As my partner and I were taking what has become our routine journey (twice a month) from my parents’ home in Al-Ram (between Jerusalem and Ramallah) to the Sheikh Hussein Bridge heading for Amman-Jordan, he raised an interesting question. Noting that the State of Israel has devoted so much energy and resources to “protect” itself through occupation, the separation wall and check points, he wondered whether Israelis foresee a solution, or do they believe that the current situation is a final solution? Our bi-weekly trip to the bridge provides the context for this question.
My parents’ home is on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which under normal circumstances could have been a natural expansion of Jerusalem. It could have been a desirable suburb in a normal setting, as it has access to the northern exit, making a northern trip swift. This was a plus when my father decided to buy that plot of land, as he is originally from the Nazareth area, and we used to make the trip up north almost weekly to visit family.
With the continuing Palestinian Israeli conflict and the resulting decision by the Israeli government to build the wall, Al-Ram neighborhood was one of the areas that suffered. To make matters worse, the State of Israel has an Industrial zone (“Atarot”) opposite our neighborhood, which means that they needed access to it. As a result the “Wall” was erected in the middle of the street dividing it into two parallel streets and declaring one side of it as Israeli and part of Jerusalem while the other side as Area B. (Area B: The Oslo II Accord of Sep. 28th 1995 has created three “temporary” distinct administrative divisions of the Palestinian territories thus creating what have become areas A, B and C. According to Oslo Accord, Area B is Israeli controlled but administered by Palestinian Authority.)
This arrangement meant that we no longer have the convenient access of the northern route and now in order to leave our neighborhood and reach Jerusalem, we have two options. The first is Qalandya checkpoint, the main checkpoint that separates Ramallah from Jerusalem; this means killing plenty of time (delay on a good day is at least half an hour and reaches up to a few hours) each day as this checkpoint is always congested. It also means exposure to utter humiliation, as one is physically faced by the formula of ruled and ruler, occupied and occupier, the powerful and the weak, oppressor and oppressed. The Israeli Member of Knesset Adi Kol got a taste of this humiliation recently when passing through Qalandya checkpoint.
This confrontation on the checkpoint is utterly debilitating for Palestinians as it has become a norm and one must abide by the rules (stop at the white line, do as is asked…) or else the experience might get worse, or the time that it takes could be prolonged. It should be noted that this checkpoint is used mainly by Palestinians Jerusalemites holding an Israeli residency cards and drive Israeli cars, or Palestinians with permits to enter Israel.
The second route is via the settlement road. Such roads scattered throughout the West Bank connect West Bank settlements with Israel. Palestinians with the proper Identity cards are allowed to use those roads. At the connecting points between the settlements road and Israeli roads (those that are located in Israel proper) there are checkpoints, which ensure that Palestinians of the west Bank do not use Israeli roads.
The “Hizma” checkpoint which is on the northeast part of Jerusalem is a more forgiving one since most who take it are Jewish settlers. It is, thus, smoother. The trip is longer, but usually faster, becuase the checkpoint authorities are more lenient since most of the travelers are Israeli settlers. Unlike the Qalandya checkpoint, not all cars are stopped for inspection, only suspected Palestinians are usually stopped (women with Muslim headscarves or Men who look “Palestinian”).
Luckily, we are almost never stopped at this checkpoint, Yet, each time I pass, I dispair, knowing I was able to cross because I have hidden my identity (in the sense of the term used in its shallow and crude form; in other words as categorized by others or in its stereotypical form).
As we leave Jerusalem and head north through Highway 6, we are driving along Palestinian cities of the West Bank, such as Qalqilya and Tulakrm. The wall separates the Palestinian and Israeli areas and from the Israeli side the wall looks like a fence (nice looking walls with colorful facades with flower bushes and trees adorning its side).
So many Israelis drive through this road and probably only a minority think what the wall means to the lives of the Palestinians on the other side; they probably prefer to think that it is only a line that separates the Israeli side from the Palestinian while in fact the wall is wrapped around areas to enclose, isolate and separate one Palestinian area from the other.
For many Israelis the issue with the Palestinians is only one factor of state policy and of what the State of Israel is; true it is occupying another people, but in Israel proper the State stands on the pillars of democracy and equality. They may recognize a small minority who is non-Jewish and is affected with some inequality procedures, judging this, though as only a minor matter.
Being in the country from February till now is difficult for someone who is not an Israeli-Jew; first came the elections, which are constant reminders of how Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship are irrelevant to the State and its democratic mechanisms. Many Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship have surrendered to the fact that their voice in elections do not count because even for leftist parties a coalition with Arab parties is not an option. Especially now as we are witnessing a move to the right in Israeli politics, Palestinian parties have to accept being in the opposition, a role they are accustomed to take. This means permanent marginalization, and the marginalization of those who have elected them.
This year’s election was not that different from previous ones. It is true that now we have Yair Lapid’s new party emerging as second with 19 seats, which promoted itself as an advocate of “Social Justice.” Many perceive the party’s success as a response to the massive protests of summer 2011. It is true many of his campaign slogans had a social tint to them and catered for the majority of the citizens of the State (Middle Class) such as “Our children will be able to buy apartments” and “we will pay less for electricity and water.” Yet, without ambiguity Yair Lapid and his party advocate a Jewish State and of Jerusalem undivided as the capitals of that state.
It is interesting to see how the political map has changed in the past two decades; now the Jewishness of the State of Israel is perceived as a right. Most Israelis do not question what this means and how or whether it can work with the democratic nature of the state. It is also interesting to see how the Palestinian issue has become an external problem; the same as Israel’s relation with its other neighbors, but not as one that is intricately embedded in the state’s very nature.
The Palestinians living in Israel will never be fully-fledged citizens of the State of Israel and it is for this reason that I hesitate to put a hyphen between Palestinian and Israeli. The Palestinians living in Israel have been diluted into Arab-Israelis as if they are brought from the different parts of the Arab world and do not have their own culture and identity which was only some decades ago a part of the whole Palestinian culture and identity. Even though many have accepted this categorization in order to integrate within Israeli society, the matter of the fact is that they are not and cannot be a part of the Israeli society. The election, the recent holidays Yom Hazikaron “remembrance day,” Yom Ha’atzmaot “Independence day” are constant reminders that Palestinians in Israel are at best a nuisance or at worst a threat. Palestinians and Israeli Jews live parallel lives within the state; sometimes the paths of an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Israeli intersect at work, in a restaurant, on the street, but they do not share a healthy social environment.
Palestinians living in Israel might have been perceived by many during the election period as apathetic, but I think what could be more appropriate is a state of alert. They have lost confidence in the democratic nature of the state. This feeling is strengthened with proposing new laws by government officials and sometimes passing such laws in the Knesset (such as the law of allegiance which requires all citizens to pledge allegiance to the state as a Jewish one). This results in further alienation of Palestinians living in Israel from the rest of the society and jeopardizes their right to exist in their home country.
As we learned from history, totalitarian regimes provide their citizens with limited horizon, with an impotence to see alternatives to the status quo, and they constantly affirm that the government knows best. As a result, citizens usually succumb to the State apparatus and focus on their own business. I am not saying that Israel is a totalitarian country, but its recent transformation should worry all of its citizens. The rights of Palestinians are infringed upon constantly, and recent developments should worry women, secularist and whoever cherishes the democratic nature of the state.