In contrast to the “big bangs,” or the election of MK Amir Peretz as Labor Party chairman and the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from the Likud, the establishment of the southern border of the state of Ramallah is happening with nary a whimper.
Like the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, it is a unilateral Israeli move. Unlike the disengagement from Gaza, it is totally unilateral: There are no negotiations, and there is no involvement by the World Bank and quartet envoy James Wolfensohn to determine the transit arrangements.
The gradualness in the unilateral process of the establishment of the state of Ramallah makes each stage imperceptible, invisible and, in effect, trivial.
And what is more trivial than a few Palestinians who earn their living transporting packages in a handcart at the Qalandiyah crossing point? During the past two weeks, soldiers and officers of the Civil Administration have informed them that they are now forbidden to carry crates of fruits and vegetables for people crossing from the roadblocks southward. Go to Bitunia, west of Ramallah, they are told.
According to the IDF Spokesman and the Civil Administration, there is an explanation: “According to an order (from 1988) concerning the passage of goods, signed by the commander of the Central Command and the head of the Civil Administration (and which was amended in August 2005), any movement of merchandise in commercial quantities from the area into Israel, and out of Israel into the area, will be done only through the following crossing points for merchandise (“back to back”): The Gilboa crossing point, Sha’ar Efraim, the Bitunia crossing point and the Tarqumiya crossing point.”
The Gilboa, Sha’ar Efraim and Tarqumiya crossing points are more or less on the Green Line (pre-Six Day War border); Bitunia is deep inside the territory of the West Bank. These carters are not wholesale importers. They make their living from the packages that pedestrians carry at Qalandiyah. The carts are a miserable substitute for the taxis and cars that used to travel directly from Ramallah to the other villages and towns in the area and in the West Bank. It is the custom of the inhabitants of the nearby villages to purchase items that they do not find in the village in the market in Ramallah. A kilo or two are not sufficient for large families – hence the need for crates. But for the IDF and the Civil Administration, these crates are “merchandise” and “commercial quantities,” subject to the regulations of taxing and inspection at an “international crossing point,” between state and state. Israel and Ramallah. The border for pedestrians is Qalandiyah. The border for merchandise – Bitunia.
Ostensibly, this is “just” one of many instances of Palestinians losing their source of income, miserable though it might be, because of an Israeli military order. But, in fact, it is much more. This is a declaration of victory for the policy of Israel, headed by Sharon, which is aimed at butchering the West Bank into a number of disconnected area units. The southern border of the Ramallah area unit is delineated by Road 344 (Modi’in-Givat Ze’ev) – to which access from the Palestinian villages is blocked by concrete blocks and iron gates, by barbed wire fences and by two “international” crossing points: Bitunia and Qalandiyah. The rest of the borders of Ramallah – eastern, northern and western – are similarly defined.
In March 2001, the IDF began to position soldiers south of the Qalandiyah refugee camp – in addition to the permanent southern crossing point at Al Ram, which separates the West Bank from the Palestinian territory that was annexed to Jerusalem in 1967. The number of soldiers at Qalandiyah gradually increased, the crowding increased and the hours of waiting at the crossing point grew longer. In May 2002, the IDF began the earthworks that indicated the long-term plans. Cars bearing Palestinian license plates were gradually prohibited from going through, and sometimes passage was also denied to inhabitants of certain areas of the West Bank or of certain age groups. The route of the separation fence, which is indeed a wall, cuts the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part in this area.
Until further notice, West Bank inhabitants are allowed to go through this crossing point on foot. South of the roadblock, they enter taxis that will take them to their homes, so near and yet so far, over winding and secondary roads. Only Palestinians who are residents of Jerusalem can go through this crossing point, either on foot or in a vehicle (after a long wait). The concrete blocks that were positioned there initially have given way gradually to a monstrosity, the construction of which is now being completed: continuous watchtowers of reinforced concrete that purport to be an international “terminal” – a roofed structure, barbed wire that stretches from west to east and from north to south, separating kinfolk, separating people who until not long ago were neighbors who popped over to borrow sugar or play backgammon. All deep inside the West Bank.
Unlike the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Jewish settlements are not being evacuated from inside the area of the state of Ramallah. The disengagement from Gaza respects the Green Line. But the establishment of the Qalandiyah and Bitunia as “international” crossing points in the heart of the occupied West Bank entails the de facto annexation to Israel of a fat strip of territory from Modi’in to the Jewish settlements of Geva-Adam and Psagot. It means Israel is scoffing at and disregarding any international decision in the matter of a solution to the conflict. But Europe and America, which have signed these decisions, are behaving as though this were rain.