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Amira Hass, Israel
June 12, 2002
The far-reaching significance of Israel's siege policy and the
institutionalization of the pass system for travel through the West Bank is
in direct contradiction to the minimal—if any—interest shown in Israel
about the phenomenon.
The siege policy is perceived as a legitimate means to prevent attacks on
Israelis inside Israel, and on soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip. Since September 2000, the sieges on all the Palestinian
cities and villages has been increasingly tightened and at the same time,
motivation has risen among young Palestinians to kill themselves in suicide
attacks on Israelis. The Palestinians understand that urge as a reaction to
the concrete suffocation that the siege creates, as well as a metaphor for
their utter lack of hope for a chance for free lives. On the Israeli side,
the majority is convinced that there is no connection between the two and
that if not for the sieges, the number of attacks would greatly increase.
So, there's no point in wasting words on Israelis on the immorality of
effectively locking up 3 million people in enclaves, between barbed wire and
frightening army checkpoints. What the Palestinians perceive as ruthless
collective punishment, the Israelis perceive as a necessary evil: It may
cause "discomfort" to the innocent, but it is the system that puts limits on
the use of lethal means in the hands of the army.
For the same reason, explanations by the coordinator of government activity in the territories, that the pass system in the West Bank is meant to ease the situation for the Palestinians, sound logical. And the Israel Defense
Forces has been doing what it can in the past few weeks to make it easier
for the government coordinator to make his position clear. The closure of
every city, town and village is more and more hermetic, and more and more
violent. That's why when people are being sent to the Civil Administration
offices to ask for permission to do the most basic things in daily life—go
to work, to school, to the doctor, to friends, to family—it appears
Nonetheless, here's a scenario built into the siege policy. Most people
considered the pass system as a "temporary measure." But, since it now
covers all Palestinian movement inside the territories, it's impossible to
distinguish between it and the settlements' existence. The internal sieges
are meant to protect their security and safety and the safety of the
soldiers protecting the settlements. As opposed to the illusions of those
who support peace, Israel does not regard the settlements as "temporary" or
as a "bargaining card." The statistics about the growth of the settlements
in the "peace decade" of Madrid and Oslo are proof of this.
Bureaucratic institutions have a tendency to perpetuate themselves and their methods. The IDF and the Civil Administration will do all they can in the
coming years to convince whoever they must that it's still not time to give
up the travel pass system, which means maximum supervision of all
Palestinian movement. Their approach will influence the political negotiations in the coming years.
Just as the travel pass between Gaza and the West Bank became a permanent feature, the travel passes for movement inside the West Bank will become permanent. People will wait days and weeks for permission to go from one town to the next, and that permission won't be granted—whether because of a lack of manpower, or because of efforts to draft recruits as informants.
Every commercial and industrial activity will require the good graces of an
Israeli official who will apply his own personal translation to the rules
handed down by the Shin Bet and the army, and those rules will change daily.
As the World Bank has warned, sieges and closures are in direct
contradiction to every principle of development and advancement of the
private sector. It will only take a few months for the division of the West
Bank into disconnected enclaves to reduce most of the Palestinian population
into welfare cases. The higher education system will totally collapse—of
course, the security authorities in Israel always have regarded the students
as a dangerous population that should not be allowed to travel. It will be
impossible to rehabilitate industry because of the need for credit in other
cities, the marketing costs (the back-to-back trucking system, which
requires multiple transfers of goods from one truck to the next on the
outskirts of each town, forbidding direct transport of merchandise from town
to town), the difficult in finding labor and the lack of land reserves (most
of the open land is outside the areas under siege).
Already the sieges are causing severe sanitation and health problems. There
are signs of malnutrition, it is difficult to move refuse to areas outside
the boundaries of the siege, and water is in short supply, particularly in
those villages that depend on regular delivery of water containers. This is
in addition to delays in medical supplies and vaccinations for infants. As
unemployment mounts, such problems and many others will only get worse.
The long-term imprisonment in the enclaves is paralyzing the senses, the
desire and the ability to initiate, blocking both individual and collective
creativity. But it presumably is pushing more desperate young people to
dream about their own destructive reaction to the Israeli policy, no matter
how difficult it will be to accomplish.
This is only an imaginary scenario for those who aren't ready to look at
what's going on a kilometer from their homes and those who aren't ready to
think about "security" in terms that are far from long-term.
Amira Hass is a reporter and columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.
From Ha’aretz, June 12, 2002.