Amira Hass: Not Only the Right to Worship is Sacred

By Amira Hass 

On Fridays of the month of Ramadan, the Palestinians once again proved the extent to which they are prepared to endanger themselves, collectively, for the sake of a shared aim they consider sublime: worship at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. They walked for hours in order to circumvent roadblocks, they climbed the separation wall in all kinds of daring ways and absorbed tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets. 

Most of them did not make it to the prayer site sacred to Islam. But their collective action reminded the world and some Israelis that Israel restricts Palestinian Muslims’ right to worship by limiting their freedom of movement.

The collective daring of the last few Fridays illustrates the characteristic lack evident in the Palestinian struggle for liberation today: a collective defiance of the Israeli policy on restrictions of movement.

The main Israeli control method, and the most effective with respect to the occupier, is the limitation of Palestinian freedom of movement to a minimum: within the occupied territories, between district and district, between town and village, village and its lands, between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, between going abroad and coming back.
This is not just a system: This is a policy no less destructive than the bombings and the bombardments, and it preceded the current intifada and developed under the aegis of the Oslo process. Every Palestinian is injured by this policy, and many Palestinians dare to look for individual ways to defy and challenge it.

But as a collective entity, the Palestinians have not turned the demand for the restoration of freedom of movement into an exalted goal, worthy of shared and organized effort.

The leadership of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority enjoys an Israeli exemption from some of the restrictions of movement imposed on ordinary "mortals." Most of the political organizations are still addicted to the hollow rhetoric of "the armed struggle." They do not dare or are no longer able to stop the phenomenon of the armed men that has delivered a mortal blow to the culture of the popular struggle. The Hamas leadership is better at relying on the Koran when it makes its incendiary promises for a distant future in which Israel will not exist, and on the Palestinian ability to suffer and the potential for an explosion – than at seeking new and focused ways to act against the tactics of the occupation.

During the past two weeks, there has been fresh proof of the importance of collective struggle: The U.S. State Department has complained about the ethnic discrimination Israel practices at border crossings when it restricts the entry of American citizens of Palestinian and Arab origin into the occupied territories. According to a European diplomatic source, the countries of the European Union are preparing a similar complaint against Israel. An American complaint like this – though only against one of the aspects of the policy of oppressing Palestinian freedom of movement – is a rare thing.

It would not have been obtained had it not been for a stubborn fight being conducted for a few months already by an expanding group of Palestinians and non-Palestinians, among them those who hold various foreign citizenships, whom Israel wants to expel from their homes under the cover of "entry procedures into Israel and the granting of tourist visas." The group, which is called My Right to Entry, came into being at the initiative of one of the people who has been affected by the Israeli policy: Adel Samara, whose wife Enaya, a native of a village west of Ramallah, lost her residency rights in her homeland because she happened to be in the United States in June 1967.

During one of her visits to her homeland as a tourist, about 30 years ago, they met, married and established a family in their village. Their requests to Israel for "family reunification" – that is, to make Enaya a resident of the territories – were rejected, but she was allowed to renew her entry visa every three months by going abroad for a few days. It went on this way for 30 years, until May of this year, when an official of the Israeli Interior Ministry forbade her entry at Allenby Bridge. Adel Samara published a notice in a newspaper in which he appealed to people who find themselves in a similar situation. They met and became a group that is continuing to develop modes of action – among the Palestinian public, vis-a-vis the PA leadership (which is not taking any initiative and is devoid of daring and caring), and among the international community (which finds it difficult to understand all the nuances of Israeli control policies).

The American complaint has not yet resulted in Enaya Samara being able to return to her home and family. Nor has it deterred Israeli border officials from denying the entry of other people during the past two weeks, among them an American woman of Palestinian origin who has a husband and seven children in Ramallah, two French citizens and a British citizen – who also have family in the West Bank. Neither these actions nor the information that has been published has upset the equanimity or broken the silence of Israelis in key positions, who have had business partnerships and who participated in the negotiations on the Oslo agreements with a number of the deportees or candidates for deportation. It does not appear as though Jordan intends to add a protest of its own, even though its citizens are especially affected by the Israeli policy of discrimination.

But for the members of the My Right to Entry group, this is yet another reason to persist and continue a general, not just an individual or one-time, struggle. The sanctity of the right to freedom of movement should be recognized no less than the right to religious worship.

© 2006 Haaretz

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