A long line of backed-up traffic waits at Qalandiya checkpoint, December 20, 2023.


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As War Drags On, Palestinians Face Difficulties Reaching Jerusalem’s Center

On any given night, you might find rows of red lights lining Jerusalem’s skyline as cars entering the city sit in traffic for hours. Since October 7, 2023, when Hamas forces attacked Israeli settlements around the Gaza Strip, the government has greatly intensified restrictions on Palestinian movement—limiting the operational hours of checkpoints and blocking roads.

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“Everybody’s having meltdowns about this, because they’ve noticed that this is just another way for the Israeli government to control the Palestinians and to impart this kind of colonial mindset,” Ali Ghaith, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, told Jerusalem Story.1

Ali noted that when the war began on October 7, 2023, Israel completely shut down the Qalandiya checkpoint, the sole passageway for Palestinians coming into Jerusalem from the north. After two weeks, the checkpoint was operating again but only in a partial capacity, opening two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.

Qalandiya’s limited operation affected more than 150,0002 Palestinian Jerusalemites living beyond the Israeli-built Separation Wall (see Neighborhoods beyond the Wall), part of which separates East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank.3

The Separation Wall severing the Palestinian neighborhood of Kufr ‘Aqab from the rest of East Jerusalem, January 30, 2018.

A general view of the Israeli Separation Wall severing the Palestinian neighborhood of Kufr ‘Aqab from the rest of East Jerusalem, shown on January 30, 2018.


Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images

An interactive map of the Israeli military checkpoints around Jerusalem that control Palestinian access to the city


Jerusalem Story Team

Note that, referring to the map above, Palestinians with Palestinian Authority IDs are only allowed to use three of these checkpoints to access Jerusalem: Qalandiya in the north, Checkpoint 300 in the south, and al-Zaytun/Ras Abu Sbitan in the East (see Checkpoints, Part 1: Severing Jerusalem). Before the war, tens of thousands of Palestinians passed through the two largest checkpoints in the north and south daily. The traffic jams that ensued when so many people tried to cram through the checkpoint in such a short time resulted in waits of up to five hours, which clearly made getting to work, school, health care appointments, and the like extremely difficult, often impossible.

Residents Take the City to Court

The densely populated Palestinian neighborhood of Kufr ‘Aqab is within Jerusalem’s municipal borders, and Palestinian residents typically have an Israel-issued permanent-resident ID. In November 2023, several Jerusalem-based Israeli NGOs, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Ir Amim, along with residents of Kufr ‘Aqab, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to resume the checkpoint’s normal operation. In January 2024, the court ruled the government must solve the issue.4 The government responded in February by opening the checkpoint to traffic 24 hours a day.5

“Even though it’s open, the average waiting time for a car to pass through the checkpoint is still 20, sometimes 30, minutes, because they thoroughly inspect cars, phones, and people,” Ali said. And in the meantime, the line gets longer.

Amy Cohen, Ir Amim’s international relations director, confirmed Ali’s observation, telling Jerusalem Story, “There are family members who live in Kufr ‘Aqab with children whose schools are just over the wall, and it should take them five minutes to get to school, but it takes them five hours to get there now because of the traffic.”6 Each car must be inspected, and the soldiers are in no particular hurry to accommodate drivers.

The checkpoint system described here is only for Palestinian residents; Israeli Jews have unrestricted open access to the city at all times. 

“The checkpoints, whether open or not, are a source of resentment for many Palestinians,” Ali told Jerusalem Story.

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“The checkpoints, whether open or not, are a source of resentment for many Palestinians.”

Ali Ghaith, Palestinian resident of Jerusalem

“They aim to dehumanize Palestinians,” Ali said. “Soldiers and police harass people and they would make the waiting times longer on purpose. And it is just a way that tells you these people are just venting out on Palestinians.”

Ali told Jerusalem Story about his teenage nephew who is always harassed by the police when going to school.

“Many times he’s been beaten by these police because he was just passing by and waiting for the train to come so that he can go to school,” Ali said. “[Israeli police] kind of look at Palestinians in Jerusalem as a punching bag.”

Israeli border guards and police search a Palestinian youth outside the Lions’ Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem, October 13, 2023.

Israeli border guards and police search a Palestinian youth outside the Lions’ Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem, October 13, 2023.


Ahmed Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

With the restrictions on Qalandiya checkpoint, Palestinian commuters are looking for alternative routes to take, such as going through Jaba‘ checkpoint located near Qalandiya. At the outbreak of the war, the nearby Binyamin Regional Council, the governing body of 46 Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank, closed this checkpoint every day from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. citing alleged security concerns. Ali said the real reason was to facilitate the passage of Israeli settlers from the West Bank into Jerusalem. On March 5, the state updated the Supreme Court, informing it that the blockade is no longer in place.7

Just three miles away from Qalandiya is Hizma vehicular checkpoint, which many Israeli Jews use as it is a driving checkpoint for yellow-plated cars. Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank aren’t allowed to enter Jerusalem through Qalandiya, but they can do so through Hizma.

“Only Palestinians pass through [Qalandiya],” Abu Ashraf Suggayar, head of the Northern Jerusalem Committee who lives in Kufr ‘Aqab, told Jerusalem Story. “But [at Hizma] because they have Jews [passing], they’re open 24 hours and have no problem. They didn’t make any change there.”

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Checkpoints South of Jerusalem

At the other end of Jerusalem, the estimated 1,5258 residents of Bir ‘Awna neighborhood in the city’s south face a similar struggle. This neighborhood has a complex history, having been partially forcibly enclaved into the municipal boundaries in 1967 (see Neighborhoods beyond the Wall). The neighborhood has been ghettoized by the city. 

“Since October 7, the entrance of our neighborhood on the Israeli side has been blocked,” resident Zakaria Abu al-Halaweh told Jerusalem Story.9

For the first few months of the war, Israel shut the entrances to Beit Jala and Bethlehem for Bir ‘Awna, closed Checkpoint 300, which leads into the southern West Bank, and put cement blocks at the neighborhood’s entrance. An appeal to the Supreme Court led the state to open Checkpoint 300 from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.10

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“Since October 7, the entrance of our neighborhood on the Israeli side has been blocked.”

Zakaria Abu al-Halaweh, Bir ‘Awna resident

The other main entrances to the city for Bir ‘Awna—the Tunnels and al-Walaja checkpoints—remained open around the clock. According to Zakaria, this is because these checkpoints are frequented by Israeli Jews.

“They blocked the roads from my neighborhood toward these checkpoints, so the closure becomes only on the Palestinian side,” Zakaria said.

Like Kufr ‘Aqab, this neighborhood’s residents have Israeli permanent-resident IDs and pay municipal taxes but have few, if any, public services like medical clinics, schools, and garbage collection.

The Israeli military kept only the al-Nashash checkpoint open for southern Jerusalem and Bethlehem area residents during the war’s first months, Zakaria explained. While he mostly works from home, getting to coach his tae kwon do students in Jerusalem became almost impossible in such circumstances.

Israeli police gather after a Palestinian man was shot by Israeli security forces at a checkpoint south of Bethlehem, April 30, 2021.

Israeli police gather after a Palestinian man was shot by Israeli security forces at the al-Nashash checkpoint south of Bethlehem, April 30, 2021.


Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Just to arrive to the checkpoint, show my ID, and for the soldier to check my car—it took me four hours,” Zakaria said.

To get around these restrictions, Zakaria tried parking his car on one side of the neighborhood’s blocked entrance and his wife parked hers on the other side; the plan was to cross the checkpoint on foot and pick up the waiting car. This turned out to be no solution at all; they received fines for parking next to the cement blocks—allegedly an illegal parking zone. Zakaria insists that no signs were posted marking the area as off limits. He is convinced that the Israeli police are issuing fines just because many residents have tried to park there.

“Just to arrive to the checkpoint, show my ID, and for the soldier to check my car—it took me four hours.”

Zakaria Abu al-Halaweh, Bir ‘Awna resident

His family lives on the Jerusalem side of the Separation Wall, in the Palestinian neighborhood of al-Tur, and his wife’s family is in Beit Hanina, also inside the wall. Given the wall and the checkpoint that stands between them, family visits have been hard to challenging. “It was really hard for us to move [to the other side of the wall],” Zakaria said, noting how family plans were often canceled because of the restrictions. “Our daily life completely changed,” he said. “We’re disconnected from meeting them and staying with them as well.”

Zakaria feels he has no other choice, though, but to endure the checkpoints. He needs a permit to build a home in Jerusalem, which the state does not usually give Palestinians. If he builds without a permit, the state could find out and then give him the choice of self-demolishing it or billing him for the municipality’s demolition, which happens so routinely for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

What remains after the Israeli demolition of the Palestinian Shuqairat family home in Jabal Mukabbir, allegedly built without a permit, January 3, 2024

A Palestinian woman reacts amid the rubble after Israeli military excavators demolished the house of the Palestinian Shuqairat family, which was reportedly built without a construction permit, in the Jabal Mukabbir neighborhood of East Jerusalem on January 3, 2024.


Ahmad Gharably, AFP via Getty Images

“There was only this option for us—to live in a neighborhood beyond the wall in order to legally remain in Jerusalem and not lose my permanent residency, my ID,” Zakaria explained. “Just to be able to cross all these checkpoints every single day to have access to East Jerusalem.”

Checkpoints aren’t the only things being closed since the war began. Israel has repeatedly barred Muslims who aren’t residents of Jerusalem’s Old City from accessing al-Aqsa Mosque during Friday prayers. Rights groups are concerned access may become even more limited during Ramadan despite Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promises to maintain Muslims’ freedom of worship.11

“I feel disconnected from Jerusalem, which is the center of life for me.”

Zakaria Abu al-Halaweh, Bir ‘Awna resident

Palestinian Jerusalemite activist Samer Sinijlawi also noted how freedom of movement has been hampered by Israeli antagonism against Palestinians.

“Israelis don’t feel comfortable now to have Palestinian employees in public workplaces like shops and restaurants and those who are doing municipality work,”12 Samer told Jerusalem Story. “The level of hatred is very high, and the incitement against Arabs in general is causing a lot of friction. Sometimes it leads to violence.”

“Palestinians are less willing to work in West Jerusalem these days,” Samer added.

While restrictions have eased slightly as the war continues, Palestinians’ freedom of movement is still stifled under Israeli occupation.

“Even before October 7, we have been going through checkpoints every single day, even though we are holding these Israeli IDs. I feel disconnected from Jerusalem, which is the center of life for me,” Zakaria said.

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Ali Ghaith, interview by the author, January 29, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Ghaith are from this interview.


Neighborhoods beyond the Wall,” Jerusalem Story, accessed March 9, 2024.


Abu Ashraf Suggayar, interview by the author, January 30, 2024. All subsequent quotes by Suggayar are from this interview.


To Open the Qalandia Checkpoint for Regular and Full Movement,” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, January 10, 2024.


“Notice on Behalf of the Respondents,” Israel Supreme Court, March 5, 2024, sent to the author by Ir Amim.


Amy Cohen, WhatsApp message to the author, February 14, 2024.


“Notice on Behalf of the Respondents.”


“Neighborhoods beyond the Wall.”


Zakaria Abu al-Halaweh, interview by the author, January 30, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Abu al-Halaweh are from this interview.


“Notice on Behalf of the Respondents.”


Samer Sinijlawi, interview by the author, January 28, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Sinijlawi are from this interview.

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