This Friday over 1000 runners will take part in Palestine’s second Right to Movement Marathon (http://palestinemarathon.com/). Starting at the Church of Nativity, the course guides runners along the Separation Barrier in the West Bank, through two refugee camps and over a checkpoint, confronting restrictions to movement that Palestinians face daily, in violation of international law.
Runners will complete this loop 4 times, reiterating the severity of land loss in the West Bank. It is now impossible to secure a 26-mile stretch. Created as a symbol of the right to freedom of movement, the marathon highlights the virtual non-existence of this right in Palestine.
How is the right to movement restricted in Palestine?
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza face a barrage of restrictions to their daily movement, including:
- A 26-foot-high Separation Barrier running through the West Bank in contravention of international law as found by the International Court of Justice, separating Palestinians from their families and land, as well as their workplaces, schools and healthcare facilities.
- Further barriers exist to separate Gaza from Israel and Gaza from Egypt. (For the avoidance of doubt, these barriers were not included in the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Separation Barrier in the West Bank. There is no allegation that the routes of the Gaza barriers similarly violate international law, although the administration of their crossing points are extremely troubling from a freedom of movement perspective.)
- Restricted access to Israel and the Jordan Valley (and therefore the opportunity to travel internationally) – the Israeli army monitors all points of exit from the West Bank and Gaza (except for the Rafah Crossing from Gaza into Egypt which is administered by Egypt). Palestinians can only use a select few crossings, which are consequently extremely congested.
- Over 500 Israeli checkpoints and physical road obstructions which hinder movement on a daily basis,subjecting Palestinians to humiliating searches and severe delays, and
- Approximately 150 illegal settlements on Palestinian land, making 43% of the West Bank inaccessible to locals.
Other measures in frequent use include temporary (and therefore unpredictable) road blocks, curfews and a dual road system. B’Tselem reports that in February 2014, over 65 kilometres of roads in the West Bank were off-limits to Palestinians, reserved almost exclusively for the use of Israelis living in illegal settlements. The dual road system serves not only to segregate Israelis from Palestinians but also to increase delays for Palestinians on a daily basis, as they are forced to use alternative, longer routes.
In employing the measures above, Israel is violating their obligations under international law by denying Palestinians the basic human right to freedom of movement.
What is the right to freedom of movement under international law?
Freedom of movement is recognised under international law in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which state:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state; and
Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
Freedom of movement is also a prerequisite to rights protected under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These include the right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living the right to health, and the right to education.
Israel has ratified all of these international agreements and is therefore bound to uphold them within their jurisdiction under international law. The ICCPR, does, however, qualify the right to movement to some extent. It “shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.”
In other words, Israel can restrict the right to freedom of movement to the extent that this is necessary in order to avoid danger to national security or public well-being. The issue, however, with Israel’s application of these restrictions is that overwhelmingly they are:
- Disproportionate, blanket measures – applicable to all Palestinians (including children) with no assessment of the danger that any individual poses; and
- Discriminatory, based on ethnicity or nationalism – restricting the movement only of Palestinian residents, while Israelis and foreigners are free to move as they please.
This suggests a targeted discriminatory policy against Palestinians in violation of international human rights law and natural justice rather than an application of essential security measures. Beyond this, Israel’s military presence carries additional implications: on top of its human rights obligations, Israel also has duties as an Occupying Power.
How is the right to movement affected by the Occupation?
The law governing occupation is found in the Fourth Geneva Convention, which safeguards the humanitarian needs of civilians in conflict zones. It was not designed for an occupation lasting over 40 years, but as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is unprecedented, the Convention serves as the only basis on which to determine Israel’s accountability in its role as an Occupying Power.
The Convention requires Israel to minimise disruption to civilian life in the West Bank through various obligations, including:
- Ensuring the maintenance of medical services, public health and hygiene (Article 51);
- Preventing disruption to employment (Article 51);
- Facilitating the care and education of children, including access to their families (Article 50).
The restrictions to movement enforced in the West Bank encroach upon these safeguards in a number ways. As outlined above, Palestinians are prevented from accessing their schools and universities, medical services and hospitals. They are separated from their workplaces and cannot visit family members.
Further recent humanitarian reports warn of acute risks to public health as a result of these restrictions. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has highlighted the effect of restricted access to East Jerusalem (through checkpoints) on medical care in the West Bank, preventing Palestinians from accessing the six specialist hospitals which provide services that are otherwise unavailable to them. Additionally, in 2013, Amnesty International reported on the continued denial of permits to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, even for patients requiring urgent medical treatment.
In September 2012, Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition by five students from Gaza seeking to continue their studies at West Bank universities. The primary grounds for refusal was that “Foreign nationals have no vested right to enter Israel.” The fact that it is now physically impossible to travel from Gaza to the West Bank without passing through Israel was not addressed.
B’Tselem estimates that tens of thousands of Palestinians have lost their jobs in Israel as a result of increased restrictions to border crossings in recent years. Increased unemployment vastly increases the risks to healthcare, education and hygiene, all of which are protected under the Convention Articles listed above.
The seriousness of the problem is accurately summarised by Gisha, an Israeli not-for-profit organisation campaigning for Palestinian freedom of movement. As freedom of movement is a “precondition for exercising other basic rights”, the violation of it has a “multiplier effect” on education, jobs, families and healthcare.
A multiplier effect is also the goal of the marathon runners, who hope to encourage the creation of races around the world in support of their campaign for the Right to Movement. Participation has almost doubled since the inaugural event last year, and the event has already increased pressure on Israeli courts to allow the passage of Gazans to the West Bank. Gisha has filed petitions on behalf of runners from Gaza for two years’ running, although these have so far been rejected by the Israeli High Court. By “defying the constraint on freedom to move”, participants will attract global attention to a daily problem for millions of Palestinians over the last four decades.
Alicia Araujo Mendonca – LPHR Executive Committee
2. For information on the wall and its legal status, see reports by B’Tselem: http://www.btselem.org/separation_barrier, and Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/016/2004/en/394ffe87-d634-11dd-ab95-a13b602c0642/mde150162004en.html
3. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, The humanitarian impact of Israeli Settlement Policies January 2012: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_January_2012_english.pdf
5. B’Tselem, Checkpoints, Physical Obstructions, and Forbidden Roads 11 March 2014: http://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement/checkpoints_and_forbidden_roads
6. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 6 and 11-13.
7. Article 12, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
8. B’Tselem has documented numerous testimonies on the effects of restrictions to movement: http://www.btselem.org/testimonies?tid=51
9. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Movement and Access in the West Bank September 2011: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/8F5CBCD2F464B6B18525791800541DA6
10. Amnesty International, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories Annual Report 2013: https://www.amnesty.org/en/region/israel-and-occupied-palestinian-territories/report-2013
11. HCJ 495/12 Izzat v. Minister of Defence
12. B’Tselem, Restrictions of Movement: Effect of Restrictions on the Economy 1 January 2011: http://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement/economy
13. For information about Gisha, please see http://gisha.org/about/about-gisha
14. Gisha, HCJ petition: Allow a Gaza runner to participate in the Palestine marathon in Bethlehem 3 April 2014: http://gisha.org/updates/2756 and Gisha, Request made by Gaza athletes to participate in the all-Palestinian marathon in Bethlehem denied: http://gisha.org/legal/552