Israeli political discourse relies on terms that have become so distorted in meaning that the understanding of the reality behind them has also been distorted. Here are some examples:
On the eve of the Aqaba summit, the Israel Defense Forces announced the “closure was lifted.” Radio reporters hurried to announce, “the closure is lifted.” Then everyone was amazed the Palestinians weren’t grateful. It should be said for the millionth time: The closure on the Palestinians is never lifted; it is only relaxed a little, sometimes. The closure regime was imposed on all Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and has continued, without release, since January 1991. That’s before Oslo, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and the suicide bombings in Israeli cities. Since then, Israel has maintained a sweeping policy that prevents travel by Palestinians. The military authorities grant travel passes to a minority of Palestinians. When the authorities want, it’s a large minority, and when they want, it’s a small minority.
There are “ordinary” closures that cover travel from the territories to Israel and from Gaza to the West Bank. And there are “internal” closures, which in the last two and half years have been very tight. Hundreds of checkpoints and blockades prevent travel from city to city, village to village. There are places where people are allowed to cross by foot, to walk one or two kilometers from one vehicle to another. Sometimes, in certain places, people are prohibited from leaving a village or city. People get through in roundabout ways. Often, they are caught by soldiers and, as punishment, are held for hours on a hilltop, at an intersection, in the sun, in the cold, throughout the entire West Bank. Palestinians are not allowed to travel on the main highways of the West Bank, which only settlers are allowed to use.
Israelis are convinced the checkpoints are meant to prevent terrorists from reaching the country. Nobody asks how the checkpoints between village and village or city and village service the purpose, even when the villages and towns are far from the Green Line or even a settlement. A checkpoint harms more than the economy. Its purpose is to harass and humiliate, on a daily basis. It means constant conflict with soldiers, like on Monday, at the Sudra checkpoint in northern Ramallah. Those passing through it need to walk about two kilometers on foot, from taxi to taxi. Ambulances are not allowed through. The elderly and the ailing are pushed in wheelchairs provided by Palestinian medical relief committees. Sometimes, when there’s no alternative, the sick are put on little carts that usually serve to carry heavy loads.
On Monday afternoon, an IDF squad made the men going home line up in two rows on both sides of the checkpoint. Those coming from Ramallah were checked and allowed to pass, at a slow pace. Those coming from the north, particularly students, were made to line up for an hour without anyone checking them. According to an eyewitness, a university professor, one soldier moved constantly along the line pushing them to “keep order.” The atmosphere was actually relaxed. It wasn’t too hot, the students chatted. One chuckled. The soldier got angry for some reason, jumped at the student and stuck the rifle butt into the student’s stomach. The student looked him straight in the eyes. The soldier made a fist and hit him in the face. (The IDF did not respond by press time.)
The original intention was to extend settlements during the Oslo process, without being stopped. Meanwhile, most have been legalized whether de jure or de facto. People forget that. Using the term “illegal” makes people forget the fact that international law prohibits all the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza because international law prohibits the occupying power from moving its population into the occupied territory. But forget international law. If it’s so natural for Jews from Tel Aviv and Ra’anana to move to new settlements near Ramallah and Hebron, why can’t Palestinians move from Ramallah and Gaza to neighborhoods near Tel Aviv (with government financing)? Why are extra rights enjoyed by Jews between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River so self-evident?
We don’t want to control the Palestinian population: Ariel Sharon said that to correct the impression left by his statement that the occupation must end. There’s nothing new in it. Already, at the start of Oslo, it was clear Israel didn’t want to be bothered by the annoying responsibility of controlling a civilian population that has no electoral rights and does not want to be ruled. Therefore, Israel transferred to the PA all the civic responsibilities, without granting the PA any authority over land in the West Bank. Would Jews agree to live in self-governing “Jewish Councils” in closed enclaves without any land reserves? Obviously not. Why should Palestinians agree to that, without land, water, and freedom of movement – the raw materials necessary for the development of any human community? So why regard the Sharon statement as a great achievement for the peace project?
Amira Hass is an Israeli living and working in the occupied territories. She is a journalist whose work appears in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz and is author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Seige (2000).
More articles By Amira Hass