Jan 04 2001

Playing God

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

The latest round of peace talks in Washington has done little to dissuade the average Palestinian from continuing his anger and frustration towards the Israeli government and its army for their continued collective punishment.

This week the Israeli government went the farthest it has ever gone in tightening the noose around the Palestinian population.

Side and minor roads, which were being utilized with great difficulty, to transport people from one location to another, have joined the major roads already closed in previous months.

Huge cement blocks and mounds of dirt have been strategically placed all over Palestinian territory, literally creating more than 40 islands in the West Bank.

Gaza, which is itself cut off from the outside world, has now been divided, by the Israeli army, into four areas. Travel between areas is forbidden.

Gaza International airport and the Rafah crossing point to Egypt have been sealed. And the latest is the closure of the King Hussein bridge, which had been the remaining exit-and-entry route for many Palestinians.

International law, which will soon be fortified by the International Criminal Court, forbids collective punishment of this kind. It is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals specifically with the responsibilities of military powers during periods of prolonged occupation. No reason is given for this collective indignity being heaped on more than three million Palestinians. We are not told whether this is for security purposes or, as many suspect, in the form of punishment and revenge. Neither are we told how long these latest restrictions will last. Will it last a day, a week, a month… no one knows. Considered akin to cattle, Palestinians are expected to adapt their lives to the whims of the all-powerful Israeli army.

The timing of this latest closure is connected to the recent Netanya bombing which has been publicly denounced by the Palestinian leadership. But few believe that such tactics will decrease, or in any way affect, the movements of those intent on carrying out such attacks.

The recall of permits recently issued to those with impeccable security status, and to members of the Palestinian Authority who have been granted VIP cards, will hardly affect individuals who are involved in suicide bombings and other violence.

Of course the suspicion among Palestinians is that national internment in a large prison is part of the pressure that Israel is attempting to bring to bear on the Palestinian leadership, to force them to accept the “generous” Israeli offer.

Generosity is usually defined as people giving up something they own. It doesn’t apply when an occupying power returns part of what it took by force to its original owners.

The US and Israeli offers are extremely vague. The hope is that they can be enough to convince Palestinians to give Prime Minister Ehud Barak the support he needs to win the election; yet without the substance that will ensure the agreement’s survival.

Short term interim agreements can afford to be vague, but final status agreements don’t have the luxury.

This week’s closures have been the harshest since 1967. No one can remember a time in the past 30 years in which such a tight closure has been implemented. At all times it was still possible to find a side road to travel on. If people were unable to use their own vehicles, they could rent a car in east Jerusalem.

If the road to the Ben-Gurion airport was closed, the King Hussein bridge was traversable.

If the Gaza-West Bank road was off-limits, Gazans could utilize Gaza Airport. If the airport was closed there were the ground borders with Egypt.

This week all roads have been closed. People are, for the first time, using animals to transport goods. Companies are driving trucks to unloading points and carrying cargo over newly established dirt mounds in order to reload them on other trucks from the Palestinian side.

The latest closure has caused many to repeat the statement that the Palestinian territories have become a huge prison.

A friend of mine described the behavior of the Israelis in theological terms: “The Israelis are playing God with our lives.”

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