The Israel Defense Forces has been constructing a major new checkpoint south of Nablus, at the Zaatara (Tapuah) junction, for checking Palestinian cars arriving from the northern and western parts of the West Bank.
The checkpoint was decided upon by the IDF Central Command nine months ago, according to military sources. It will have 10 lanes: six for southbound vehicles; one non-check lane for Israeli cars; one lane for vehicles designated “humanitarian,” and two lanes for northbound vehicles.
The sources said northbound Palestinian vehicles would be checked only in special cases.
The IDF has thus far not made provisions for pedestrian traffic at the checkpoint.
The checkpoint is going up below the hill on which the Tapuah settlement is situated. According to the military sources, the decision to build it was part of a Central Command plan for “shaping the zone.” It is scheduled to begin operating in about two months.
The reported IDF measures over the last few days to sever the northern West Bank from its central region are nothing new. They were previously introduced as preventive or responsive measures, to a varying degree of harshness, and are integrated into the permanent plan, of which the new checkpoint forms a central part.
Nablus Governor Mahmoud Alloul believes the checkpoint will complete the IDF’s efforts over the past five years to disconnect Nablus and Jenin provinces from the rest of the West Bank – by closing roads to Palestinian traffic, blocking secondary roads, and erecting other mobile and immobile roadblocks.
Alloul told Haaretz last week that, based on the experience of the past few years – especially the development of the Qalandiyah checkpoint south of Ramallah – he has concluded that Israel will gradually treat the Zaatara checkpoint as “an international crossing,” which is ostensibly situated between Palestinian and Israeli territory, just as the Qalandiyah checkpoint grew from an improvised checkpoint into a crossing that looks like a border terminal. This will complete the transformation of the Nablus-Jenin region into a separate canton severed from the central West Bank, Alloul said.
A diplomatic source who has been monitoring restrictions on mobility in the West Bank sees the new checkpoint as part of the big picture of creating three separate blocs in the West Bank, through Israeli control over and expansion of roads running east-west, and by expanding construction in area settlements. In this way, the new checkpoint fits in with the ever-growing Trans-Samaria Highway and with a series of roadblocks cutting off the secondary roads exiting from the villages east of Tapuah junction.
West of Qalandiyah checkpoint, in the center of the West Bank, stretches the Modi’in-Givat Ze’ev road, on which Palestinian traffic is prevented through a host of dirt roadblocks and locked gates at the exits of villages. Thus, the natural direct links between the northern and southern Ramallah regions were severed.
Eastward, mobile checkpoints on Highway 60, the so-called “Jerusalem envelope” wall, the checkpoint at Abu Dis en route to Bethlehem, and the accelerated construction in the settlements east of Jerusalem create a barrier between the West Bank’s center and south.
In the past five years, the Tapuah junction has had an improvised checkpoint at the end of a narrow two-lane road. When Israeli cars, usually belonging to settlers, or ambulances circumvented the long line of Palestinian cars headed south, the northbound lane was blocked. This past year, the road was widened to enable Israeli cars to pass without creating traffic jams.
The wait at this checkpoint can vary from 10 minutes to an hour or two depending on the type of check performed (a mere glance, examining IDs, checking the car and holding up each car for a lengthy period), the attitude of the soldiers, their work pace and the time of day. Sometimes a temporary checkpoint is erected to check cars coming from the west (some of which had evaded the regular checkpoint by driving through local orchards and village pathways).
The new checkpoint will be located in the bottleneck into which will flow all the Palestinian traffic coming from north and west.
Military sources said the checkpoint is intended to speed up the current system of security checks and prevent jams. The same was said, however, when expansion work began on the Qalandiyah checkpoint, and before it was decided to build the separation wall directly south of Qalandiyah.