Every year during the month of fasting our office tries hard to get together for an iftar dinner. The entire staff – both Moslems and Christians – enjoy a hefty meal as the sun sets. Many who don’t normally fast try and abstain from eating or drinking this day in solidarity with the devout Moslems who are fasting.
This year our accountant, Byan, suggested that we go to the Philadelphia restaurant in Jerusalem. She thought that our staff had worked hard all year (especially the last three months), and they deserved a break in a nice restaurant. Initially everyone welcomed the idea but as the day went on, Jumana, who was organizing the event, started getting defections.
Sam (not his real name) apologized. He is from the Gaza Strip and has no permit to get into Jerusalem. Maher said he will not leave areas specified as “A” because the Israelis might arrest him. Ayman said he didn’t want to be traveling back from Jerusalem at night with all the shooting and shelling that takes place after sundown.
The trip to Jerusalem was quickly scrapped and replaced with a more modest visit to a local Ramallah restaurant. Our two staffers from Jerusalem and one from Bethlehem objected but withdrew their objections once I promised to give them a ride. After all, entering Jerusalem from Ramallah can’t be compared to the difficulty of entering Ramallah from Jerusalem.
The everyday routine of driving from Jerusalem to Ramallah and vice versa has become a torturous effort. Soldiers man checkposts at the entrance of Ramallah, preventing anyone coming from Jerusalem or even the nearby A-Ram from entering the city.
As an accredited journalist, I didn’t face any problems – all I used to have to do was flash my press card and I would be allowed in. This week, however, soldiers began a new policy. Even accredited journalists aren’t allowed in. Let me be more accurate: The cars of accredited journalists are not allowed in. After long discussions at these posts the Israeli commander told me I could enter, but not with my car.
Of course few Palestinians take no for an answer. The need for transportation is much more powerful than the efforts of a few soldiers. Dirt roads bypassing the checkpoint at the Samir Amis junction quickly sprouted. And with every road that the Israelis closed with cement blocks, Palestinians discovered a new road. I am told that many Palestinians carry earth-moving equipment in the back of their cars so they can open any road that the Israelis have closed.
Sometimes this Israeli policy takes an ironic turn. A good example is the attempt to prevent Palestinians from entering Jericho. For Palestinians, entering Jericho is a must if one wants to get to the Allenby Bridge, which in turn leads to the outside world. Israel insists that the bridge is open, but the trick is reaching it. West Bank cars have had to find all kinds of alternative dirt roads in order to get their desperate passengers to Jericho so that they can get from there to Jordan.
The army has been trying to prevent Palestinians from using dirt roads by digging deep trenches alongside the main road. Last Monday I noticed a few Palestinian taxis stuck in these trenches. They had apparently tried to go through them and because of the rain had gotten stuck.
Still, every day Palestinians find creative new ways to get around this unjust blockade.
The closure of the cities, a collective punishment that is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, has continued for more than three months, and has received barely any international attention.