A Choke Hold, Or Good Security?

Bryan Hopkins takes a breather from loading sandbags in Rocheport, Mo., on Tuesday May 8, 2007.
AP Photo/Dan Gill
Israel has completely sealed off some Palestinian territories with roadblocks and deep trenches. Palestinian towns and villages are cut off from Israel and in many cases, from each other, CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins reports.

The intermittent blockades of Palestinian areas range in intensity from almost total bans on movement through army checkpoints to selective controls on vehicles to unmanned obstacles on roads which slow journeys to a crawl.

Israel has in recent days allowed some trenches dug by its troops across highways around Palestinian areas to be filled in, but the remaining rubble barricades and trenches still block vehicle traffic in many areas of the West Bank, and Palestinians are barred from some stretches of highway near Jewish settlements.

In short, travelling from one Palestinian town to another nearby can still take hours, even by ambulance — if it's possible at all.

More than 120,000 Palestinian workers used to cross the border into Israel every day. Now, the gates are shut. Palestinians say they're inmates in the world's largest prison.

The Israelis call it "closure" and say its only purpose is to stop terrorism. To Palestinians, it's a siege and it's strangling their economy.

United Nations' and American diplomats predict that Israel's chokehold on the Palestinian economy could cause political chaos — and even worse, violence.

"The Palestinian economy is on the brink of collapse. The Palestinian Authority is beginning to disintegrate. A state of semi-anarchy and gang rule is engulfing the West Bank and Gaza," said Martin Indyk, U.S. ambassador.

With about 45 percent of Palestinian men out of work, the poverty rate has tripled to more than 50 percent. The UN has started emergency distributions of food. Militant Palestinian groups have always drawn most of their support from the poor. Now, every day of closure creates more and more of them.

"The closure and the killings have been radicalizing dramatically the Palestinian society and especially the younger generation," said Ghassan Khattib of the Jerusalem Media Center.

Israel is reconsidering its policy and may ease the economic crackdown, but Israel's defense minister says talk of anarchy in the Palestinian territories is overblown.

"We are far away from bringing collapse," said Benjamin Ben Eliezer, Israeli Minister of Defense. "I'm not concerned (about anarchy) and this is not my intention. It's not the intention of my government. Not at all."

But until Palestinians stop their violent protests and take steps to prevent terrorist attacks, Israel says it will keep bars on its doors, locking the Palestinians out even if it means locking them in.