During 2009, Israel removed some of the restrictions it had imposed at the start of the second intifada on the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank. As a result, travel on main highways between Palestinian urban centers is much easier today, after vehicles and pedestrians have been allowed to cross through some major checkpoints. But despite these improvements, Palestinians still do not have freedom of movement in the West Bank. The remaining restrictions on movement in the West Bank are aimed at channeling Palestinians to a number of central checkpoints, thereby controlling traffic throughout the West Bank. These restrictions reflect Israel’s view that the basic right of Palestinians to freedom of movement is a privilege that it can grant or deny as it sees fit. The restrictions interfere with the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement and, as a result, undermine other basic rights, such as the right to receive appropriate medical care, education and work, and to create and maintain economic, social and family relationships. (“B’Tselem”: The Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Territories, January, 2009-April, 2010).
Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories are implemented by an extensive and oppressive bureaucratic regime run by the Civil Administration. It operates according to criteria that apply to collectivities rather than to individual needs. It is thus able to maintain full control over a population that has been suppressed for decades.
The following accounts exemplify the reality we confront: In a word - despair.
Etzion DCO: It’s 3:15 in the afternoon, business as usual – the parking lot is full, indicating what it’s like in the waiting room. About 20 people are jammed before the revolving gates, a dozen are seated and, over in a corner, three people are eating sunflower seeds. They say they’ve been there since morning, but that doesn’t seem to upset them. For some, of course, it isn’t their first time. The soldier who’s supposed to be behind the window comes and goes. The Palestinians crowd around the two revolving gates, preventing us from speaking to the soldier when he does appear. Phone calls to the humanitarian office don’t help very much. Perhaps one of the calls results in one of the gates creaking around to admit a few people. Others, including women with little children, immediately rush toward the gates. The previous scene returns. Telephone calls to headquarters don’t improve matters either. Since the DCO will soon close for the day, we demand that a DCO representative tell those waiting how many more will be dealt with today so the others won’t have to wait fruitlessly. Why make them wait for nothing? But nothing happens. “It’s congested,” they tell us. “Technical problems with the printer,” they add. Why should today be any different?... People who need an urgent crossing permit also arrive. They manage to enter the office only with great difficulty. The others waiting endlessly don’t hurry to make way for them. One person must climb over them. The rate at which people come out of the office is extremely slow. Only one lucky person emerged after renewing his magnetic card during the entire time we were there. He waited in the Holy of Holies – the inner office – from one in the afternoon. A merchant who’d had a permit for three years, isn’t on the Shabak or the police blacklist, and has all the required documents, received a permit for…one day! “We’ll check,” they told him, “come back in a week, maybe longer.” He’s fuming. Two other men seeking permits are sent back to whence they came, to the Palestinian DCO. They’re disappointed, because the situation there is no different. No one will listen to them. At 4:20 in the afternoon, half a dozen men and women give up and leave. They’re right. The shutter over the window comes down at 4:30. “See you next week,” they say. Did we already mention despair? (Bethlehem and the surrounding area, 26.12.10, afternoon)
Complaints received by phone
Qalandiya checkpoint: Palestinians with blue ID cards (Israeli ID cards) arriving at the checkpoint by bus are required to get off and go through the checkpoint on foot… The bus drives about 20 meters to the other side of the checkpoint without passengers; they reboard after being inspected. A physician who’s worked for years at Sha’arei Tzedeq Hospital complained about how rudely he’s told to get off the bus, even though, as medical staff, he’s not obligated to do so. We complained on his behalf, and received this response: “It turned out that everybody had some excuse to stay on the bus. So what was the point of erecting such an elaborate pedestrian crossing?”
“Dangerous individuals”: For years, Y. has been the head of a religious institution in Bethlehem for children with special needs. Every year they take the children on field trips, each child accompanied by a teacher or counselor. Each of the children and the escorts needs an entry permit to Israel. Before the most recent trip, to the safari in Ramat Gan, it turned out that four children hadn’t received permits. The reasons: three were still listed at their parents’ address, not that of the institution in Bethlehem. When we investigated, we learned that the Etzion DCO isn’t allowed to issue permits to people whose residential address falls outside the area it’s authorized to deal with! In the computer era?! The fourth child, 14 years old, was on the Shabak’s blacklist. This “Shabak blacklisted kid” is severely retarded, doesn’t speak and is still in diapers. “A bureaucratic mistake”! Long live the little mistake…
The student: L. received an unusually generous scholarship to a prestigious program at Tel Aviv University. The scholarship covers tuition, dormitory fees, board and expenses. The Civil Administration issued an entry permit allowing her to remain in Tel Aviv each day until 7 PM. The program includes evening activities. Requests to allow her to remain overnight in Tel Aviv were repeatedly denied, but after a long procedure were finally approved. We tried to find out what the problem was. “Those are the criteria.” Why? “There are reasons.” Reasons that apply only after 7 PM? An impervious, arbitrary bureaucracy.
The cases reported above testify to how bureaucratic opacity creates absurd situations that have no relation whatsoever to security considerations. Even when they’re finally resolved, they leave in their wake hostility and growing rancor.