New apps help Pales­tini­ans nav­i­gate Is­raeli check­points

Free apps launched are still in their in­fancy

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

QA­LANDIYA CHECK­POINT: A pair of new mo­bile apps hopes to help Pales­tini­ans nav­i­gate their way around snarled traf­fic at Is­raeli check­points in the West Bank, offering a high-tech re­sponse to an in­tractable prob­lem: con­stant, bur­den­some and of­ten seem­ingly ran­dom re­stric­tions on move­ment.

“Azmeh,” which means traf­fic jam in Ara­bic, and “Qa­landiya,” the name of a ma­jor Is­raeli check­point on the out­skirts of Jerusalem, join a slew of other global traf­fic apps, in­clud­ing the Is­raeli-de­vel­oped Waze.

What sets the two Pales­tinian apps apart is how they go be­yond daily rush hour traf­fic and touch at the heart of a cen­tral Pales­tinian crit­i­cism of Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion. They are de­signed to run on slow lo­cal net­works - a ne­ces­sity be­cause Is­rael has not granted Pales­tinian telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion com­pa­nies swifter 3G ac­cess.

The free apps, launched over the last month, are still in their in­fancy, with only a few hun­dred down­loads each. But as they grow in pop­u­lar­ity, their de­vel­op­ers say the crowd­sourced apps present a par­tial so­lu­tion to the jams that check­points cause, and they hope will catch on with driv­ers. “The oc­cu­pa­tion af­fects the Pales­tinian peo­ple from all as­pects, and takes from them lots of rights. One of those rights is the free­dom of move­ment,” said Basel Sader, 20, a Pales­tinian res­i­dent of east Jerusalem and a law stu­dent at Jerusalem’s He­brew Univer­sity who de­vel­oped Azmeh. “This ap­pli­ca­tion can’t give them the free­dom of move­ment but it can make things eas­ier for them.”

Is­rael op­er­ates a se­ries of check­points that dot the West Bank and sep­a­rate it from Is­rael, re­strict­ing travel for Pales­tini­ans on a num­ber of roads. When ten­sions are height­ened, a 120-mile (200 - kilo­me­ter) jaunt from the southern tip of the West Bank to the north can be­come a com­pli­cated jour­ney that could take hours. Check­points pose par­tic­u­lar prob­lems for Pales­tini­ans who want to en­ter Is­rael for jobs, fam­ily vis­its, med­i­cal care or to pray. Is­rael says the re­stric­tions are meant as a se­cu­rity mea­sure, and of­fi­cials note that the num­ber of mil­i­tary check­points has been greatly re­duced as violence has sub­sided over the last decade. But Pales­tini­ans see the lim­its on move­ment as a form of col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment that dis­turbs their rou­tine and can of­ten in­clude in­tru­sive and hu­mil­i­at­ing searches by guards.

In con­trast, Is­raeli set­tlers can travel freely in and out of Is­rael and pass quickly through mil­i­tary check­points set up to pro­tect their com­mu­ni­ties. Pales­tini­ans need per­mits to en­ter Is­rael, as well as Is­raeli-an­nexed east Jerusalem, and must pass through Is­raeli-con­trolled border cross­ings to en­ter neigh­bor­ing Jor­dan.

HIGH SPEED ROADS

This dual treat­ment also af­fects Pales­tinian travel in­side the West Bank. Well-main­tained, high-speed roads serve set­tle­ments and con­nect them to each other and Is­rael.

Pales­tini­ans are not ex­pressly barred from us­ing th­ese roads, but the high­ways usu­ally by­pass Pales­tinian com­mu­ni­ties. Many of the roads con­nect­ing Pales­tinian ar­eas are de­crepit and in poor con­di­tion. In times of con­flict, Is­rael also puts up ad­di­tional mil­i­tary check­points that can slow or halt move­ment be­tween Pales­tinian towns. The apps could relieve a bit of that bur­den. For now, they are used mainly for check­points sep­a­rat­ing Is­rael and the West Bank, where driv­ers are of­ten stuck for hours in a tan­gle of traf­fic. The apps are rel­a­tively ba­sic.

With Azmeh, users can post up­dates about the sta­tus of the hold-up at a check­point, us­ing green to mark no traf­fic, or­ange for mod­er­ate and red for heavy, al­low­ing other users to choose to di­vert to other, less clogged check­points. For now, the app tracks traf­fic at half a dozen check­points. Qa­landiya also has users mark the level of traf­fic at the check­point, us­ing green, red or yel­low car icons. Users can also in­form oth­ers if the check­point has been closed.

CON­GESTED ROUTE

Un­like Waze, the apps do not time the wait at a check­point or sug­gest a dif­fer­ent route. Users must de­cide that on their own. Milena An­sari, a 21-year-old from east Jerusalem who stud­ies at Birzeit Univer­sity in the West Bank, drives through the Qa­landiya check­point ev­ery day and uses the Azmeh app. “I check it ev­ery morn­ing when I wake up and de­cide which road to take,” she said. If Qa­landiya is backed up, she said she takes a longer but less con­gested route through a smaller check­point. She said she sends re­ports in when­ever she crosses. The apps them­selves are hob­bled by Is­raeli re­stric­tions. Ac­cord­ing to in­terim peace agree­ments, Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties con­trol cel­lu­lar net­works in the West Bank and they have not granted Pales­tinian telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion com­pa­nies 3G ac­cess, mean­ing many data-heavy apps can­not be used on the road. Pales­tini­ans who choose to sub­scribe to an Is­raeli cel­lu­lar provider can ac­cess 3G. Driv­ers us­ing the apps con­nect through 2G, a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of wire­less tech­nol­ogy that is slug­gish. “The lim­i­ta­tions of the In­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity cause us prob­lems,” said Ahmed Zay­toun, the de­vel­oper of Qa­landiya. “When I worked on the ap­pli­ca­tion, I made sure that it wouldn’t need a high speed (con­nec­tion).” Pales­tini­ans have been us­ing so­cial me­dia like What­sapp and Face­book groups to share traf­fic up­dates but Zay­toun said users were post­ing un­re­lated con­tent that made nav­i­gat­ing the groups cum­ber­some.

Mash­hour Abu Daka, a for­mer Pales­tinian min­is­ter of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy who now works as a con­sul­tant, wel­comed the apps but said they could only go so far in as­sist­ing Pales­tinian mo­torists in the face of Is­raeli re­stric­tions. “It will be help­ful. But it would be even more help­ful if we didn’t have check­points,” he said. — AP

JERUSALEM: In this Tues­day, Nov. 10, 2015 photo, a Pales­tinian driver shows the “Azmeh” ap­pli­ca­tion, which means traf­fic jam in Ara­bic, on his mo­bile phone as he waits in traf­fic to en­ter Jerusalem at Qa­lan­dia check­point be­tween Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ra­mal­lah. A pair of new mo­bile apps hopes to help Pales­tini­ans nav­i­gate their way around snarled traf­fic at Is­raeli check­points in the West Bank, offering a high­tech re­sponse to an in­tractable prob­lem: Con­stant, bur­den­some and of­ten seem­ingly ran­dom re­stric­tions on move­ment. — AP

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