The upcoming Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the mess of the wall around East Jerusalem have been producing some unusual statements and positions not heard of since 1967.
Members of the Israeli Knesset and other right wing Israelis, angry at the possibility that permits will be needed to visit settlers in the Gaza Strip, came up with some interesting statements.
Despite official Israeli assurances that requests for visits to the Gaza settlers will be processed within eight hours, the response was explosive. Ã¢â‚¬Å“These decisions are inhuman,Ã¢â‚¬Â said one. Another called the closure of the Gaza Strip, where nearly 8,000 Jewish settlers live, Ã¢â‚¬Å“undemocraticÃ¢â‚¬Â. Others complained about this Ã¢â‚¬Å“collective punishmentÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Well, what about the Palestinians who have been experiencing the closure of the territories for the past five years? Palestinians need permits to travel from one city to another. Those wishing to visit relatives or acquaintances in Jerusalem have needed a permit since 1993. Even with a permit, no Palestinian from outside Jerusalem is allowed to sleep overnight or drive his own car to reach relatives, friends, cultural centres or religious locations. With a few exceptions, visitor visas for Arabs wishing to visit the occupied territories or Israel have been repeatedly rejected by Israeli embassies in Amman and Cairo.
On another issue, the Israeli government issued a statement that surprised hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites. In preparations for a response to a case being brought against them in the Israeli high court, the Israeli Cabinet confirmed that 55,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites will be locked outside the wall and that the Israeli government will open various administrative offices for these Palestinians, including a post office, national insurance and ministry of interior offices.
For 37 years, Palestinians have been complaining about being obliged to use the single, overcrowded ministry of interior office in East Jerusalem that serves a quarter of a million Palestinian Arabs (Jews get to use the less congested West Jerusalem office). Every new minister of interior that sees the long lines outside the ministry’s office would state that he would resolve the problem, but nothing has happened. Neither did a high court decision to ease the problem produced results, with the exception of allowing Jerusalemites travelling to Jordan to get their permits at the bridge terminal and to renew their travel documents by mail.
The news story in Al Quds about the possibility that a second ministry of interior office would be opened has produced many discussions and some black humour as well. Some sceptics think that this is just another promise that will go unfulfilled. But Palestinians are joking about the ulterior motives. They are trying to get people to go outside the wall and then close the gates on them, they say. Others think that this is a transfer trick that will get Jerusalem Palestinians on record as going outside the walls and therefore they would gradually loose their right to reside in the Holy City.
The settlers are now getting a taste of their own government’s oppressive policies, which they have been using for years against Palestinians. They are made to feel the double standards, or what many would say is racist policies that Israel has been practising against Palestinians for so long.
A look back at statements of Zionist Jewish activists in the 1940s shows that they were decrying the British Emergency regulations, using a variety of negative terms, only for these same emergency regulations to become the standard used by Israel in what is becoming the longest occupation in modern history.Ã‚Â
Individual rights, including the right to self-determination, freedom to travel and other essential freedoms, should be observed for all peoples, whether Jews or Arabs. But these rights will never be fully enjoyed unless the most blatant human rights violation, that of a foreign military occupation ruling 3.7 million Palestinians against their will, is put to a permanent end.
* Daoud Kuttab is director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.