Nablus, occupied West Bank – There are at least seven Israeli military checkpoints and countless armed soldiers on the 6km (3.7-mile) stretch of road that runs through the Palestinian town of Huwara.
For the past 55 days, the town, located south of the city of Nablus, has been under a suffocating closure imposed by the Israeli army and residents who have likened the residents to a prison.
At a roundabout in the center of town, soldiers took out a large building under construction and placed snipers and sandbags on all four floors. Large Israeli flags are covered by enormous concrete structures.
“Huwara is living in the worst state in recent history,” Mansour Dmaidi, a 65-year-old lawyer and resident told Al Jazeera. “It was not as bad as during the Al-Aqsa Intifada [2000-2005].”
While Huwara has suffered repeated closures over the past year and a half, the restrictions were re-imposed on October 5, days before the Gaza-based armed group Hamas launched an attack on the territory in Israel, which killed about 1,200 people.
Israeli forces said a Palestinian shot at a settler’s car that day, injuring no one. The man was shot dead by soldiers at the scene.
Hours later, Israeli settlers attacked houses in Huwara and shot dead 19-year-old Palestinian Labib Dmaidi, while he was standing on the roof of his uncle’s house.
Since then, the area has become a ghost town, where life has become more difficult for the town’s 8,000 residents after October 7. Since then, Israel has killed more than 15,000 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, most of them women. and children. .
Huwara, located on the highway that runs north-south from Jenin to Hebron, was once one of the busiest commercial centers for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, its local businesses relying on -facilitate the travel of Palestinians from outside the city.
In the past two weeks, about 80 of Huwara’s 800 businesses have been allowed to open by the army, including gas stations, bakeries, pharmacies and supermarkets.
But road closures and heavy militarization of the area, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, mean that movement and business remain stagnant.
“Huwara is considered the gateway to Nablus. It is an urban commercial center. And now the city has become a military camp,” said Mansour.
At least 700,000 Israeli settlers live in fortified illegal settlements among, and around, Palestinian neighborhoods, cities and villages in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The majority of Israeli settlements are built either in whole or in part on stolen private Palestinian land.
Settlers often come with heavy militarization and closure. Before the events of October 7, there were at least 645 Israeli military checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles to Palestinian activity in the areas.
Like Shuhada street in Hebron’s Old City, most shops in Huwara were forced to close and residents were forbidden to even walk on the town’s main street until less than two weeks ago.
“We have been open for a few days. Look at the state of the city – it’s depressing… It makes you cry,” Mansour said.
The situation is a microcosm of daily life for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since then.
As it launched an ongoing military offensive in the besieged Gaza Strip, killing more than 15,00 Palestinians – most of them women and children – the Israeli army imposed severe restrictions on movement in the occupied West Bank.
The further closure of Huwara and nearby towns means residents are forced to use mountainous backroads through Palestinian villages to access basic goods. What used to be a 10-minute car ride now takes hours.
Abdelrahman Dmaidi, a 21-year-old journalist from Huwara, said it is now a military zone.
“Huwara is divided into north, south, east and west. Before the limited opening, I had to walk 2km [1.2 miles] through the fields to find a car to take me to Beita to buy groceries and come back,” Dmaidi told Al Jazeera.
“The towns southwest of Nablus have to buy from the villages of Einabus and Jamma’in, for example. Those in the west must go to the villages of Beita and Aqraba.
“Residents want our shops closed so they can pass without any chaos. They are destroying our economy,” Dmaidi said, noting that commerce is at “15 percent of what it used to be.” ” before the recent shutdown.
Huwara and the villages south of Nablus are among the Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank most affected by Israeli settler attacks.
They lie between four illegal settlements, known to be some of the most violent in the West Bank, and have suffered under openly racist Israeli ministers in recent years.
On February 27, hundreds of residents stormed Huwara, committing what was described as a “pogrom” that left a 37-year-old Palestinian man dead, hundreds of others injured, and dozens of vehicles and houses were burned.
The attack alone caused at least 18 million shekels ($5m) in damage to Huwara. Closures since then have added to the burden.
Shortly after the attack, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also has authority over the army, called for the city to be wiped out, further infuriating the residents.
In several documented attacks on settlers, especially in Huwara, the Israeli army and settlers were seen working in coordination, sometimes firing live ammunition at Palestinians simultaneously.
On November 12, Israeli authorities opened a “bypass road” in Huwara – a road built for residents to avoid driving through Palestinian villages. To build the 7.5km (4.7-mile) road, Israel stole private Palestinian land from the villages of Huwara, Burin, Beita, Awarta, Yasouf, Yatma, and as-Sawiya.
It serves four settlements: Yitzhar, Itamar, Har Bracha and Elon Moreh, with a combined population of only 8,000 inhabitants.
“The Huwara Bypass Road was developed for the benefit of several thousand residents living in an area with approximately one million Palestinians,” the rights group Peace Now said.
After the inauguration of the bypass road, the Israeli army decided to reopen the main road in Huwara and allow shops to open, but the residents blocked the decision.
Until days ago when the main road to Huwara was opened to extremely limited traffic, both routes were closed to Palestinians.
Mohammad Dmaidi, the father of the murdered teenager Labib, has not only lost his son, but he has also been unemployed for the past 55 days.
“The residents have been asking until now that the main road and our shops remain closed, even though a bypass road has been opened for them,” Mohammad, who is a distant relative of journalist Abdelrahman Dmaidi, told the Al Jazeera.
“There are at least 800 stores. That’s at least 1,200 household heads, meaning at least 4,000 people live in these shops,” Mohammad explained.
“We don’t know where things are going – nobody knows. Everyone is focused on Gaza while Huwara is suffering for more than a year, but no one is talking about it.