No Signs of Eased Conditions in West Bank

Dear Friends,

All too often when political pronouncements are made here, major news agencies formulate their stories around the statement without checking to see if, in fact, there is any reality to the pronouncement. This week I’ve watched this happen again as major news agencies around the globe reported that the closure on the West Bank had been lifted by the Israeli government. A few emails began to trickle in saying that people here must be relieved to see conditions easing. Once again, I feel like someone who always seems to rain on the parade as I inform you that from what I can see little to nothing has changed as of yet.

Last night from 3 am – 6 am, curfew was imposed on portions of the Old City of Bethlehem near the Lutheran Christmas Church, as Israeli troops descended. Shooting and a number of smaller explosions – whether sound bombs or small bombs to blow off doors, I’m not sure – woke much of the neighborhood. On Sunday afternoon as I sat at the Bethlehem checkpoint, I watched as numerous trucks carrying supplies into Bethlehem were turned away, including one truck loaded with flour.

Today, an Israeli writer for the Ha’aretz did write a story about the on-going restrictions on the West Bank. (See story below.)

Among the various tragedies of this disconnect between political spin and people’s lived reality is that it continues to feed a climate of distrust and anger. People sitting in high positions seem blind to the struggle of the men, women and children of ordinary Palestinian people, who scamper over dirt piles, around road blocks, through barbed wire, just to try to go about their normal ‘abnormal life’.

If the Road Map has any chance of moving forward, political pronouncements cannot suffice. There has to be a reality found on the ground for lasting change to occur. As Israelis demand that attacks on them stop, Palestinians have no less right to demand that Israelis stop their crushing of Palestinian daily life.

Rev. Sandra Olewine, United Methodist Liaison – Jerusalem

No Signs of Eased Conditions in West Bank
By Arnon Regular – Haaretz Thursday June 5, 2003

Haj Yusuf Musa, 77, is on his way back to his village, north of Ramallah, after he made the trip to the city to get medicine for his bad back.

He makes his way – on foot – down the road to the checkpoint that marks the start of the area where Palestinian vehicles are not allowed to travel. From there, he makes his way down a steep hill, for about 500 meters into a wadi, and then back up another hill, for another 500 meters, to reach another checkpoint. Only when he’s through that checkpoint can he look for a Palestinian taxi to take him to his village.

Yesterday, like every day, thousands of people crossed this checkpoint on foot. Cripples on crutches, elderly people and children, women, the pregnant, old and infirm, some on horses others on donkeys, everyone goes through the humiliation. Those who need medicine or those who want to visit family.

Adal, a handicapped man from Silwad, needs his crutches to stand. He’s sweating in the hot sun after somehow making his way down the 500 meters and then back up the 500 meters. The pity of the others goes out to him. Someone offers him water, another suggests he lean against a railing. After he catches his breath, he explains he couldn’t find a car that would take him.

Like him, thousands of people have to go through the Surda checkpoint at the northern entrance to Ramallah every day. And the long queues are characteristic of all the checkpoints.

At the Halhul and Sa’ir checkpoints, the same picture was seen yesterday as it was at Qalandiyah and at the Gush Etzion junction.

At first, it seemed the Surda checkpoint only handed the tens of thousands of villagers from north of Ramallah, on their way to the city, but the checkpoint explains the reality created during the nearly three years of intifada. People from Nablus, Jenin, Tul Karm and Qalqiliyah, who have made their way through four, five and sometimes six previous checkpoints to reach this one, line up.

Palestinians are not allowed to use the thousands of kilometers of new highways and “bypass” roads built in the territories over the past decades. Only settlers and the army are allowed on those roads. They aren’t allowed on Highway 60, the main road in the West Bank.

Hundreds of mounds of dirt and mobile and stationary checkpoints force them onto the side roads, old one-lane roads, sometimes made of dirt, often in bad repair, and those who want to go to Ramallah from Nablus, for example, have to take the narrow village roads. Eventually, they all end up at Surda.

A few months ago, the civil administration decided to let Palestinian buses move on main roads. But the lengthy security checks required to get a pass to use the buses, has kept them empty. There are parking lots with the buses in Halhul, al Khader, and in the northern West Bank. A lot of buses. Very few passengers.

The picture that emerged yesterday after a day of driving up and down and back and forth across the West Bank is of tens of thousands of people who have seemingly been thrown back into the Middle Ages, when the only mode of transport was by foot. Nobody is allowed to take a vehicle from a village to a city. Instead, they must get off at checkpoints, walk the extra few hundred meters, and then, if they have the money, take a cab to the next checkpoint, where again they have to walk the few hundred meters – sometimes more – to the next point where they can get a taxi.

The Palestinians might have heard about Israel’s easing conditions for travel, but they haven’t seen this on the ground. In fact, there are signs that nothing at all has changed. Take the little checkpoint at Ein Ariq, west of Ramallah, used by hundreds of villagers from the area. It’s a relatively small checkpoint, consisting of a couple of jeeps that sometimes are there and sometimes not.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after the summit of prime ministers in Jerusalem and announcements of abatements, an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer showed up for the first time in the intifada and dug a channel across the road, ending the possibility of using a car to get through the checkpoint, even if the jeeps aren’t there. Thus, the thousands of villagers in that area yesterday joined their brethren at checkpoints elsewhere in the West Bank, lined up at the blockade. A line of about 1,000 people lined up in front of the checkpoint, on their way by foot to Ramallah.

Courtesy Raja Mattar