Israel bullies laborers, leaders and just about everyone else

The Palestinian Authority is a little like the thousands of Palestinian laborers who wake up at the crack of dawn to cross into Israel for an honest day’s work. Their livelihood depends almost completely on others and if there is a glitch in the system, well, they suffer immediately. Pretty much like the PA now. Israel is unhappy with us, so there go the tax revenues. And if the tax revenues –” to the tune of $100 million –” are still in Israel’s pocket, then they sure aren’t in the pockets of their rightful owners.

There is a palpable sense of urgency at the Qalandiya checkpoint before the sun comes up every day. Hundreds, perhaps a thousand, able-bodied men in work clothes and boots, clutching their Israeli-issued work permits, stand vigilantly in the long lines outside the turnstile that will get them to the “Israeli” side of the crossing. Time is money and the longer the queue is, the more their pay is docked.

Surprisingly, they are extremely patient and organized. But the tension rises after the line moves painstakingly slow, reduced to a mere trickle. Tongues start clicking and the men look nervously at their watches, wondering what time they will get to work and how much the delay will cost them.

Of course, the nonchalant Israeli soldiers inside the bulletproof rooms, checking ID’s and permits at their leisure, couldn’t care less. It doesn’t matter to them whether these men go home with money in their pockets or not. On the contrary, they probably resent the rugged looking Palestinians trying to cross the checkpoint as fast as possible in order to enter “their” territory, work in “their” construction sites, or sweep “their” streets. And so they punish them by taking their sweet time. They don’t care if these men ever get across, even if they have every right to.

The Palestinian Authority is, unfortunately in much the same position. The tax funds, which Israel is obligated to transfer to the Palestinians under a Paris Protocol stipulation, is the Palestinians’ rightful money. Without it, the PA’s already precarious financial situation will flounder and its tens of thousands of civil servants will feel the pinch.

The problem is not simply with the tax revenues or the laborers who wait every day to cross over into Israel to bring home a day’s work in money. It is the system that governs these injustices which is the most unjust of all. We are, like the popular Arabic saying goes, living off “the hand of a sprite”, or in other words, we have no guarantees for any kind of stability. Israel’s main concern is not for the families of the laborers or the PA’s civil servants. Its main goal is to pummel the Palestinians so much they are forced to bend to its will. Lucky for the Israelis, they have a helping hand to speed the process along, their best friend, the United States.

How else can anyone explain the bizarre reasoning behind punishing a people because they strive for freedom in the corridors of none other than the United Nations? Even more bizarre is punishing these same people for wanting to keep a civil war at bay by smoothing out rivalries between its different elements. Isn’t that how mature and state-ready nations behave?

But there are agendas at work here that the Palestinians understand perfectly but can only fight so far. If the United States were really interested in peace, it would not allow Israel act with a free reign in building settlements it even admits are illegal. It would oblige Israel to return the tax funds the United States knows belong to the Palestinians instead of breathing down the latter’s neck about Hamas complying with Quartet conditions. The double standard is so blatant, the US and Israel openly declare their punishment of Hamas for that reason while clearly shunning other conditions and agreements the Israelis signed on to willingly.

What is amazing however, is that the Palestinians are still standing. In spite of it all, in spite of Israel’s continued stranglehold on practically every aspect of their lives and in spite of their own mistakes and missteps, they have not given up, and that in itself is worthy of praise. The insults lobbed at the laborers (and pretty much everyone else) at the checkpoint do not go unnoticed by the men, but they brush them off as one more cross they have to bear for being Palestinian. The leadership bears that same cross. But as long as we do not buckle under the pressure, we will always bear it well.