Separating `Jerusalem' from the `West Bank'

By Amira Hass


Shvat 16, 5765

The U.S. and Europe gave Israel good marks for easing travel through the checkpoints and allowing East Jerusalemites to vote on the Palestinians' election day. Their respective spokesmen again are speaking of a window of opportunity that has opened with the election of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. So please, don't bother us with the petty details of what is taking place on the ground meanwhile.

Those countries have many representatives who reside here and are sufficiently involved with life in this area to experience the depth of changes Israel is creating in the occupied territories and the Palestinians' natural social fabric. They know there is no real significance to one day's partial relief at one or another checkpoint when the rest of the year the checkpoint system becomes only more sophisticated. They know that the "disengagement from Gaza" accompanying the deepening of Israeli control over the occupied West Bank is not "a step in the direction of peace."

They need to know that giving Palestinians the right to take part in an election process in the PA is nothing more than a symbolic gesture when in the same breath, a secret decision by Israel enables it to steal private property, within the area annexed by the country in 1967, from Palestinian West Bank residents, as Meron Rapoport exposed last week in Haaretz.

With a systematic methodology that raises the possibility that there is some conscious, organized master plan, Israel continues the trend it began more than a decade ago: By denying the Palestinians freedom of movement and the right of residency in Jerusalem based on various excuses, Israel is striving to disconnect the West Bank from East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Jerusalem, and its surrounding neighborhoods and villages that, like it, were annexed to Israel.

By July, Israel plans to complete the procedure not only with physical measures like constructing the wall, fence, obstacles and barriers dividing neighborhoods, even houses in half and artificially, finally separating "Jerusalem" from the "West Bank," but also with a bureaucratic separation. As of July, Palestinian Jerusalemites will not be allowed to go to Ramallah. That's when the wall in Jerusalem will be completed, and the Qalandiya checkpoint will be turned into a form of a "border terminal," even though it is far from the Green Line. Those who want to go to Ramallah will have to ask for special permits, as has become evident in recent days.

True, this is not new. In October 2000, the Central Command's general issued an order prohibiting Israeli citizens and residents from entering Palestinian controlled Area A. The explanation: concern for their security. That order remains in effect to this day. In principle, that also applies to Palestinian Jerusalemites, and is mostly enforced on those who seek to enter besieged cities like Nablus today and Jenin and Tul Karm at other times. It is not enforced for those going to Ramallah, and usually not for those on their way to Bethlehem. Both cities, together with Hebron, have deep family, economic and social ties to Jerusalem. But Ramallah, in particular, and more so in recent years, is intricately tied to Jerusalemites: They work in PA offices, NGOs, the private sector. Many divide their lives between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

The policy of disengagement is being applied slowly but surely, just like the policy of breaking up the West Bank into disconnected Palestinian enclaves. The Israelis raise security explanations for far-reaching geographic changes and new bureaucratic restrictions on Palestinians, adding more draconian rules and regulations. It's not being done all at once, creating the illusion that it is reversible, anaesthetizing the attention to what is being done. And when they see there is no vehement reaction, they continue: enforcing the latest regulation on a new group of people, in other places.

Experience shows that "asking for an entry permit" is not as simple as it sounds. Asking does not mean getting automatically. Asking means the Shin Bet will try to enlist collaborators in exchange for a permit, asking means waiting days and weeks for an answer, wasting days in lines and on the telephone, and then hearing that you don't have the right to go to Ramallah because you did not prove that your presence there is vital. That's beyond the humiliation involved in the very need to ask for an Israeli permit in order to do the most natural things in the world: visiting a sister and friends, going to work or the doctor, buying cheaper produce in the market, finding a book in a bookstore, or hearing poet Mahmoud Darwish give a poetry reading at the theater.

Experience shows that the humiliation and difficulties involved in getting a permit reduces the number of those seeking one. Ramallah could gradually empty itself of Jerusalemites the way Nablus and Jenin and Gaza have ceased hearing the Jerusalem accent on their streets. Or alternatively, many Jerusalemites won't be able to give up their ties to Ramallah, and they will do what, for decades, Israeli governments have been openly hoping for: They'll give up their residency in Jerusalem completely.