It’s like waiting in line for a roller coaster ride – that’s the image that occurred to me at the Tarqumia checkpoint terminal in the south Hebron hills, where bars snake around and hold people in an orderly line. Many of the Palestinians seeking to enter Israel, however, have never visited a luna park (that’s Hebrew for “amusement park”) and would not have appreciated the comparison.
I was there on a Sunday morning in May with Aviva Weisgal of Machsom Watch, an organization of Israeli women who volunteer as observers at checkpoints throughout the occupied territories. Aviva joined after years of protesting the occupation at the Nachshon intersection of Routes 3 and 44 every Friday with Women in Black. She emphasized to me that she might meet her son’s army friends at any given checkpoint: the soldiers are not her enemies and she always tries to be very civil to them.
We had left Jerusalem in the dark at 4 A.M. On the way we saw transits headed toward us, a sign that the checkpoint was open and that the flow of Palestinian workers into Israel had begun for the day. We arrived at around 4:45 and were waved through to the Palestinian side with hardly a glance. The Tarqumia terminal is large and modern and operated by a private security company rather than the Israel Defense Forces. The idea behind the “monstrous apparatus,” as Aviva called it, is “to take the sting out of the checkpoint process.”
Most of the Palestinian workers on line had left their homes by 3:30 AM to ensure that they wouldn’t miss their 5:30 transit, which would deliver them to their jobs by 7. For some, missing a specific transit means losing a day’s work. Most work in construction, some as contractors: others in agriculture. They told us that things run rather smoothly at this crossing, which admits them to Ashkelon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Bet Shemesh and, in some cases, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The security workers are polite and efficient, yet there simply are not enough of them: only two of the eight gates were manned. On the average day, it takes fifteen minutes to get through, but on Sundays like this nearly two thousand workers cross over, many with permits to spend the week inside Israel.
I have been to the occupied territories/West Bank/Yehuda and Shomron (the names vary as you move politically from left to right) a few times. The first was as a tourist in 1990 with a van full of young adults. We visited Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem (where I refused to accept a piece of red string promising me fertility), and from there to the Cave of Makhpelah, the burial place, according to Jewish tradition, of the rest of the Jewish matriarchs and patriarchs. It is also the site where Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in 1994.
I was in the West Bank next in 1992, on a rabbinical student tour. While admiring the beauty of Tekoa, the reputed birthplace of the prophet Amos, southeast of Bethlehem, I couldn’t help thinking how Jewish settlers there had acquired some of the most beautiful land in the region. I was angry when our tour ended with dinner at the guide’s house in the settlement of Efrat, as I had a policy of not making social visits to Jewish West Bank settlers. Yet I broke that policy soon after, when I was a counselor for a summer tour group in Israel. One of our Israeli participants invited the group to spend shabbat with families in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, where she lived. I went on the condition that I could tell the group in advance why I was uncomfortable doing so. It was an unsettling shabbat.
In 1997, after moving to Israel, I went with friends to Ramallah, where I could purchase wood shelving more cheaply than in Israel. We were between intifadas, yet I felt nervous and went straight home from the lumberyard.
Today, I am forbidden by Israeli law to visit any West Bank places under the Palestinian Authority’s control. I did manage to go olive-picking during the early fall harvest last year with Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), helping a Palestinian family that lives outside the settlement of Alon Shevut, near Nablus. As we swapped personal stories and ate homemade pita, labane and olives, it was easy to forget that we were there to protect the farmers from attack by the settlers.
This year, the harvest went more smoothly, as the Israeli military (IDF) granted more work days to the Palestinians with IDF protection from settler attack. The gains made in the harvest are enabling RHR to turn its attention to trying to regain access to farmlands and prove ownership of lands taken by force by settlers. One challenge is convincing the IDF to remove unnecessary blockades that prevent Palestinians from accessing their land: after each success, new blockades are put up elsewhere, and the whole procedure begins again.
A nuanced picture of the Israeli and Palestinian attitudes that shape life on the West Bank is found in the “Code of Peace Activism: Towards a New Shared Set of Principles for Israeli/Palestinian Peace-Building 2007,” by the Center for Democracy and Community Development’s Walid Salem and Edy Kaufman. The document analyzes “www – what went wrong” with recent peace-building efforts in a violent atmosphere. “When civilians in particular are targeted,” they write, “the trauma caused by loss and vulnerability, by violence being considered ‘normal,’ by feelings of uncertainty, threat, and stress, leads to the reciprocal accumulation of hostility…” While support is still broad in both nations for a negotiated peace, they continue, people also endorse violent responses to the aggressions of the other, and the peace camps on both sides have had no success in opposing calls for revenge and violence.
Salem and Kaufman note the asymmetry of the violence. Israel’s violence, they say, is connected to the continuation of the occupation: if the occupation ended, Israel would no longer act violently against Palestinians. Palestinian violence, however, manifests regardless of whether it will help end the occupation. Israel has responded to this Palestinian “irrationality” by moving to a strategy of “managing the conflict” – which postpones the Palestinian right to self-determination and statehood and, they note, furthers the moral deterioration of Israel.
Salem and Kaufman also point to asymmetry in the ways the conflict’s violence is described. Israelis cite “concrete violence,” the kidnapping and killing of Israeli civilians and soldiers, while Palestinians cite “structural violence” aimed at their daily existence, including the disruption of access to healthcare, food, jobs and shelter. The suffering endured by the entire population under occupation is unrelieved and results in premature deaths, reduced life expectancy and generalized post-traumatic stress disorder. “Most Israelis can conduct their daily lives oblivious of the occupation,” the authors note. “Most Palestinians,” by contrast, “have to confront the impediments and ordeals of the restrictions in their lives … on a daily basis.”
Israel’s demand for an end to Palestinian terrorism as precondition of peacemaking ignores the difficulties of building a democracy under occupation, they say. Even Palestinian negotiators often cannot get through checkpoints to participate in peace talks. Indeed, participation of late has been restricted to East Jerusalem Palestinians, who have a much easier time because of their Jerusalem residency status.
I got to meet Walid Salem, the co-author of this report and director of the Center for Democracy and Community Development, when I spent a day in May in East Jerusalem with Encounter, an educational organization that provides Jewish leaders from across the religious and political spectrum with exposure to Palestinian life.
In the morning, we first met with Hajj Ibrahim Abu El-Hawa, whose family has a 1400-year history in the East Jerusalem city of At-Tur on the Mount of Olives. Most Jews know only about the Jewish cemetery there, close to the “Holy of Holies,” the inner sanctum of the Temple. They don’t realize that a Palestinian community lives there as well. Ibrahim’s home is a hostel open to all who promote peace. A Muslim influenced by Sufi mysticism, he inherited the concept of opening his home from his father, who worked for the Jewish cemetery transporting headstones on donkeys and hosted many Jewish and Christian leaders in his home. The family was also the village’s dairy farmers, boiling and delivering milk every morning to residents. Ibrahim himself worked thirty-four years for the Israeli phone company Bezeq. He encouraged his children to study in American universities – but now they are not permitted by the government to come home to Israel. Perhaps the most jarring words amid Ibrahim’s talk of peace and love were this: “Weapons have an expiration date like milk. So when they are about to expire, the business people need to find somewhere on this earth to fight.”
We met next with Ashraf Khatib, from the Palestinian Authority’s Negotiations Support Unit. He is from the East Jerusalem village of Sheikh Jarrah, which was annexed by Israel after 1967. Most of the village lands have since been appropriated by the settlement Ma’alot Dafne. A Muslim, Khatib was educated primarily in Christian schools and attended university in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he studied construction management. He took us to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, from where we could see Ma’ale Adumim, Abu Dis, and Ras al Amud, as well as the separation barrier and the Route 1 checkpoint going down to the Dead Sea. The Ma’ale Adumim Jewish settlement has expanded in a way not permitted for the surrounding Palestinian villages. There are currently over 30,000 residents there, with plans to expand to 120,000.
Ehud Olmert has promised to review settlement expansion plans left over from Sharon, to moderate their impact and ensure that they will not block contiguity of a Palestinian state. Yet settlement expansion is happening everywhere. In Abu Dis, Irving Moskowitz, an American gambling mogul, bought the abandoned police station to expand the settlement of Ma’ale Zeytim. The municipality refused the request of Palestinian residents of Abu Dis to use the building for a much-needed school.
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem like Ashraf Khatib number two hundred and fifty thousand. They are not citizens, and on their identity cards, in place of “Arab” or “Jew,” are asterisks. They can vote in municipal but not national elections. They pay between 20 and 22 percent of Jerusalem’s taxes but receive a much lower percentage of city services. While they officially have access to West Jerusalem, some fifty thousand Palestinians with Jerusalem identity cards now live outside the separation barrier and can only cross at checkpoints – many of which are for pedestrians only and are not always open. It used to be a fifteen-minute car trip from Abu Dis to West Jerusalem: now one must drive around Ma’ale Adumim, a forty-five minute ride if one is not delayed at the Zion checkpoint.
After Ashraf Khatib, we at last came to Walid Salem, who gave a presentation at once theoretical, fact-laden, and personal. He opened by citing the conclusion of the 1994 U.N. Human Security Report, which states, “All human beings should have freedom from fear and freedom from want.” Ensuring this right, Salem believes, requires two new international commitments: to move beyond state and national security to guarantee the physical safety and basic needs of individuals, and to require the U.N. to enforce human rights, not merely educate about them.
Applying this concept to East Jerusalem, Salem noted that on June 28th, 1967 – his tenth birthday – Israel had annexed the city of Jerusalem but not the people. Palestinian residents are considered by Israel to be Jordanian citizens, but their Jordanian passports are considered temporary by Jordan. Salem also has an Israeli travel document, but not an Israeli passport. This status has many implications. He lives in Shuafat, a part of northeastern Jerusalem that has not been zoned since 1967. He built his house illegally because he could not get a permit. In 2002, the municipality issued a demolition order, which he has successfully stayed, though it is still on the books. (The municipality demolished forty homes between January and May 2008: its budget limits demolitions to one hundred and fifty homes per year.) If Salem leaves East Jerusalem for more than seven years, he, like Ibrahim Abu El-Hawa’s adult children, will not be permitted to return. Palestinian spouses from the West Bank, moreover, no longer qualify for Jerusalem residency status: Salem’s wife, from Nablus, has had to renew her permit to stay in East Jerusalem every six months since 1985.
East Jerusalem Palestinians feel manipulated by all sides, Salem observed. Jordan uses them to continue to maintain the special responsibility of the Hashemites over the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. The PA uses them to postpone resolution of the permanent status of Jerusalem. West Bank Palestinians think of them as having better rights and so resent them. East Jerusalem Palestinians consider themselves Palestinians, said Salem, but they have bitterness toward the PA for ignoring them. Still, they are not Israeli citizens – and Israeli authorities demonize them.
Only twenty thousand Jerusalem Palestinians received citizenship between 1967 and 2002. Today, none would apply, as they consider Jerusalem to be an occupied city. What Salem said he wants, however, is both the access he has now to West Jerusalem and a Palestinian national identity. If forced to choose between Israeli citizenship and leaving the city, most East Jerusalem Palestinians, he believes, will opt for citizenship.
Asked about the repercussions of the terrorist attack on the Yeshivat HaRav yeshiva by an East Jerusalemite, Salem described a complicated situation. There are residents, he said, who are part of the Jordanian regime and report on others; there are those working with the PA, and those who have been recruited by Hamas and/or Hezbollah. East Jerusalem has six seats in the PA parliament, two reserved for Christians. In the last election, the Christian seats went to Fatah and the other four to Hamas. It is clear that Hamas is the strongest party in East Jerusalem. However, Salem said, a vote for Hamas is not a vote in support of terrorism, but a vote in support of efficient services. Hamas, for example, is working with Israeli authorities to improve healthcare – much more successfully than Fatah.
According to Yossi Alper, coeditor of bitterlemons, a journal of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, the Abbas government in unable to come to terms with the depth of the crisis in Palestinian society brought on by the rise of Hamas. The West Bank is still ruled by gangs and clans, not the PA security forces. Nonetheless, the PA government has registered some successes. There is today much more cooperation than ever before between Israel and PA security teams, particularly in the implementation of an amnesty program that to date has included four hundred and thirty-eight Palestinians accused of terrorist activity.
The PA has also revoked the legal status of three hundred organizations for channeling funds to Hamas, and has increased supervision over imams in mosques throughout the occupied territories. In all Palestinian cities, there has been dramatic improvement in public order and a more effective response to criminal activity since the summer of 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza. A high Israeli security officer recently commented in Ha’aretz: “In recent years the thing that most affected the West Bank Palestinian citizen was the security chaos. Today, West Bank residents are most bothered by the economic situation and the [lack of] freedom of movement in the territories.”
Somewhat reluctantly, PA security forces are also acting against terrorism, predominantly in areas where Israel requires them to be active or where the PA feels threatened. The PA is reluctant to arrest Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders, however, and usually releases them quickly. Even in Jenin, where the largest security campaigns of the PA have taken place, terrorism has not been rooted out. As a result, Israel has no current plans to return specific areas to PA control for fear of a takeover by Hamas.
On Israel’s side, the biggest problem is that Prime Minster Olmert, who seems serious about negotiating a final-status agreement with the Palestinians and has openly recognized the immorality of the occupation, is under investigation for corruption and will no longer be prime minister soon after this column is published. All of his likely replacements from within Kadima would do well to heed Olmert’s words before the Knesset Committee on Security and Foreign Affairs on May 26th: that among the American elite the idea of a “state for all its citizens” is growing in popularity. This is a very dangerous development that threatens Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
Indeed, Ali Jarbawi, professor of political science at Birzeit University, has suggested in bitterlemons that the only way Israel might get serious about a two-state solution, rather than just “managing the situation” while expanding its presence in the West Bank, is for the Palestinian Authority to announce its own deadline for such a solution. Handmade rockets are not a serious enough threat, says Jarbawi, but the promise to begin pursuing a one-state solution could be.
Meanwhile, there are many Israeli, Palestinian, and joint Israeli-Palestinian organizations working for peace. The Geneva Initiative (www.geneva-accord.org), to cite one, has been steadfast in sharing its wisdom about the real possibilities of peace. In the last week of May alone, six Knesset members from five different parties participated in Geneva Initiative events, where MK Yossi Beilin, co-=founder of the initiative, was a tireless presence. A two-day seminar was also held with senior members of the Shas party and ultra-Orthodox press members; participants toured the separation barrier in Jerusalem, heard lectures from senior security officials and Palestinian leaders, and learned about conflict solutions. Similar activities took place for Jewish residents in the northern city of Ma’alot-Tarshih, and for Russian immigrants in Ashdod and Or Yehuda. A Russian-language Initiative blog was begun to encourage discussion on the part of the participants.
The Geneva Initiative also held a conference on the relationship between the separation barrier and the peace process with former senior security officers, academics, and the mayor of Alfei Menashe, a settlement on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier. The mayor, Eliezer Hasdai, said that Alfei Menashe residents have taken up a protest to push for their security needs. At the same time, however, in exchange for “real peace,” he is willing to leave Alfei Menashe. The Geneva Initiative is thus working to convince decision makers, future leaders, internationalists and grassroots communities, both Israeli and Palestinian. That peace and a final-status agreement are achievable.