Israel opened a road in the West Bank on Thursday morning with a physical barrier separating Israeli and Palestinian traffic, the first of its kind, drawing accusations of racism from Palestinian officials.
Israel’s Transportation Ministry said the road, including its security provisions, provided “a solution for all populations, Israeli and Palestinian.”
The newly inaugurated, five-kilometer Route 4370 is divided down its length by a concrete wall topped with fencing. Two lanes of the road connect the Geva Binyamin settlement, also known as Adam, north of Jerusalem, to the city’s French Hill neighborhood — and are open to Israeli vehicles and to Palestinians who have entry permits for Jerusalem. The other two lanes branch off and lead around the east and south of the city, without access to Jerusalem itself, and are for vehicles of Palestinians who do not have access permits for Jerusalem, according to a statement from the Binyamin Regional Council.
There are other divided roads in the West Bank, but none with a wall separating the two categories.
The opening of the road drew swift condemnation from rights groups, the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.
“This is an Israeli example of apartheid and racist separation that once existed in South Africa. Any Israeli who believes in democracy should feel ashamed about this new road,” PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Majdalani told The Times of Israel.
Israeli officials said Route 4370 is meant to ease traffic congestion at the Hizme checkpoint at the entrance to northern Jerusalem and strengthen the connection between the Binyamin settlement area and the capital city.
“Aside from the traffic congestion problems we’re solving today, we’re also strengthening Binyamin and inaugurating the natural and desired connection between the Binyamin region and Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said at Wednesday’s opening ceremony.
Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz said the thoroughfare was “nothing less than an oxygen pipe for residents of Binyamin and the surrounding area, who work, study and enjoy themselves in the capital city.”
The Jerusalem Municipality’s Moriah infrastructure company carried out the work on the road, even though it is not located in the municipality’s limits and is not expected to primarily serve residents of the capital. The barrier between the lanes is eight meters high, Haaretz reported.
The two lanes without access to Jerusalem were opened two weeks ago. The other two lanes, inaugurated on Wednesday, are currently open only from 5 a.m. to noon but will later be open around the clock.
The road was initially paved years ago, but its opening was delayed due to disagreements between the IDF and police over who would staff its checkpoints, a Haaretz report said. Authorities ultimately decided Border Police would be responsible for the checkpoints.
Israeli authorities welcomed the road’s opening as a boon for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The road is “an example of the ability to create a shared life between Israelis and Palestinians, while dealing with the existing security challenges,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said.
Palestinian Authority officials and rights groups said the road highlighted discrimination against Palestinians.
“Anyone with eyes in his head understands that it is impossible for years to maintain such a separation regime — it is immoral and impractical,” Aviv Tatarsky of the rights group Ir Amin said.
“All roads in the State of Palestine should be accessible to Palestinians,” PA Transportation Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Hamdan told The Times of Israel. “This new road is absolutely unacceptable and embodies barefaced discrimination against the Palestinian people.”
Jacob Magid and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.