Oct 05 2001

Siege Getting tighter and tighter

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The invitation by the German representative office for a celebration at a Ramallah restaurant on the occasion of “German Unity” was normal. An addendum to the invitation was not normal. It expressed understanding by the Germans if the invited Palestinian guests couldn’t make it because of the difficulties in movement in the Palestinian areas.

Sure enough the party by a European representative, normally an occasion where Palestinians get to see other Palestinians suffered from the difficulties of not many people able to come. Foreigners by far out-numbered local Palestinians. There were hardly any Palestinians from Bethlehem, none that I saw from Hebron or Nablus. The few that was there were from Ramallah and Jerusalem, with those from Jerusalem leaving early prepared to go to battle at the Israeli check posts.

Check posts were naturally one of the main topics of discussions by all. A German professor married to a Palestinian was telling her friends how she has to carry an extra set of shoes that will be used for walking the dirt roads in Qalandia and Surda in order to get to Bir Zeit University. A Palestinian businessman who lives in Jerusalem but works in Ramallah was talking about his plans to install a shower in his office in order to clean up after a difficult and messy journey to work part of it by foot on dusty roads.

The discussions on Wednesday had taken place days after the Arafat Peres meeting and cease-fire agreement. The Israeli army, which was supposed to ease the siege, had done no such things, on the contrary the Qalandia check post had become even more inhumane. And then Peres’s statement, that areas that are quite will notice a gradual ease of the siege. That also turns out to be no more than PR aimed at diverting attention from the reality on the ground.

The mess at Qalandia is unbelievable. Literally thousands of Palestinians have to daily cross a stretch of unpaved and dusty lands, often walking between cars and trucks in order to get from one side to the other. Those wanting to drive into Ramallah have to wait for hours and are rarely guaranteed a chance to enter. Traffic jams are created because cars on both sides fight to reach the checkpoint first. Drivers argue for a long time with soldiers who decide on the spot whether to allow a car in or not. On the Ramallah side of the road a big mess exists because the area in and around Qalandia is in a legal vacuum. Most of that area belongs to the Jerusalem municipality and therefore is under Israeli military and administrative controls but the Israelis have abandoned it. The Palestinian police is not allowed in that area so it has become an area of chaos. At times young people from Qalandia try to help direct traffic but nasty drivers rarely listen to them. Of late individuals who direct the movement of taxis (and get a fee from the taxi drivers) has emerged and has somewhat organized a messy situation.

To be sure what is happening in and around Jerusalem is inhuman and oppressive not to mention racist and discriminatory. Israeli settlers continue to enjoy freedom to travel in and out of settlements to Jerusalem and Israel while Palestinians are punished collectively. I saw a woman at the Bethlehem checkpoint begging a young Israeli soldier for permission to enter. She had a Jerusalem ID and wanted to see her daughter who is living in Bethlehem. No said the soldier. Only people who are living in Bethlehem and can show that by presenting utility bills are allowed in.

As a journalist I am allowed to drive to Ramallah, if I am willing to wait. On Wednesday driving from Ramallah to Jerusalem. I came to the Qalandia checkpoint. Only 16 cars were ahead of me. Half an hour later I had barely moved. Suddenly I noticed that cars are diverting to another road. I followed the road to a nearby quarry. Twenty-five minutes later and having driven in terrible road conditions I was able to get on the other side of the checkpoint. It would take me another hour to pass through the Ram checkpoint and the newly installed checkpoint outside of “Neve Yacoub” settlement in the Beit Hanina area.

Despite the restrictions on movement Palestinians somehow adjust. I am not sure whether this is a good or a bad sign. It is good in the sense that people make the changes needed for their lives to go on and in order not to loose hope completely.

But on the other hand one wonders if our people have become so accustomed to humiliation that it no longer fazes us and we learn to adjust to the most inhumane collective oppression.

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