Jerusalem24 – B’Tselem – On Wednesday morning, 1 December 2021, the Israeli military blocked off three entrances to the village of Deir Nizam in Ramallah District, which is home to about 1,000 residents. It installed a manned checkpoint at the fourth, main entrance, where soldiers detained cars driving in and out of the village. They demanded to see the passengers’ ID cards, searched their belongings, asked them questions, and created traffic jams. Fifty days later, on 20 January 2022, the military reopened the three side entrances. The checkpoint at the main entrance remains in place, and soldiers continue to check vehicles crossing it at least twice a day.
The closure severely disrupted life in the village: any resident wishing to enter or leave, for any reason, had to pass through the checkpoint and get permission from the soldiers, without knowing how long it would take and whether he or she would arrive at their destination on time. Among those forced to wait at the checkpoint were 300 or so residents who work or study outside the village and had to cross the checkpoint twice a day. Also, as there are no clinics in the village, residents in need of medical attention could only receive it outside the village, depending on the soldiers’ permission. People outside the village preferred not to visit to avoid inspection at the checkpoint. This created a shortage of goods in the village’s only grocery store, forcing residents to stock up on groceries in nearby villages.
During the month and a half in which the village was closed off, the military conducted 17 patrols at various times, intimidating the residents. In 11 of these patrols, military jeeps roamed among village homes; in six, soldiers fired tear gas canisters and hurled stun grenades in the streets. At no point during the closure were stones thrown at Israeli security forces within the village. Soldiers entered 16 homes on three separate nights, in one case arresting eight residents, including two minors. All eight were released without charges 17 hours later after they were briefly questioned about stone throwers. At one entrance to the village, soldiers detained three residents for some three hours and questioned them about stone throwers.
On 7 December 2021, at around noon, a military drone hovered over the village schoolyard during recess. Some 200 students attend the school. About a month later, on 18 January 2022, soldiers entered the schoolyard. Several soldiers went into one of the classrooms, blocked the doorway, and arrested two 17-year-old students. One was released 12 hours later, and the other is still in custody.
The residents were given no official explanation for the closure and the new checkpoint. However, soldiers told the village council head in passing that the reason was that children had thrown stones at settlers’ cars. In a conversation with soldiers at the checkpoint, Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham from +972 Magazine was told the checkpoint was meant “to create pressure on the village itself. We’re causing adults to be late for work in the morning, we’re making their daily lives difficult. When Abraham asked whether this was a form of collective punishment, the soldier replied, “Completely. It’s collective punishment over the whole village. The pressure on the adults, the ‘elders of the tribe’ as they’re called here, will make them put pressure on the little children, and therefore they will stop throwing stones.”
There is no way to justify this rationale: harming people who did nothing, and are suspected of no wrongdoing, to achieve a goal that is unrelated to them, which would not necessarily be achieved even if they wished to do so. That is why collective punishment is prohibited under both international and Israeli law and is immoral. Yet the occupation and apartheid regime prefers to ignore these fundamental principles. As long as the regime is not required to pay a price for its actions – this reality is unlikely to change.
B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad collected testimonies from several residents who described how the soldiers’ presence in the village affected their lives:
In a testimony she gave on 20 December 2021, Ayam Sufi (25), a Palestinian Authority employee, related:
I work at the Palestinian Ministry of Interior in Ramallah. On Wednesday, 1 December 2021, I went to work as usual. When I got to the main entrance to the village, I was surprised to see a checkpoint there. There was a long line of people waiting to get in and out of the village. The soldiers were checking the passengers’ ID cards, searching all the cars, and demanding to know where people were going, where they worked, and so on.
That’s been going on for the last 20 days. The Israeli military locked us down without telling us why. Usually, the delay in the morning lasts 15 to 30 minutes. I’ve been late to work several times. I have no choice but to get up earlier, so I can get to work on time. It’s really hard and the soldiers’ inspections are stressful.
The military closes our village off almost every year. When that happens, buses and taxis don’t enter the village and we all have to walk to Route 465 and catch a bus or a taxi from there. It’s almost a kilometer from my house to the road where I take a taxi to Ramallah.
Twice, when I got to the checkpoint, the soldiers informed me it was closed. One of those times was on 9 December 2021. I left home at 7:30 A.M. and when I got to the checkpoint, the soldiers said it was closed and would only open at 11:00. I didn’t go to work that day. I had to take the day off. There were five university students at the checkpoint, and they also had to go home and miss a day of studies.
A few days later, on 12 December, I was on my way home and got to the checkpoint at 7:00 P.M. The soldier there told me and other people who’d arrived that the checkpoint was closed and would only open in an hour. We stood there in the cold and waited. The soldiers at the checkpoint don’t treat us like human beings and don’t care about us.
In addition to closing off the village, all the military jeeps come in. Sometimes, the soldiers also fired tear gas. I worry about my younger brothers all the time. I’m afraid something will happen to them on the way to school or back.
Getting in and out of the village has become something unpleasant you only do if you have to. Our social life is completely on hold. No one even thinks about taking a trip out of the village now, or going to a restaurant or visiting people outside the village, even if they live in the neighboring village. Everyone thinks twice before they leave the village to attend a birthday, visit a sick person, or comfort mourners. People even think twice about going to a wedding. On 10 December 2021, my parents and I went to a wedding in the nearby village of Um Safa, but we came back early because we were afraid they’d hold us up at the checkpoint.
The small grocery store in the village has almost no products, and the merchants who usually come to the village don’t come now. We have to shop in Ramallah or nearby villages. In any case, we don’t have a real supermarket, butcher’s shop, bakery, or greengrocer. Now, even the grocery store is almost empty. If you run out of gas you’re in trouble, because it’s impossible to buy gas in the village. People are afraid to cross the checkpoint with a gas balloon because it might arouse the soldiers’ suspicions.
In a testimony he gave on 19 December 2021, ‘Abd al-Kashef ‘Eid (45), a father of five who works as a clerk, said:
I was born in Deir Nizam and work as a clerk in Ramallah. Because the military has closed the village off over the years, sometimes for long periods, and because the settlers act violently and harm the village with backing by the occupation, I rented an apartment in Beir Nabala four years ago. I pay about 200 Jordanian dinars (~280 USD) in rent, even though I have a house in the village. It’s a heavy financial burden. I only make NIS 4,000 (~1,240 USD) and have a large family to support and the children’s tuition to pay. Our quality of life is very low.
My parents still live in the village. They’re elderly and have various illnesses, and both need constant care. There’s no one to care for them except for me and my brother ‘Ali (40). He moved to Bitunya for the same reasons I did. We take turns coming to the village to be with our parents, to make sure they’re okay and take care of them.
Since the current closure was declared, I’ve visited them about six times. I usually go at the end of the workday, after I buy them vegetables and groceries in Ramallah. Since the closure was imposed, the village grocery store has been almost empty. I stay the night with my parents to avoid being delayed at the checkpoint at night and to be with them if anything happens, God forbid, and they need help. When I’m there, I feel like I’m neglecting my wife and children and I worry about them, too. The whole situation is very stressful and I find it hard to concentrate. When I’m not with my parents, I worry about them. I’m afraid something will happen in the village, even when my brother is there.
On the afternoon of 2 December 2021, I was in Ramallah when my mother called. She was very frightened and said soldiers had come into the house and were searching for it. She said they’d overturned the furniture, walked through the garden, and soiled the house, and that she and my father didn’t understand what they wanted from them. I tried to calm her down and talk to my father to check how he was doing, but he was nervous and didn’t want to talk. I got very stressed and didn’t know what to do. I stayed on the line with them for about 15 minutes, until they told me the soldiers had left. I couldn’t go straight to the village because I was told the entrance was closed and the military wasn’t letting anyone in. That evening, I went to my parent’s and stayed the night.
On Monday, 13 December 2021, at 10:00 A.M., my mother called and said that my father wasn’t feeling well and had a high temperature. I drove quickly to the village. Of course, the soldiers at the checkpoint detained me for about 20 minutes. There were only two cars ahead of me, and two soldiers motioned me to stop and ignored me, even though I was flashing my lights and honking. I stood there until an officer came over and asked why I didn’t call for an ambulance. He let me through after I explained that by the time an ambulance arrived, I’d already be with my father at the hospital in Ramallah. I took my parents to the hospital, where my dad was examined and released. That night, they slept at our house so they wouldn’t have to cross the checkpoint again.
You can read more testimonies at B’Tselem’s website here