Thursday, May 1, 2008

‘Our Dreams Are Dead’: Violence in Gaza gets the headlines. But the slow suffocation of the West Bank should get more attention too.

From Newsweek:

To spend a week among the Palestinians in the West Bank, as I recently did, is grounds for antidepressants. Not half enough has been written about what is going on there. The violence in Gaza gets almost daily press—more border attacks and rockets launched into Israel, a new retaliatory body count (including, just this week, a mother and four young children killed during an Israeli operation in northern Gaza)—but the slow suffocation of the Palestinians in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in Ramallah, in every village in the West Bank, gets scant attention. "Our dreams are dead," says Ali Asamil Abkhrka, a bead vendor outside a Bethlehem restaurant. "There can never be peace with the Israelis. Never." A Palestinian policeman in the Church of the Nativity echoes him: "The wall closes the earth, closes the life. Everything is going backward."

Consider the Israeli travel restrictions. No Palestinian living in the West Bank is allowed to enter Jerusalem without written permission from the Israeli government. Islah Jad lives in Ramallah and is an associate professor in gender studies at Birzeit University. When her sisters visited her recently from Egypt, they wanted to go to Jerusalem to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque. Dr. Jad went to a nearby Israeli settlement to apply for a permit. "Come back tomorrow," they said. She went back. "It's not ready. Come back tomorrow," she was told. The third time she came home without a permission slip, she gave up. "Why waste a week for a permit for a few hours," she told me. "It's humiliating." Her sisters went to Jerusalem without her.

The license plate is key. Palestinians living outside Jerusalem in Ramallah or Bethlehem or anywhere in the West Bank have green and white license plates and are forbidden to drive on the smooth, wide "settler" roads that link the necklace of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Palestinians who live in Jerusalem have yellow license plates and are allowed on the roads, but such an apparent privilege is muted at the checkpoints, some 500 of them. The blue and white ID cards, which all Israelis and Palestinians carry, identify the bearer's religion and ethnicity. The Israelis are waved through. The Palestinians are pulled aside. "As soon as they see Arabic on the ID card they say, 'Security'," says Najwa, a lovely young Palestinian woman who works in a Jerusalem hotel. "We have to pull over, and they go through the luggage, the glove compartment, the papers of everybody in the car. It can take hours to get through. I have friends in Ramallah whom I haven't seen in years. The hassle is just too great."

The checkpoints have personalities of their own. The direct road from Jerusalem to Ramallah has been blocked by the wall, funneling the traffic through twisty, rutted roads to the Qalandya checkpoint. Getting through the checkpoint to enter the Palestinian city of Ramallah is easy. Getting back is not. Unless they have yellow plates, Palestinians with permission to travel to Jerusalem have to leave their cars on the Palestinian side, walk through a series of security turnstiles on foot, show their papers to the Israeli soldier on duty and then, if cleared, continue their journeys in so-called service cars, beat-up yellow vans jammed to overflowing. The checkpoint on the direct road to Bethlehem is closed to Palestinians altogether.

Despair is the word I hear most often from West Bank Palestinians, 58 percent of whom have fallen below the poverty line. "I can't get work from the Israeli side because I am haram [forbidden], and the Palestinians can't even afford to pay me bus fare," says an architect reduced to working in a bookstore. The night offers particular terrors. Jad, who works late, recognizes the sounds of frequent Israeli raids, "explosions and hard beats on doors and screams," she says.

Read the entire article here>