Settlers block opening of West Bank road to Palestinians after 20 years

Watchdog group says Kedar residents prevented Israeli authorities from removing roadblock on route built during Second Intifada to allow direct access to settlement

Security forces scuffle with settlers who had barricaded themselves in an attempt to prevent the demolition of illegally constructed buildings, at the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank town of Ramallah, on July 28, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Jewish settlers confront Israeli soldiers in the West Bank

A road connecting the West Bank town of al-Eizariya to a road leading to Bethlehem has been blocked to Palestinians for the past 20 years. Now, Jewish settlers are allegedly preventing Israeli authorities from removing a roadblock that would allow Palestinians to be able to use it.

The decision to reopen the road for Palestinian vehicles was made by Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, commander of the IDF Central Command, who has formal legal authority over the West Bank as military governor of the area.

But noticing work meant to remove the roadblock last week, about 200 settlers from the Jewish settlement of Kedar gathered nearby and blocked the road, preventing Israeli authorities from completing the work, according to settlement watchdog Peace Now.

A report released by the group last week said an attorney representing Kedar sent an urgent request to Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanding the road work be halted immediately.

The road, built in 2003 during the Second Intifada, is meant to provide residents of Kedar, located just north of al-Eizariya and home to some 1,500 residents, with direct access to the settlement.

The route has been closed to Palestinians, however, who are unable to drive through Jerusalem and thus must use an alternative road called Wadi Nar (“the Valley of Fire” in Arabic) — which is considered unsafe due to its sharp turns and steep slopes — when traveling between the southern and northern West Bank.

“For 20 years, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian vehicles have been forced to use a slow and jammed road on a daily basis, while a handful of settlers have an alternative and open road,” Peace Now said. “When the state finally decides to open the road for Palestinians, settlers prevent it by force.”

Yossi Azar, a member of Kedar’s executive committee, said it was the fourth time residents of the settlement prevented the roadblock’s removal.

“The Wadi Nar road is an evil one. Hardcore Palestinians use it and there are many hostile villages in the area. Just last month someone placed a pipe bomb nearby. We’re talking about tens of thousands of vehicles, we will become a minority,” he was quoted as saying by the Haaretz daily.

The decision to open the road to Palestinians was made after the mayor of the nearby Ma’ale Adumim settlement sent a letter to Fuchs asking he consider removing the roadblock, which would ease traffic jams in the area.

Fuchs later concluded that the move would not endanger residents.

View of the Jewish settlement of Kedar in the Judean desert, on October 26, 2019. (Sara Klatt/Flash90)

Opening the road “is meant to improve the transportation situation,” a statement issued by the IDF said.

“The request was examined by all relevant entities and after concluding that it would not pose a threat to the residents, it was decided to reopen it.”

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