Since the second week of December 2005, the Israeli army had sealed off the northern areas of the West Bank from the rest of Palestinian territories, and barred the residents from traveling to Ramallah and areas in the south.
This ban was applied to 800,000 residents of the West Bank cities of Tulkarem, Nablus and Jenin and their surrounding vilages. Until January 2, the ban applied just to residents of Jenin and Tulkarem. Since then it has been extended to Nablus area residents.
The army did not issue an official order on the new restrictions; the residents figured it out at the permanent so-called "portable checkpoints" that barred them over the past four weeks from traveling south from the Za’atara junction in the north. The residents were not even informed how long the travel ban will be in effect.
According to the Israeli daily, Haaretz, Army cutt off direct traffic links within the northern West Bank by installing iron gates on the main roads.
Israeli Military sources told international organizations that this road will be closed to Palestinian traffic until the construction of an additional section of the wall near Shavie Shomron settlement is completed.
Additionally, residents between the ages of 16 to 30 will not be allowed to move through Israeli checkpionts in some West Bank areas.
Soldiers also barred residents of Tulkarem from entering Nablus through the Beit Iba checkpoint at the western entrance. Entry is permitted only from the northeast (via Tubas and Al-Badhan), which entails a detour of dozens of kilometers on long side roads.
Israeli army Spokesman’s Office told the Israeli daily Haaretz, that these procedures were applied "in the wake of many intelligence warnings and attempts by fighters in northern of the West Bank to launch attacks against the Israeli home front, a few barricades were erected to prevent vehicular traffic by the residents of Jenin, Tulkarem and Nablus south of the Nablus-Tulkarem line.
The office reported that the decision of preventing passage was based on a periodic evaluation of the situation.
In a letter sent last week by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to GOC Central Command, Major General Yair Naveh, said that there is concern that the travel ban was imposed as a punitive measure against the civilian population and is "therefore improper by dint of being a collective punishment strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law."
The letter by ACRI attorney Limor Yehuda explained that these "comprehensive travel bans" create "a disconnect between parts of the West Bank and populations and communities that are interconnected in all aspects of life, and brings in its wake a mortal blow to the ability of the entire population to maintain economic, social and cultural ties."
Meanwhile the Israeli army described this barring of movement from the northern West Bank to other areas a "differentiation.
This "differentiation" can be felt in the small number of Palestinian vehicles on the roads, as well as in the very lengthy period of time cars and people have to endure in exiting the Huwwara checkpoint, south of Nablus, and at the sudden checkpoints set up at exits from side roads used by Palestinians.
However, according to activists of the Machsom Watch, which is an Israeli human rights organization that documents the policy of restricting the Palestinian freedom of movement, the "differentiation" is lasting longer this time and is being enforced in a more strict way.
At the Za’atara (Tapuah) checkpoint – which has been upgraded over the past two months into a giant "terminal" through which all Palestinian traffic from the northern and western West Bank is channeled – passage is being denied to Palestinians who have already passed through the screenings at all the preceding checkpoints, on foot or by car, and whose identity cards list them as residents of the northern West Bank.
Machsom Watch activists have documented numerous occasions on which students and other residents from the Tulkarem and Jenin areas were either prevented from entering Nablus or were warned that once they entered, they would not be allowed to leave.