There’s a popular Palestinian folk song called ‘Wein a Ramallah’ Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we are going to Ramallah. It’s largely a nostalgic tune cherished by the Palestinian diaspora and sung at festivals to reflect the longing for Palestine. However, no one inside Palestine thought about it quite that way Ã¢â‚¬â€œ at least not until recently.
The latest edition of the Al HalÃ‚Â weekly chose the song title as its headline because of an expected Israeli decision that would force Palestinians living in east Jerusalem to apply for a permit in order to enter nearby Ramallah. Some 10,000 Palestinians reportedly commute between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
This latest Israeli decision adds injury to the pain that has become the hallmark of Palestinian life in Jerusalem.
Today’s stranglehold restrictions developed incrementally, starting in 1993. Twelve years later, a nuisance has become a catastrophe for Jerusalem’s Palestinians.
At first, Palestinians heading south toward Jerusalem were only slightly delayed by the checkpoint placed now at the A-Ram junction in north Jerusalem. The fact that Jewish settlers used the same road meant soldiers seldom allowed back-ups to develop. Then the Israelis built a bypass road for Jewish traffic and the army began taking its time processing Palestinians vehicles.
This went on until the outbreak of the Aksa Intifada in September 2000. Next, a new checkpoint was created at Kalandia, creating problems for people trying to get in and out of Ramallah. The movement of Palestinians between Jerusalem and Ramallah was further held up as cars and individuals were searched. People started parking their cars at either side of Kalandia and then taking a a taxi. Cars with PA license plates Ã¢â‚¬â€œ even those belonging to doctors and journalists Ã¢â‚¬â€œ have been prevented from crossing the Green Line.
Then came the wall. At first no one believed it would actually go up, dividing Arab communities from each other. In Abu Dis, the wall quickly became a reality; a major intersection connecting Isawiya to Jerusalem was blocked up. Yet for those using the Ramallah-Jerusalem road the wall was still not a ‘concrete’ reality. Then one day, workers started erecting cement slabs.
Again, at first, they were few and far between. Like the experience with previous checkpoints, there were still many alternative routes. But, little by little, the noose tightened and people started to feel cut off from their families, schools and places of work.
I remember one day driving from Jerusalem to Ramallah just before sunset. As I approached the walled areas near Dahiyat al-Barid, the natural light dimmed Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the wall literally blocked out the sun. Such is the darkness the cruel wall has created.
This week, A-Ram junction, famous for connecting Bir Nabala with A-Ram on one side and Beit Hanina with Ramallah on the other, became desolate. As the wall closed off the only opening left, the junction ceased to exist. It became a T, with cars and trucks unable to make the crossing. Now, when you leave A-Ram you can make only a right or left turn. An entire crossing point for people and goods has been suddenly erased.
The bad news keeps coming. Press reports quote the Israeli military as saying Palestinians living in Jerusalem will soon need a permit to get into Ramallah or Bethlehem. Few people can bring themselves to believe it, but the Israeli army has not denied it.
And the Israeli press had even more bad news for Palestinians. Jerusalemites were awakened last week to a report that the Greek Orthodox Church had sold land in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to Jewish buyers. They will undoubtedly turn it over to militant settlers who are slowly taking over the Old City.
Despite denials by the patriarch, the story resonated among Palestinians, especially in the Christian community, which has been stung before Ã¢â‚¬â€œ most recently by the sale of the St. John Hospice overlooking the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (Parenthetically, calls for the Arabization of the Orthodox Church have yet to produce results.)
Finally, Israel announced it was expanding its major settlement to the east of Jerusalem, Ma’aleh Adumim. Twelve thousand dunams of land belonging to the people of Isawiya were suddenly not theirs anymore as the Israeli army issued confiscation orders to pave the way for building 3,500 exclusively Jewish housing units. All this in an area Palestinian Arabs were looking toward as their only sector left for natural growth.
What has been happening to the Palestinians of Jerusalem is nothing short of a human catastrophe. What is needed is a serious, effective and continuous strategy to save what can be saved and strengthen the resilience and steadfastness of those who have survived the tragedy that has not stopped since 1967.
* Daoud Kuttab is director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.