Amira Hass: What a Strange ‘Abroad’

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Feb 14, 2007

The Gaza Strip is ‘abroad’ in a strange way. Israelis need a passport to get there, and Palestinian Jerusalemites need a laissez passer – the same one they need to present when they fly to Paris via Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Now it is official: The Gaza Strip is “abroad.” As of February 1, the few Israelis whose entry into the Strip is approved by the army have had to present a passport at the Erez crossing, and they are listed on the Interior Ministry’s computer as having crossed the country’s borders.

The Gaza Strip is “abroad” in a strange way. Israelis need a passport to get there, and Palestinian Jerusalemites need a laissez passer – the same one they need to present when they fly to Paris via Ben-Gurion International Airport. But when these same Jerusalemites go to Jordan via the Allenby Bridge, they use a Jordanian passport. And the Palestinians who live in that “abroad” – the Gazans – are, for the meantime, exempt from crossing with a Palestinian passport; this exemption also applies to residents of the West Bank, by order of the interior minister.

The confusing multiplicity of procedures is still more remarkable in light of the fact that Israel allows only a few people to enter and leave the Strip. Only a small number of Israelis receive this permission – mainly those with relatives in Gaza or people, primarily women, who have been married to Gaza residents for years. Receiving a permit requires prior coordination, which is very cumbersome, and it sometimes takes days until the request for a permit or a permit extension finds a fax line without a busy signal at the “office for Israeli affairs” in the Civil Administration, a military body to which the interior minister has granted the authority to continue operating the crossing.

Crossing the approximately half a kilometer that separates the Palestinian side from the Israeli one requires additional coordination, on the phone, and an hours-long wait until the soldiers and clerks on the Israeli side allow permit holders to walk through. But this is not what makes the strangeness of the Gazan “abroad” unique; to many, this is simply reminiscent of the difficulties that totalitarian regimes imposed on travel between countries in Eastern Europe.

The “abroad” of Gaza is strange primarily for a different reason, a more fundamental one: All its residents are listed in the same population registry as residents of the West Bank, which is not “abroad,” and the entire list is controlled by Israel’s Interior Ministry. This control gives Interior Ministry representatives in the Civil Administration authority that the Palestinian interior minister lacks. This control allowed Israel to deprive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their residency status after 1967. It allowed the continuation of marital, social, economic, religious and cultural ties between Gaza and the West Bank until 1991 – and then, it severed those ties. This control allows Israel to prevent the addition of foreign residents to the population registry; it allows Israel to intervene in, and even decide, the choice of a partner, place of study, type of medical treatment, address, quality time with children, participation in celebrations and funerals, the writing of wills and distribution of family property. Israel has the authority to ban the entry of friends or family members who are not Palestinian residents – not just their entry into Israel, but also into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since October 2000, the ban has been comprehensive.

Only Palestinians registered as residents in the Israeli computer system can cross at the Rafah terminal, when it is open. Israel has the authority to ban Gazans from traveling to the West Bank or living there, and has been doing so with increasing fervor since 1991, when it began implementing the closure policy. This is the “abroad” that Israelis require a passport to enter. This is the “abroad” for which Israel argues that it has no responsibility. And this is the greatness of the Israeli occupation: It manages to present itself as nonexistent, while its authority reaches all the way to the bedroom.

Continue reading

Amira Hass: Strangled in Gaza

1.5 million Arabs under Israeli siege

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Mar 22, 2006

In the elections, Israelis will not be voting just for themselves. Not only will they choose parties that affect their own lives for four years, but also those of 3.5 million occupied Palestinians – as they have done for 39 years now. The winners in Israel will form a government that will determine the most minute details of every Palestinian’s life.

This is the essence of occupation. One people casts its votes and thereby authorizes its democratic government to be a dictator in a place that it rules by military hegemony. In that place there lives a separate nation that is entirely excluded from any rights in this democratic game.

For the past two months the dictator democratically elected by the Israeli public has determined that Gaza’s residents should go on a “diet,” as Attorney Dov Weissglas advised the cabinet, immediately after Hamas’ election victory.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided that Gaza’s residents should eat less and less fresh produce and dairy produce, then less and less rice and then no bread.

By closing the Karni crossing to merchandise for prolonged periods, Mofaz intervened (as a cabinet representative) not only in the Palestinians’ eating habits. He also sent tens of thousands of Gazan Palestinians on unpaid leave. Drivers, merchants, porters, sewing workshop workers, farmers, construction workers and contractors, whose materials are not arriving, are all out of work. The already large number of people dependent on charity in Gaza will grow. The chain reaction will affect every family’s life and choices: the children’s education, medical treatment, visiting relatives, building an additional room to alleviate the crowded conditions at home.

No elected Palestinian government, headed by Hamas or Fatah, has ever intervened in everyday life to such an extent, or had such an influence on it.

At Israel’s order, the Palestinian security branches dug four tunnels with a total length of 1.5 kilometers, but did not find the suspected tunnel that served as the rationale for closing the merchandise terminal. On the day five kilos of explosive was found on Road No. 1 in a car carrying Palestinians – security explanations are all Israelis want to hear.

Continue reading

Amira Hass: The Remaining 99.5 Percent

For the sake of about half a percent of the population of the Gaza Strip, a Jewish half-percent, the lives of the remaining 99.5 percent were totally disrupted and destroyed – worthy of wonderment indeed.

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Aug 24, 2005

“I want to ask you as a Jew to a Jewess,” the young man said a few days ago. In these days, a beginning such as this invites a dialogue of the kind in which we have been drowning for several weeks now – a dialogue in which the definition “Jew” has been appropriated to describe some type of unique entity, one that is set apart from the other human species, a superior one. Sometimes it’s the Jewish boy with his arms raised from the Warsaw Ghetto; sometimes it’s the young girl whose orange shirt bears the slogan, “We won’t forget and we won’t forgive;” and sometimes it’s the soldier who refuses to evacuate a Jew. A unique entity of ties of blood, sacredness and land.

“As a Jew to a Jewess,” said the young man, who turned out to be a tourist from South America who has family in Israel and also understands Hebrew. It was at the Erez crossing, among the barbed-wire fencing, the locked gates, the revolving gates, the intimidating guard towers, the soldiers using special cameras to keep an eye on the handful of individuals passing through, and the booming loudspeakers through which they bark out their orders in Hebrew to women who have been waiting in the heat for five hours to go visit their sons imprisoned at the Be’er Sheva jail.

“Is it possible,” he continued with his question, “that the Israelis, who are so nice and good – after all, I have family here – are unaware of the injustice they have caused here?” The images of destruction left behind by Israel in Palestinian Gaza and witnessed by him in the past few days have left a look of shock in his eyes. “I am a Jew, and my father is a Holocaust survivor, and I grew up on totally different values of Judaism – social justice, equality and concern for one’s fellow man.”

Continue reading

Amira Hass: Khan Yunis / No Compensation for Arabs Losing Their Jobs in Katif

Amira Hass, Haaretz, 14 Aug 2005

Today is Omar’s last day of work for his employer in one of the religious settlements of Gush Katif. He will finish what he began a week ago: packing up the contents of the house and dismantling whatever can be dismantled. “I asked my boss if he would give me something from his house, as a gift,” the 29-year-old says without embarrassment. As someone who has to support his wife and two children, along with the households of his unemployed brothers and as someone who almost daily crossed over from crowded Khan Yunis, with its dowdy concrete houses pockmarked by shelling and bullets to the spacious settlement surrounded by greenery, he is not ashamed to expect a present from the man he has worked for since 1996.

Some employers, he says, gave their workmen a gift: a refrigerator, a fan, or NIS 150-200. But his boss told him he cannot give gifts and is selling whatever he cannot take to his new home.

Bidding farewell to his boss is not difficult for Omar; they had not forged a particularly affectionate tie and Omar says the same is true for most Palestinian laborers in the settlements. He does lament the loss of income and the reality of almost certain unemployment.

Some 3,200 Palestinians worked in Gaza Strip settlements in July, but neither the state nor their employers is compensating them for losing their jobs. The Evacuation Compensation Law passed by the Knesset provides two benefits for people whose job is terminated by the evacuation: a monthly adjustment payment for a former employee or business owner, and the right to quit yet be eligible for severence pay. But the new law specifically grants these benefits to Israelis only.

Asked his opinion of the discriminatory law, Omar laughed. “We never received our basic rights as workers. Not minimum wage, not vacation, not sick leave. So should we be surprised that the Israeli Knesset did not pass a law that would compensate us too?” he says during a meeting in Gaza with him and two other laborers from Khan Yunis at the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Workers’ Rights.

Omar began working for his boss nine years ago for NIS 32 a day. In July 2005 his daily wages were NIS 50. His friend Khaled makes NIS 45 for an eight-hour day’s work. The hourly minimum wage in Israel is NIS 17.93, or almost NIS 145 per day. Omar, who is active in an independent workers committee that was founded in the Gaza Strip this year, says the maximum paid to Palestinian workers there was NIS 60 per day. An Israeli who spent a lot of time in Gush Katif in recent months heard from employers that the daily wage is between NIS 40-80.

Continue reading

Amira Hass: What Business Is It of Chirac?

The Jordan Valley, the settlement blocs that continue to merge into each other, the monumental Jews-only roads, the demilitarized zone long since annexed to Israel, the area annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, the de facto annexations of the fence – these already cover most of the West Bank.

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Aug 03, 2005

A European journalist was asked to write about the wall being built around Anata, which will transform it into an enclosed ghetto within Jerusalem. Sorry, she said, the paper’s editors are only interested in the disengagement. It has it all: upbeat news, lots of action, Jews cursing Jews, Jews beating up Jews. We’re fed up with the repetitious details of the wall’s damages.

The other side of that coin is the affection with which Ariel Sharon was welcomed in France last week. And honestly, should Jacques Chirac care that last week the Israeli authorities demolished three homes in the village of al-Khader? And is it his responsibility that a short distance from there, the illegal settlement of Efrat continues to expand at the expense of the biblical landscapes of al-Khader?

What is it to him that the crossings Israel is now building, east of the Green Line, rob hefty square kilometers from West Bank territory and the private property of hundreds of families, with a transparent objective of institutionalize them as “international terminals?” And why should he and other European leaders be shocked by the news that the West Bank’s main roads have nearly no Palestinian traffic, as though a transfer has been implemented there? Israelis are not shocked by this information.

Who can find the words to explain to Europe’s newspapers that once every few weeks, Israel Defense Forces soldiers prevent all residents of the northern West Bank from driving south? At the Za’atara checkpoint south of Nablus, near the illegal settlement of Tapuah, they send people packing as the IDF declares a “hot security alert.” In the creative diction of the IDF, this is called “separation.” They separate between Judea and Samaria. Sometimes this lasts four days, sometimes 10. As usual, whoever is determined to reach his destination finds a roundabout way that takes several hours, between hills and dales, rocky terrain and olive groves. But most forgo their right to mobility.

Why should Chirac and Le Monde, or Le Figaro, be interested in shepherds in the southern Hebron Hills whom IDF soldiers kicked off their grazing lands on Monday, shouting distance from another illegal settlement?

Why should Chirac and the other European leaders take an interest in the millions of trifles of the calculated dispossession, which dictate the lives of the Palestinian people? Trifles that add up to a clear picture: Sharon is determinedly striving to realize the master plan – integrating most of the West Bank into the sovereign State of Israel.

Continue reading

Amira Hass: Fooling the High Court of Justice and the Hague

The legalistic deception of the Israeli Civil Administration: “It is all Israel”

Amira Hass, Haaretz, 13 July 2005

Listen to the soldier in the field. He says what his commanders were trained to cover up and embellish. Listen to the red-headed soldier, who prevented residents of Qafin from passing through the gate in the separation fence last month to get to their lands. These are 5,000 out of 8,200 dunams of agricultural land in a village in the northwestern West Bank. These are lands belonging to the families of these residents for several generations, and for so-called security reasons they were separated from the village – as has happened, and will happen, with hundreds of other Palestinian villages.

Several residents have Civil Administration permits allowing them to pass through the closed gate. Signed permits serve as written proof – intended for the High Court of Justice, and indirectly for the world court at The Hague – that the security establishment and the state are keeping their promises, whereby the security fence does not keep farmers away from their land, that it is “measured.” This could be used as evidence in a future international court that will clean out the entire system: the commanders, the politicians, the judges. A written document is better evidence than the undocumented long hours during which people waited for nothing outside the gate, under the beating sun.

But the soldier knows better, because he’s in the field, and he doesn’t lie: These permits don’t obligate the army, he said (and the Civil Administration confirmed this, when asked), because this gate is only for the olive harvest season. That is, the autumn – but now it’s summer. Since the gate near their land is closed, there’s no chance that the Qafin farmers can pass through to plant 7,500 olive saplings received as a donation, to replace the 12,000 trees destroyed by the fence. Since the gate near! their l and is closed, when fires break out they can’t get there quickly and save the groves their grandfathers planted. And since the gate is closed, they are unable to plant wheat, okra or corn between the groves to slightly improve the nutrition of their families, which are trapped in a cycle of poverty and unemployment.

But the red-headed soldier didn’t discuss only the gate. He didn’t hide the geopolitical worldview in whose name he is commanded to safeguard the gate’s welfare. “There is no entry to Israel from here,” he said. When he was told that the farmers don’t want to enter Israel, but to walk 200 meters to get to their age-old lands, a few kilometers away from the Green Line, he responded: “To be politically correct, it is all Israel.”

How right the soldier is. From his standpoint, on the security road that links up with bypass roads for Jews only, which in turn link up with settlements and Israel proper, this is what he and his colleagues watch every day: The space called “Israel,” from the river to the sea, containing all kinds of “crowded population concentrations” surrounded by fences and imprisoned behind locked gates.

It’s not only one locked gate that separates the farmers of Qafin from their lands. Another locked gate in the separation fence, in the north of the village, also divides them from their lands. And there’s a third gate open only to those who have permits, but it involves its own tricks to ensure that the residents of Qafin won’t really be able to work their lands. It’s 12 kilometers away from the center of the village and is located in what’s called the Reihan terminal, which cuts off and isolates some of the northwestern West Bank villages from other parts of the West Bank. In other words, it costs money no one has to get to this gate, which is between four and eight kilometers away from village lands. Residents aren’t allowed to get to the lands by car or donkey. They are not allowed to take tools or saplings. In short, it’s a hike of several hours, so as to! cry ove r the neglected land. This is the nature of “the access to the land” that the security establishment promises the High Court justices, who believe what they are told.

Continue reading