Last Thursday morning, two huge bulldozers dug into the earth energetically, as they have been doing in recent months, in a wadi north of Ramallah. Over the past two years, with the gradual closure to Palestinian traffic of all the roads in the West Bank, this wadi has become a central and important juncture crossed on foot nearly every day by hundreds or thousands of people on their way to and from Ramallah from the nearby villages and from the Jalazun refugee camp. Taxis drop them off on one side of the wadi and they climb down among the boulders and dirt up to the other side, where different taxis await them. This, of course, is when soldiers are not posted there with their weapons, gas grenades, and stun grenades, who stop people from passing.
Last Thursday, passage was prevented by a police jeep and a military van. There weren’t many people anyway because of the curfew on Ramallah (even before the renewal of the siege of the Muqata and its demolition). An ambulance traveling along the road that cuts across the wadi – and is forbidden to Palestinians – was stopped near the police jeep and examined.
An elderly woman stepped out of the ambulance and, with the support of a young woman, began to climb on the rocks of the northern slope, stopping to rest now and then on a boulder. At the top of the northern slope of the wadi, a car arrived and a man and a woman in their 30s got out. Both of them were doctors, who had been called urgently to the village of Sinjal (about 10 kilometers north of Ramallah). At night it had been totally impossible for them to get out, and a long, hard trip awaited them, which began with bypassing the police jeep and evading the policemen’s eyes and rifles.
All along the bulldozers were at work: A fence all along the road will prevent passage through the wadi and gradually complete the isolation of the Ramallah enclave, which has already been blocked to the south by a fence.
On Monday afternoon, intelligence warnings led to the blocking of all the routes to Palestinian neighborhoods in northern Jerusalem. A curfew was imposed on the village of Bir Naballah. At a large kindergarten in the village, with about 250 children aged three to five, teachers decided to hurry up and drive the kids to the A-Ram/Beit Hanina crossing point, home to their worried parents in East Jerusalem. There is no knowing how long the curfew will last and it is hard to keep so many small children in field conditions. The kindergarten teachers hoped they would be able to persuade the Border Police to let the children through, but instead the police began to throw tear gas and stun grenades at them – from a distance of only a few meters, according to one staff member. Some of the policemen held large dogs quite close to the children, which added to the huge panic. (The response of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman did not reach Ha’aretz by press time).
These two everyday scenes have long ceased to be news items, if they ever were. This is not only because of the terror attacks in Tel Aviv and Hebron, and not because of the nine people killed in the Israel Defense Forces attack yesterday in Gaza. They are not newsworthy in Israel because they are everyday occurrences. They are not “news” because in the spontaneous catalog that has been produced by Israeli society, and therefore also in the media, they are just more “tiresome” stories about Palestinian suffering, for which the Palestinians are to blame anyway.
No routine, mass suffering, Palestinian or otherwise, is newsworthy. After all, the people who determine the public agenda are mainly politicians and the elite. Usually, “suffering” has to be noisy, if not violent, if it is to be newsworthy and for the media not to cooperate with the authorities in muffling it. But the professional mistake here is that this is not a matter of news items about suffering, the aim of which is to arouse pity in someone. Whether it is a question of Palestinian suffering, or Ethiopian suffering, or the suffering of children below the poverty line – it remains a matter of government policy, hidden from the public even though in the long term, the public is affected by it.
Tear gas thrown by police at little children and preventing doctors from reaching their patients in the villages – this is a policy that is set from above, even if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not know about these things and did not sign the orders for every tear gas canister and every obstruction of doctors. The less that is known about this policy in Israel, the fewer questions are asked about its efficacy in the long term. The doctors could not go out at night to the village and the children – for fear of the tear gas and the dogs – did not go back to their kindergarten yesterday. But their suffering and their an gerare spurring anyone who wishes to take revenge and has already decided to die – more than the official calls to stop harming Israeli civilians are convincing them. No fence or blocked crossing point or tear gas will deter them.