Amira Hass: No More Hitching in the West Bank

By Amira Hass
The OC Central Command, Yair Naveh, dropped a cluster bomb early this week. He signed an order barring Israeli citizens from taking Palestinian passengers in their Israeli vehicles within the West Bank. The order will take effect on January 19, 2007 and it exempts those who take Palestinians with permits to enter Israel and the settlements, or those who take their first-degree relatives with them.

The reason for the new order, as noted in the IDF Spokesperson’s announcement, is of course, security: to impede those who want "to perpetrate terrorist attacks on the home front of the State of Israel and in the Judea, Samaria and Jordan Valley regions." Therefore, the order sounds like a standard IDF shell whose objective is "self-defense," but in practice it is another component in the regime of national and ethnic separation that exists in the West Bank, a regime of privileges for the Jewish settler minority, at the expense of the Palestinians’ individual and national rights. Like other military orders and Knesset laws, which are cleverly cloaked in the guise of the security argument, this order, too, sheds cluster bombs that will continue to destroy the remaining chance of establishing Peace-relations with the Palestinians.

The security argument will satisfy the vast majority of Israelis, just as they are content with the security explanation for hundreds of road closures and dozens of military checkpoints inside the West Bank. The fact that these limit mobility to a minimum and separate between a village and its lands, one village and another, a village and the city, and from one district and another, that is, disrupt the normal life that it is still possible to maintain under the Israeli occupation regime, never deterred the army commanders who formulated the orders, never stopped the High Court of Justice judges who approved and continue to approve the orders, and it never bothered the Labor party’s MKs. Most of the Israeli public is also not troubled by the fact that it is precisely the checkpoints and roadblocks which serve the Israeli colonization policy; they are dissecting the occupied West Bank into small and disconnected enclaves where Palestinians live, surrounded by an ocean of settlement momentum and Jewish territorial contiguity.

The ban prohibiting Israelis from taking Palestinian passengers in their cars within the West Bank is part of the regime of "transportation separation" Israel has created in the West Bank. The ban complements another order that bars Palestinians with permits to enter Israel from using those crossing points from the West Bank to Israel where Israelis pass through. The Palestinians have separate crossing points. The ban is in addition to the two separate systems of roads the security establishment continues to build unhindered in the West Bank: one for the Jewish settlers and those affiliated with them (and, by accident, for the opponents of the Occupation and Israeli Arabs, as no order against their using it has been issued yet) and the other for the Palestinians. One is spacious, lit up, safe and allows for quick and brief travel. The other is narrow, exhausting, not in good shape and full of checkpoints, and makes the travel slow and time-consuming.

This is the hierarchy that is in effect embedded in "the settlement enterprise" – improved infrastructure for the Jewish residents and constant expansion and development, as opposed to decreasing the Palestinians’ space and preventing its development. The new order follows an order that already bars all Palestinians from traveling and remaining in the Jordan Valley, a third of the West Bank’s area, and the policy of "differentiation" Naveh frequently uses: the sweeping ban on all residents of the northern West Bank, or alternately those aged 16-35, from traveling south, within the West Bank. This theft of time and space from the Palestinians is vital for ensuring that "their separate development" will always lag behind Jewish development, will always flounder on the brink of a weak, inferior and degrading existence.

The new order will not hinder "terrorist elements" from linking up with car thieves with good knowledge of the country’s hidden paths, who infiltrate into the West Bank in stolen Israeli vehicles; it will not stop them from attaching stolen Israeli license plates to their cars, forging documents, dressing up as Israelis or abducting Israelis. The real aim of the order is to attack civilian targets, targets of peace. The ban on Israelis taking Palestinians in their cars affects the rights of Israelis (Jews and non-Jews) who have Palestinian friends: they won’t be able to travel together in the West Bank, visit friends together, to help them get to the doctor, their home or their olive groves more quickly.

The ban affects all the determined Israeli groups working against the occupation: Mahsom Watch, Yesh Din, Activists against the Separation Fence, Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta’ayush, the Committee Against House Demolitions. It also affects human rights groups such as Hamoked – the Center for the Defense of the Individual, B’Tselem, and the Association for Civil Rights. Activists from all the above organizations and movements meet with Palestinians, travel with them and build up friendships with them. In their meetings and joint travels on the roads of the West Bank, they serve as a reminder to the Palestinians that there are Israelis who are not soldiers and settlers, that there are Israelis who oppose the regime of privileges and that therefore, there is perhaps hope for a fair political solution.

Naveh’s order, if it is not rescinded in time, leaves behind countless little cluster bombs that will detonate and damage this hope as well.

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