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Israel restricts Palestinian lawyers’ access to West Bank detainees

Amira Hass | Haaretz

14 January 2010

Israel is prohibiting Palestinian lawyers and the relatives of Palestinian detainees from reaching a military tribunal via the Beitunia checkpoint west of Ramallah.

The prohibition, which has been in effect for the past three days, means that Israeli police are requiring Palestinians to use the Qalandiyah crossing 20 kilometers away, where they must produce an entry permit to Israel – which can take weeks to obtain – if they want to enter an Israeli military tribunal that is on West Bank land. The court lies 300 meters south of the Beitunia roadblock, and was built on land that is part of Beitunia.

The restriction contravenes a recent High Court of Justice decision opening Route 443 to Palestinian traffic.

The lawyers have declared a strike to protest the prohibition, and are not appearing in military court.

Military Judge Arieh Durani yesterday criticized the police for keeping the lawyers from adequately representing their clients.

“The court takes a very dim view of the authorities thwarting representation of detainees by not permitting their attorneys to cross at the checkpoint,” he said. He also imposed a NIS 1,000 fine on any lawyer who refrained from representing a client who is a minor.

Palestinians see the new rules as infringing on their rights as well as forcing them into de facto recognition of a border that is unilaterally determined by Israel. Since 1995, Israel has sought to make Qalandiyah the northern entry point of the so-called safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is far from the Green Line and the Latrun area, where the Palestinians wanted the entry point to be. The entire area south of Beitunia has gradually become off-limits to Palestinians since 2000.

Although the Israel Defense Forces has general responsibility for the area, the Jerusalem police and the Border Police are in charge of the checkpoint. Police first closed the checkpoint three weeks ago, telling the lawyers and relatives they had to enter through the Qalandiyah checkpoint.

But even those who go to Qalandiyah still need an entry permit to Israel, with no assurance that it will be granted. Moreover, crossing at Qalandiyah involves a long wait and additional travel expenses.

The attorneys went on strike when the restrictions were first imposed, and sent a letter of protest to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. A few days later, the checkpoint was reopened for those heading to the military court. However, at the beginning of the week the order was imposed again.

In 2001 the IDF completely blocked the road that links Beitunia with Ramallah and the surrounding villages. When the military court was moved in 2004 from Ramallah to the Ofer facility, the checkpoint was opened so that lawyers and relatives of the accused could get to the court.

No Israeli officials took responsibility for the checkpoint restrictions.

The IDF spokesman’s office told Haaretz to seek a response from the Israel Police. The Israel Police spokesman told Haaretz that the Jerusalem police and the Border Police are responsible for the passage of merchandise, not people, and that a response should be obtained from the Defense Ministry.