Citing ‘security reasons’ — the ubiquitous and unanswerable catch-all phrase against which it is almost impossible to mount any defense — Israel’s Ministry of the Interior has just issued a six-month travel ban on map expert Khalil Tafakji.Tafakji, like almost all other Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, is a ‘permanent resident,’ but not a citizen of Israel.
He is frequently interviewed as an expert on Al-Jazeera satellite channel, as well as on Palestinian television and other media.
He said in a phone interview on 4 February that he had just returned 20 days previously from a tour of a number of countries, from Tunisia to Turkey to India, during which he spoke about the problems facing Palestinians because of Israeli policies in East Jerusalem. ‘You know I am not a political man,’ Tafakji said today.
But, this is a place where even ordinary, everyday life becomes political.
However, Tafakji has been called the Palestinian Authority’s chief geographer and said he did not know of any other person who has been handed such a travel ban.
Tafakji, surprised at the development, said that ‘Yesterday they [Israeli authorities] called me and said come to Moskobiyya [the ‘Russian Compound’ security complex in West Jerusalem] — Room 4. They said ‘This is an order, sign it, you have 14 days to make an objection. It is forbidden for you to travel from today for six months.”
When asked if he will contest the travel ban, Tafakji said that he has been in constant consultation with lawyers, who have all said that since the explanation he was given was only the generic — but all-encompassing — ‘security reasons,’ it is almost hopeless to contest.
Tafakji was not given any other restriction, he said.
‘We are trying, through relations with Jordan and Egypt, America, Britain and France, to see if we can do anything’ to remove the restriction, Tafakji said.
He told the privately-owned and operated Maan News Agency in Bethlehem that ‘I am a peace man,’ and noted that he worked as a cartographic expert with Palestinian delegations to peace talks since they began in the early 1990s.
He also worked with the late PLO leader in Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini, who had set up the Arab Studies Society in 1983 and established an important center for services in the Orient House, the Palestinian headquarters in East Jerusalem forcibly closed by Israel in 2001.
Tafakji heads the Arab Studies Society’s Mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Department, which has relocated to Dahiet al-Bariid, just beside Israel’s wall, but with full access to Jerusalem.
Marian Houk is a journalist currently working in Jerusalem with experience at the United Nations and in the region. Her blog is www.un-truth.com.