Aug 17 2006

Hard Crossings

Published by at 2:27 am under Blogs

The following appeared in the NY Times web site TimesSelect under the heading in the line of fire. Some reactions to the article are also posted below:

Hard Crossings

By Daoud Kuttab, Ramallah, West Bank
Expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons …

Calls on Israel and Lebanon to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons …

The above are two excerpts from the recently approved United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. Due to the political and military situation, I feel rather confident that the displaced Lebanese (and certainly the Israelis) will be allowed to return to their homes (though the condition those homes will be in — if they are even still standing — is another matter.
Nevertheless, I thought of the issue of displacement as I was traveling across the Jordan River from Amman to Ramallah using an international crossing point that bears three names; Jordan calls it the King Hussein Bridge, Israel calls it Allenby Bridge and the Palestinians call it Al Karameh Crossing Point.

I am not going to talk about the 3.5 million Palestinians who, along with their children, are registered refugees since 1948, or the 770,000 Palestinians displaced in 1967. I am just talking about the Palestinians legally allowed to live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but have no access to the rest of the world except through two tightly controlled crossing points.
These border points are actually points of long and continuous suffering, especially during the hot summer days. Thousands of Palestinians spend long hours, often with their children, waiting to cross this temporary border between areas controlled by the Israeli army and Jordan. After the capture of an Israeli soldier in June, those living in Gaza can no longer use this location but are obliged to use the Rafah crossing point, which has been largely closed for over 50 days.


The Jordan River bridge is open for a few hours in the morning and afternoon, which adds to the overcrowdedness and sufferings of individuals and families. While a few cosmetic changes have occurred since 1967 to speed up the travel proceedings, the journey from Jerusalem/Ramallah to Amman or the return trip, which used to take a little over an hour, can now take up to 12 hours. No Palestinian is allowed to make the entire journey in his or her car or any other vehicle.
An improvement occurred during the first years after the Oslo Accords when Palestinian police along with Israeli officials were located at the Israeli-controlled point and the bridge was allowed to be open around the clock. But after the outbreak of the 2000 intifada, the Palestinian police were kicked out by the Israelis and the hours were reduced.
Now the crossing is run entirely by Israeli military and civilian officials and workers with little concern for or interest in the Palestinian people they have to process. The young male and female reserve soldiers at these posts, who are themselves not too pleased with being at this temporary job, often treat the ordinary Palestinians they encounter with arrogance, and even racism.


The expense of travel across this Israeli-controlled point is also unbelievable. The total amount, for permit fees and exit tax, can reach up to $80 per person. For a big family, this plus the cost of transportation easily tops $100 per person. Out of this amount at least $15 per person of the exit tax is earmarked for the Palestinian Authority, but these funds have not been turned over to the Palestinian Authority since last January’s parliamentary elections.


Those not wanting to wait for hours in the hot summer sun can use a special V.I.P. service that is nothing less than highway robbery. To be allowed to bypass the long lines of buses, a van service charges a hefty $82 per person to make the three-kilometer journey between the two banks of the Jordan. A family of five would have to pay up to $800 in travel costs, travel fees, exit tax, V.I.P. service and travel costs on the other side to make the entire 90-kilometer journey from Jordan to the West Bank. Of course, all this depends on having the acceptable travel documents and the Israeli border police permitting you and your family to enter or leave.


I certainly hope that our Lebanese friends will be allowed to return despite the presence of Israeli soldiers in areas south of the Litani. I would hate to think what would happen to them if the Israeli presence, God forbid, become permanent and they would have to go through what Palestinians, after 39 years of occupation, have been going through.


13 comments so far…


1.August 16th, 2006


7:51 am If, after the disengagement, Gaza residents had fired off proposals on border crossings instead of ketusha rockets on Sderot they would have my sympathy and support. But they didn’t & they don’t. – Posted by rk


2.August 16th, 2006


8:10 am Daoud Kattab seems to write but doesn’t hear what he writes. The border crossings got much better after the Oslo accords until the Palastinians started a war AGAIN. 1948, 1967,1973 and again. Isreal has no partner to negotiate with,you want to vote for theives and terrorist,don’t expect your neighbor to treat you with respect. The culture seems to reward the killer and murders not the peacemakers, thats the bed you are making don’t expect someone you call your enemy to let you prance around with guns and body bombs without very very tight restrictions



— Posted by H Brownstein


3.August 16th, 2006


9:36 am If the ordinary Israeli knew first hand what Palesinians experience every day, I am sure public opinion would soon ask for a change.


The excesses of racism in the US, reinforced by the non-violent actions of the rev. Martin Luther King, finally brought about some changes in US public opinion, which eventually led to changes in the laws.


Maybe passive resistance on the part of Palestinians would be more effective than suicide bombings in bringing about change in Israeli public opinion. Violence seems to only engender violence from the other side.


— Posted by Martin Ben-Ari


4.August 16th, 2006


9:44 am The refugees from the south are largely Shia, and too many declare ” We are all Hizbollah”


They rejoice in Hizbollah’s ‘great victory’.


Given that Hizbollah has hidden itself among civilians for the entire duration of the war,


Israel MUST ensure that there are no fighters among the returnees, so inspection and delay will be inevitable.


— Posted by c klein


5.August 16th, 2006


9:56 am Try the lines at Heathrow, and many other airports. The problem is how to protect against those who wish to gain entry to Palestine or an airplane to cause injury and death to innocent civilians. We all suffer because of the actions and intentions of a few. If the PA would stop the terror, the bombings and the rockets then I suspect entry would not be an issue.
— Posted by Norman Gelfand


6.August 16th, 2006


12:09 pm Despite the numerous proposals/pleas for more sensible border crossing arrangements, Israel invited the attacks from more radical elements by its intransigence. Its stance invites no sympathy. If it wants rockets, it will have them, sadly.


— Posted by Todd


7.August 16th, 2006


12:31 pm So long as the Lebanese refugees aren’t strapping bombs to themselves and blowing themselves up in schoolbuses and pizza shops, I don’t see why you’re making this comparison other than as an attempt to demonize Israel. The security checkpoints were set up over time as just that: security checkpoints. When the Rafah crossing point briefly opened up with very few restrictions after the beginning of disengagement, weapons from Egypt flowed into Gaza with just as few restrictions from the Palestinian government. Israel has time and time again offered to open the Kerem Shalom crossing, and the Palestinian government always refuses… free travel for citizens is not the only reason. It is clearly also the desire for free shipment of artillery.


Lebanon is not Gaza, and Lebanese are not Palestinians. Israel is concerned about keeping its citizens safe. …

— Posted by Michelle


8.August 16th, 2006


12:51 pm I too feel sympathy for the Palestians, but I wish they had spent their time and energy to build a civil society than shooting rockets. The day that the Arab world welcomes Palestinian refugees in their midst as full citizens rather than keeping them in refugee camps, I will believe that they care more about loving their Palestinian brethren than hating their Israeli cousins.

— Posted by Ed


9.August 16th, 2006


2:56 pm The “disengagement” from Gaza was unilateral, specifically designed so that Israel did not have to negotiate with the representatives of the Palestinians and thereby recognize them as a legitimate nation with legitimate representatives and real claims on territory that Israel someday hopes to encompass.


Neither Israel nor the US have ever listened to the numerous protests petitions and representations made by the Palestinian authority about conditions in the territories. Instead they have made demands, presented requirements and, when the domestic political situation seemed to require it, attacked and imprisoned Palestinians and their representatives.


I am throughly tired of the fantasy that some peace loving, supremely perfect Palestinian could somehow say the right words in the right way to reassure Israel and bring change to the Middle East.


If Ghandi appeared in the occupied territories tomorrow and everyone listened to him he would be in an Israeli jail or blown up by Israeli jets within a week.


— Posted by Chris Martin


10.August 16th, 2006


3:56 pm Thank you for this excellent summary. These measures seem designed to turn the Palestinian Territories into giant internment camps.


— Posted by Anne


11.August 16th, 2006


4:19 pm Deeds, not words sometimes count. The Palestinians had the opportunity to create some sort of civil society in Gaza after the disengagement. Have they done anything productive or merely armed to attack Israel within its borders? There needs to be some responsibility on the part of the Arab/Muslim world to improve their own society and not blame Israel or the US for everything. Jews could have wrapped themselves in a strict victimology after WWII and chose not to. I doubt that Israel would like to have to worry about checkpoints and the like, but if they didn’t keep control of their border, they would have to endure yet more suicide bombs. Criticism of Israel is within the bounds of discourse in the US, but until there is a similar level of criticism of Islamic extremism, I can’t take it seriously, especially when Islamic extremism is driven by pure hatred of Jews.

— Posted by Ed


12.August 16th, 2006


4:30 pm rk is mistaken. Palestinian militants fired Qassam rockets, which are far more primitive and far less destructive than “ketusha” [sic] rockets. Indeed, [few] Israeli civilians have been seriously injured, let alone killed, by these rockets.


Compare this to the killing of an entire family on a Gaza beach by the Israelis and you begin to see why rk’s position is untenable.


Thank you, Mr. Kuttab, for an excellent overview.

— Posted by Gregory


13.August 16th, 2006


9:38 pm When you hold people down,take their land,deny them jobs,and bulldoze entire blocks of homes, you create the next generation of suicide bombers.The cycle will continue until Israel sees you can not keep people in camps with no hope or honor.I believe Jerusalem should be declared an international city and be patroled by UN troops.There will be no peace till the world steps in and holds both sides to an agreement.


— Posted by Susan Luther




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