Apr 25 2005

Moving checkpoints

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Travel Blues

There is something powerful about personal experience. No matter how much you read or hear about something, there is no substitute for actually experiencing it. I have thought of this phenomenon after meeting Israelis or foreigners who, after visiting Palestine, become emotionally engaged in the Palestinian cause.

This sense of engagement is happening to me more and more as my daily travels make concrete – literally – the difficulties of getting around the northern West Bank. On the road between Jericho and Tiberias one is struck by the changes near the Green Line.
Walls and fences are being built that would be appropriate were there a border there. The problem is this new “border” is a few kilometers inside Palestinian territory.

A checkpoint has also been moved inside the West Bank, in tandem with the newly built structures.

I have yet to hear any serious complaint about the placement of this new checkpoint deep inside Palestinian lands. I am not sure whether the reason is simply lack of knowledge, or the fact that the Palestinian leadership’s agenda is so crowded with critical issues that other matters fall between the cracks.

Another “concrete” development is the compound being built at the Kalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah. The Israelis have been using earth-moving equipment in the area. I have the impression they are erecting a permanent installation there.

Locals talk about this becoming the location of the new Israeli civil administration offices. At present, the civil administration – which according to the Oslo Agreement was supposed to be dissolved – is headquartered at the Beit El settlement. The more likely scenario, however, is that the Israelis are preparing for a new border crossing point between the north and south West Bank, as well as between the northern Jerusalem neighborhoods and Ramallah.

The most troubling aspect of these “concrete” changes is not so much what exactly will become of this or that location, but the utter helplessness I and so many other Palestinians feel in the face of it.

Day in and day out we see men in IDF fatigues pointing to this hill or that lot of land, plotting, planning, scheming as if it was their own property, or part of a Lego game.

On my way to Ramallah I was able to count at least 10 huge pieces of equipment working relentlessly to remove earth to flatten it for some major installation.

I had thought the entire Kalandiya checkpoint was supposed to be removed if the two sides were to take the road map seriously.

I decided to go back and see what the road map said about these issues by checking the US State Department Web site:

“A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror… the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence… such action should be accompanied by supportive measures undertaken by Israel.

“Palestinians and Israelis resume security cooperation based on the Tenet work plan to end violence, terrorism, and incitement through restructured and effective Palestinian security services.

“Palestinians undertake comprehensive political reform in preparation for statehood, including drafting a Palestinian constitution, and free, fair and open elections upon the basis of those measures.

“Israel takes all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life. Israel withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied from September 28, 2000 and the two sides restore the status quo that existed at that time, as security performance and cooperation progress.

“Israel also freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report…”

Palestinian cessation of violence has happened, both in word and in deed. The Palestinian constitution has been signed into law. Nearly six months after the death of Yasser Arafat and nearly as many months of near-total quiet from the Palestinian side, the Israelis show no sign of returning to the September 28, 2000 intifada lines.

My frustrations increased after spending nearly two hours making my way from my Ramallah office to my apartment in Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina last Tuesday. It’s a trip that used to take me no more than 20 minutes.

When I finally reached the soldiers at the Kalandiya checkpoint, I asked them what the earth-moving frenzy was about. A twentysomething soldier told me: This will be the new checkpoint.

Playing dumb, I asked him if he thought that the newly built installation would become a permanent crossing point.

“It will be a checkpoint forever,” he responded.

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