There is something terribly powerful about personal experiences. No matter how much one reads, hears and talks about a situation, the direct connection is often much more potent. I would often think of this after meeting foreigners and Israelis who, after visiting Palestine, become emotionally engaged, often more than Palestinians themselves.
This is happening to me more and more these days, as my daily travels bring some of the concrete (literal as well as figurative) changes on the ground become clear to the eye. Travelling in the north West Bank on the road between Jericho and Tiberias, one is struck by the changes happening near the former green line. The structures being built are looking more and more like a border. The problem is that the location of this new Ã¢â‚¬Å“borderÃ¢â‚¬Â is a few kilometres inside the Palestinian area.
There was a checkpoint on the former green line and now the checkpoint has been moved inside the West Bank, in parallel to the newly built structure. I have yet to hear any serious complaint about the placement of this new location deep into Palestinian lands. I am not sure whether the reason is simply lack of knowledge of the situation or the fact that the Palestinian leaderships’ agenda is so crowded with critical issues that some of these issues seem to fall between the cracks.
Another new Ã¢â‚¬Å“concreteÃ¢â‚¬Â development is the new compound being built at the Qalandia checkpoint. Major earthmoving equipment has been working for some time. Only this week did the Israeli earthremoval efforts reach locations close to the normal walking path of travellers. By seeing what has been happening in the vicinity of the checkpoint, one gets the impression that a much more permanent installation will be erected in this place.
Locals talk about this becoming the location of the new Israeli civil administration offices. At present, the Israeli civil administration (which, according to the Oslo Agreement, was supposed to be dissolved) exists near the Beit Il settlement. The more likely scenario, however, is that the Israelis are preparing for a new border crossing point between the north and south of the West Bank, as well as between the northern Jerusalem neighbourhoods and Ramallah.
When I asked some of the street merchants in the area, they had a wide variety of ideas as to what is being planned for this new open space that the bulldozers and other earth-moving machines were creating.
For me, however, the most troubling point in some of these concrete changes was not so much what exactly will become of these new locations, but the utter helplessness I and so many other Palestinians feel.
Day in day out, you see men in army fatigues pointing to this hill or to that flat space of land, plotting, planning scheming as if it were their own little Lego house. On my way to Ramallah, I was able to count at least ten huge earthmoving pieces of equipment that have been working day and night to remove earth, to flatten it for some major instalment.
I would have thought that the entire Qalandia checkpoint would be removed if we are to take the roadmap seriously. I decided to go back and review what was said in the roadmap about these issues. The US State Department website has the full text of this plan which is called a performance-based plan. In the first phase (which was supposed to end in May 2003), it is stated: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Palestinians undertake comprehensive political reform in preparation for statehood, including drafting a Palestinian constitution, and free, fair and open elections upon the basis of those measures. Israel takes all necessary steps to help normalise Palestinian life. Israel withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied from Sept. 28, 2000, and the two sides restore the status quo that existed at that time, as security performance and cooperation progress. Israel also freezes all settlement activity.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Palestinian constitution was signed into law by Yasser Arafat, free and fair elections took place. Nearly six months after Arafat’s death and almost in as many months of near total quiet from the Palestinian side, the Israelis have shown no sign of returning the situation to that before the start of the Sept. 28, 2000, Intifada.
My frustration was exacerbated when I spent nearly two hours to make it from my Ramallah office to my apartment in Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina late April 20, a trip that used to take me no more than 20 minutes. When I finally reached the soldiers at the Qalandia checkpoint, I asked them what the earthmoving frenzy was about. A20-year-old told me: Ã¢â‚¬Å“This will be the new checkpoint.Ã¢â‚¬Â Playing dumb I asked if he thought that the newly built installation will become a permanent crossing point?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It will be a checkpoint for ever,Ã¢â‚¬Â he responded.