It was an unusual wedding by all counts. The bride was Patricia Ghabar a Palestinian from Bethlehem. The groom, Wael Hashweh from Gaza. The officiating pastor Reverend Hanna Masaed also from Gaza. The wedding, however, had to take place in Amman, Jordan. That was the only place the wedding participants, closest family member and priest could meet. A friend of the family living in Jordan, Tamara, was asked at the last minute to stand in for a bridesmaid. The happy couple had met a few years ago, when Patricia had gone to Gaza to visit her father who runs the Gaza branch of the Bible Society.
Reverend Masaed pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church has his own travel problems. His wife, Suhad, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin has been denied an entry visa to Gaza. Her ‘sin’ was that she extended her visitor’s visa while in Gaza a crime that seems to have upset the Israeli embassy in Jordan who had given her the original visa to travel to Gaza. She never overstayed her visa and her repeated attempts to get a new visa have been denied. Her lawyer is going to the Israeli high court trying to get the Israeli interior ministry to issue her the visa to visit her husband in Gaza. For his part he comes every now and then to Jordan, by way of Egypt.
This strange wedding is just one of the many problems every day Palestinians continue to face despite calls by US president George Bush on Israelis to ease the movement of Palestinians. Palestinians from the West Bank are strictly forbidden to travel to Gaza via Israel. They can, as the bride will do after her honeymoon in Turkey, travel to Gaza via Egypt. Gazans are completely to travel to the West Bank, not even by way of Jordan. The Lod airport has for some time been forbidden to Palestinians, and the Gaza International Airport opened so ceremonial by former US President Clinton has been taken out of order by Israeli bulldozers ploughing it up.
Travel restrictions are not simply restricted to Palestinians from the West Bank getting into Gaza or vice versa. Moving from one city to another, from cities to surrounding villages and moving between Jerusalem and the nearby cities has become such an ordeal that Palestinians spend more effort and time, often risking life and limp just to move from one place to the other.
Israelis claim that these restrictions are necessary to protect Israel from Islamic suicide bombers. None of the Palestinians who have attacked Israelis has ever been a person issued a normal permit. The result is simple. Only the innocent every day Palestinians suffer while those whom Israel says it wants to keep out, seem to have no problem in crossing into Israeli territory. And these travel restrictions are fuelling so much anger and frustrations that all of Israel’s efforts to build walls and reoccupy major cities will not dent.
Palestinians of course are not interested in yet another attempt at easing the travel restrictions; they want an end to the occupation. When Palestinians and the rest of the world call on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian lands, they want to be free of this scourge that has affected the lives and minds of every single Palestinian.
After a honeymoon in Turkey. Wael and Patricia will return to their new home in Gaza. They will travel via Egypt and will have to go back to Amman every time they want to meet the rest of the family. The United States government is dangling the hopes of salvation through by suggesting that Palestinians get rid of their present leadership as a way to qualify for a possible independent state some three years down the line. These calls will certainly fall on deaf ears so long as the average Palestinian like Wael and Patricia can’t travel more than a few kilometers without waiting for hours at yet another Israeli checkpoint and can’t even plan when the next time they will meet with their extended families.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University which owns and runs Al Quds Educational Television. In May 2001, Mr. Kuttab received the International Press Institute’s award as one of fifty press freedom heroes in the last fifty years.