.

    In the American East the failure of the federal government to enforce treaties and prevent squatting led to what today would be termed terrorist attacks by the affected Indians. It also led eventually to the removal of the Indians.

    Already Peace Now has demonstrated that there is major squatting on Arab land by the settlements, and there are terrorist attacks, some of which are directed against Israelis living legally in Israel. Is removal (“transfer” in Hebrew) to come next?

  11. “””Or Israel could just withdraw its military protection and let them decide if they want to remain or not.”””

    Some won’t, many will die, settlers will take law into their own hands, go fight Hamas on their own. I don’t see the above as a serious option.

    “””In the American West miners and others squatting on Indian land did not have the protection of the Army.”””

    If Israel is to model itself on what US policy towards the Native Americans was then Israel will get all of Palestine, just as the US got all of America from one coast to the other.

    “””In the American East the failure of the federal government to enforce treaties and prevent squatting led to what today would be termed terrorist attacks by the affected Indians. It also led eventually to the removal of the Indians.”””

    You just told me that the US DID enforce it with respect to miners. It is hard to imagine that the analogy you are trying to spin will be a useful example to the Israelis. The problem is that the policy “led eventually to the removal of the Indians.”

    Imitating aspects of US policy towards the Native Americans 150 years ago cannot be a basis for what Israeli policy ought to be.

    “””Is removal (”transfer” in Hebrew) to come next?”””

    I don’t know, but allowing massacres of settlers by Palestinians is not likely to benefit anyone. I would advise going back to the drawing board on this proposal.

  12. And considering the documented instances of sexual harrassment, abuse, violence, murder, etc. which have occured at IDF checkpoints, I found the attempt at levity (hommous and Hamas?) in the Israel Policy Forum piece extremely offensive. Beyond the pale. How old are the people who wrote this?

    (Of course I suppose the Israel Policy Forum probably doesn’t give a hoot what non-Zionists think?)

  13. The Bible isn’t the basis of the settlements as a state project, though it might be in the minds of some of the settlers.

    What is the basis of title of the settlement lands? Anyone know?

    I take great pains in all discussions on occupation to distinguish between the terms sovereignty and title.

    Sovereignty is a collective assertion that defines boundaries of jurisdiction, what law will govern where?

    Title is a description of the status of individual ownership.

    In contested title questions, different individual parties must present the basis of their title assertions, and a judge determines what the actual title status is and what is the appropriate remedy to create a status of unambiguous (perfected and consented) title.

    Many on the left adopt the view that the settlements are illegal, and that rights to the individual homes that settlers built and/or paid for are void.

    In Palestinian society, the laws governing title are in a state of tension.

    The tension is the same tension as elsewhere, between the consented rights between residents accepting others’ exclusive (property) rights, and the assertions of entities at a global scale which depends on registration and permanent property rights documented in a sustaining state.

  14. Since Dan is a member of IPF maybe he can get a definitive answer on how or whether the colonizers are able to establish Jewish titles on Palestinian land. Or maybe Richard, you could ask your settler in-laws if they’ve ever bought or sold a house on the Palestinian side of the green line, perhaps they can scan their deed for you?

    It is an important question.

    But have you read anything about how the colonies expand? Rabid zionist fundamentalist land-grabbing settlers, armed and defended by IDF troops stationed nearby, set up outposts on hilltops, developers emerge from the woodwork, houses are built, the state brings electric/water/sewage, and pretty soon there’s IDF stationed right close by, allowing for the next hilltop to be seized.

    I assume that title and deed would then be concocted in some ex-post-facto manner. Of course I am speculating, I would also like to know.

  15. Both of us would like to know MM.

    But, I won’t bring ignorant sarcasm to the question.

    Its a question that has to be settled to a level of consent, regardless of which entity is sovereign.

    Do you understand the difference between issues of sovereignty and issues of title?

    They are both issues of justice, but they are different questions entirely.

  16. Its much much less so when Hezbollah functions as a militia within it.

    Right now its on the border of sovereign vs occupied. (And not by Israel).

    Good distraction though.

  17. Jonathan,
    You should read carefully what I wrote, I made a distinction between the East (east of the Miss. River) and the West (west of it). In the east, native rights were not enforced and eventually led to an irresistible popular pressure for expulsion. In the West, native rights were enforced off and on with the end result that the natives were confined to small areas of their previous domain.

    In Eretz Israel native rights are protected post 1948 within the green law, but not across it. Across it settlers are free to squat on Arab lands, to steal Arab harvests and to protect them from harvesting their own crops. When this happened in America it resulted in retaliation by the natives and by settlers grapping even more land.

    I’m glad that you recognize that Israel can’t DO what the federal government did in America some 170-80 years ago. Israel, although it has an imbalance of power in its favor vis a vis the Palestinians, it does not have such an imbalance as the U.S. state and federal governments enjoyed. The Palestinians are “the wards of the international community” to paraphrase Marshall’s ruling on the Cherokee, not the wards of Israel. Andrew Jackson was able to play a good cop, bad cop routine between the federal and state governments. In Israel’s case I suppose the bad cop will be the settler movement.

  18. No, I am glad that YOU recognize that US policy towards Native Americans be an example of how Israel should treat Palestinians.

    You were the one who suggested it, with your comments about how the US respected Native American mining rights in the 1800s.

    There are definitely Native Americans east of the Mississipi. There are Native American reservations in North Carolina and western New York, and elsewhere.

    The Native Americans were screwed either way, east or west of the Mississippi. For this reason, your admonition that US policy towards Native Americans be a model for Israel is nonsensical.

  19. I think the first meaning was more accurate Jonathon.

    Indians are/were human beings.

    Palestinians are human beings.

  20. And Hezbollah are human beings! And the little kids missing limbs because Israel won’t divulge the locations of its cluster bombings of agricultural fields are human beings!

    Hezbollah exists because of Israel’s violating the territorial sovereignty of Lebanon during the war in 1982! Sovereignty! Where have I heard that word!? And what a concept! The Shebaa farms beloning to Lebanon! How many years did Israel control the catchment basin of waters draining into the Litany river? Was that merely to protect Israel against terrorism? I thought so!

    Richard, do you think we the international community will stand by and watch zionists steal the rest of the resources away from the region’s indigenous inhabitants while you endlessly hem and haw, splitting hairs, twiddling your thumbs, asking mostly questions of absurd irrelevance while the truth is right under your nose? You think the schmooze gig will last forever? The world just won’t notice, because maybe the arabs-are-bloodthirsty-terrorists meme will stick? Guess what–it won’t.

  21. MM,
    You seem to have a well-trained Pavlovian stimulus mechanism.

    The question of sovereignty was raised relative to the Palestinian issues, distinguishing questions of borders and jurisdiction of law, from issues of individual title.

    Its a critical practical question that provides an excellent path to reconcile the various issues.

    Questions about the status of title of land in the West Bank and in Israel proper then don’t have to be relegated to realm of propaganda, but can be determined within the realm of law, equally and consistently applied in a color blind manner in each community, under its own system of law.

  22. Jonathan,
    I’m aware that there are reservations in the East–all in the North, in New York, in Michigan, and in my own state of Wisconsin. But in the South, which more closely resembles Judea and Samaria than the North, in that both were home to fanatics who were anti-democratic, no reservations remained. All of the five major Indian tribes in the South were deported, except for a village of Cherokee in the North Carolina mountains.

  23. “””Compare the attitudes of the South Carolina ruling elite to the Kachniks in Hebron.”””

    OK. At your request I will compare the Kach Party with the ruling Southern elite. I live in Virginia so I will restrict my remarks to that state.

    (1) Kach Party: Illegal in Israel and has been for decades. From Wikipedia: “In 1986, Kach was declared a racist party by the Israeli government and banned from the Knesset, and, in 1994, following the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre by Baruch Goldstein the movement was outlawed completely. Kahane’s Knesset career was ended by section 7a of Basic Law: The Knesset (1958): ‘Prevention of Participation of Candidates List.'”

    (2) Virginia Ruling Elite: Completely legal, and openly runs both the Democratic and Republican parties.

  24. The attitudes of the Kahane-ists are legal, the methods and direct association are not (and just barely, as there still is accepted harrassment of Palestinians in the West Bank, at the hands of some settlers).

    The members have not left. They joined other parties, and expressed the same sentiments there.

    Its worth opposing, if only to affirm Torah, rather than rationalize it.

  25. Instead of Rev. Wright’s “KKK-America” we have the “Kachnik” West Bank on this blog.

    Israel banned Kach in part because it defied the authority of the state. The US classifies Kach International as a terrorist organization.

    If someone has evidence that the illegal organization Kach still exists then they should contact the Israeli or American authorities.

  26. Jonathan,
    Nice try–but no cigar. Since I was referring to antebellum America that is with whom the comparison should be made. And Kach had two legal offshoots after it was declared illegal, Kahane Hai and another whose name escapes me. The philosophy of Kahane is quite alive in Hebron.

    Neither the Kahanists nor the South Carolinean aristocrats believe(d) in democracy. Neither believe(d) in giving equal rights to other races/ethnic groups (the Arabs). Both consider(ed) themselves to be an elite.

  27. I am glad that you have retracted what you initially wrote, and no longer claim that Hebron and South Carolina are alike.

    I am also glad that you have retracted what you initially wrote, and no longer claim that members of the Kach party reside in Hebron.

  28. People in the pre-Civil War South practiced slavery. They kidnapped Africans. They bred the kidnap victims into a life of slavery, and sometimes raped them as well.

    If someone on this website believes that members of the non-existent Kach Party are practicing slavery in Hebron then that is really unfortunate.

  29. Jonathan,
    One of the largest slaveholders in the South in his time was Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a celebrated war hero. He engaged in an invasion of a neighboring territory, Florida, on the grounds that the sovereign power wasn’t controlling the territory and presenting its use by Indians who operated across the border. He exceeded his instructions, for which he was criticized by a number of statesmen in the national legislature. Later he spent much of his first term in office arranging the deportation of Indians from the East to the West.

    Jackson founded the Democratic Party and in imitation of his success the opposition party, the Whigs–which was basically an anti-Jackson party, had two former Indian fighters elected president and ran a third former general for the presidency. In fact the Whigs became dependent on the charisma of former generals to head their ticket and soon collapsed once they ran out of them (although there were other factors involved in their collapse as well).

    One doesn’t need to look hard to see parallels between this and modern Israel. True, slavery is no longer practiced, nor dueling–or certainly Sharon would have been involved in more than his share of duels. But it is only nationalists who look for the flaws in valid analogies while simaltaneously asserting their own more far-fetched ones.

    The antebellum period was the only period in U.S. history when the U.S. had a multiparty system–a weak three party system and a de facto five party system in the 1850s.

    For four years the U.S. had a national debate over occupied territories from 1846 to 1850.

    In line with this, South Carolina was the most extreme of the nationalist, expansionist, and racist part of the political spectrum. The settlers in Hebron fill that function in Israeli politics.

  30. Slavery was the single most defining feature of the pre-Civil War South. A large portion of the population were slaves, and predominantly agrarian economy relied upon it.

    In order for some other society thousands of miles and centuries later to be like the pre-Civil War south it would have to have some institution, perhaps serfdom, which was like slavery.

  31. Jonathan,
    Yes, slavery was the defining characteristic of the pre-Civil War South, but there were others. And my original remark was in regard to South Carolina, which did not practice democracy in the antebellum period. Many of the Kach supporters–and many still support the party in their hearts–do not believe in democracy either.

  32. “Pavlovian”, I love it!

    Were Dr. Pavlov and his dogs anti-Semites as well?

    I suppose we should’ve known. Pavlov, a Russian, and weren’t the dogs German shepherds?

    (I suppose I am just a rabid dog. I should be more honest with myself.)

    To the boys arguing about whether or not Israel is as belligerent, exploitative, sociopathic, racist, land-grabbing etc etc etc as the slavery-era American south…

    Interesting topic.

    Did any of you see the link Jim Haygood posted over at Mondoweiss–Richard I know you’re one of Phil’s avid readers–about the recent declaration of financial warfare on Iran?

    Is this good news or what?

    Just one thing: is Iran ever going to attack peace-seeking USrael, so that we can REALLY get our war on?

    (It’s taking forever.)

  33. MM,
    Your responses exhibit a conditioned response (not a decision or judgement) to stimuli.

    To substantive questions, you respond with invective.

  34. OK, let’s play this game.

    To the substantial question of whether we should be provoking Iran by sabotaging Iranian financial institutions, you respond …what?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.