My personal assistant Jumana was in tears. Her husband Nadim has been pressing her to quit her job and try with us in Ramallah and apply for another job in Jerusalem. The reason is simple. Her daily trip from Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood to Ramallah and back has become a nightmare. She was upset because she didn’t want to leave a job she liked with colleagues and friends just because of the Israeli check post. But she knew deep inside that her husband was right. The difficulty of movement for Palestinians has become unbearable and there are no signs that it will get better.
Mary Habash has the reverse problem. She has a good paying job as executive secretary in a international agency in Jerusalem. But her daily trip from the Ramallah district of Bir Zeit to Jerusalem and back has also become unbearable. If she finds a job in Ramallah, it might mean losing as much as half her salary.
Joseph Handal also has a great job working as a cameraman for French Television. His daily trip to Jerusalem has also become a nightmare. He has no plans of quitting his job but the daily problems at the checkpost seem to have no end. The fact that he and other Palestinian journalists, working for reputable western media organs are accredited by the Israeli government press office, mean little to Israeli soldiers, apparently with new orders banning even professional journalists from the free movement guaranteed by international treaties and accepted norms.
The seemingly upturn in harassment against Palestinian professionals is just the latest result of a general policy of discrimination against Palestinians. The reality of the 11-month Al Aqsa intifada has certainly eliminated one favorite Israeli justification- security. Despite the many levels of closures and restrictions of movement, Palestinians wishing to enter Jerusalem and Israel have had little trouble. So the policy of closure and restrictions of movement simply effect those who by Israel’s own admission are the kind of people who are not involved in acts of violence, suicide bombings etc.
Major changes are happening every day to the road system in and around Jerusalem. The multi layered check posts are supported by an Israeli policy of closing every side road in the Palestinian neighborhoods. This policy is making the dual road policy much clearer. Israelis have their own well paved, well lit and well protected roads and Palestinians have their own single pot filled road with numerous checkpoints on the road. And for those Palestinians who wish to use the Israeli roads A dual military and settler vigilante terror campaign is being enforced. Until recently this discriminatory policy applied to Wrest Bank and Gaza Palestinians. By Israeli military decree these Palestinians are not allowed to enter Jerusalem or Israel without permission. Practically no permissions are being given these days. Even Palestinians with permission have for years been banned to use their cars and since 1967 Palestinians have not been allowed to sleep or purchase property in Jerusalem or Israel. The latest policy affects Palestinians from East Jerusalem who Israel considers Israelis residents (but not citizens). A Palestinians from Jerusalem can not go see his relatives in the West Bank unless he or she can show utility bills proving that he/she lives in say Ramallah or Bethlehem.
There is no doubt that the basic source of all these policies is the overall Israeli government’s continued policy of occupation and exclusive Jewish settlement activity. For years Palestinians have been complaining about this discriminatory policy but with little attention. The UN conference on racism seems to have given attention to some of these issues of discrimination that are based solely on Palestinian’s national origin. The US and Israel seem more intent on de-legitimizing this international messenger rather than dealing with the message. If the message of the Durban conference is that all human beings are equal, hen it is high time that policies of discrimination and racism clearly practiced on the ground, on the roads and in all aspects of the lives of Palestinians come to and end. The sooner this happens the sooner that Palestinians and Israelis can live in freedom and tranquility.
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.