Apartheid with a Twist

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Soon, the West Bank will be full of criminals – virtually thousands of them. Before anyone’s imagination runs wild, this is not because the mafia has decided to set up headquarters in Ramallah or a South American drug kingpin has moved residence to Nablus and brought his entire cartel with him. No, the same old Palestinian residents of the West Bank, most of whom have been living peacefully in their homes for years, will find themselves in the most unenviable position of "infiltrator" as of tomorrow, April 13 by virtue of two Israeli military orders.

According to the two orders, which were signed in October, 2009 and go into effect six months later, anyone who does not have "legal" justification for residing in the West Bank will be liable to deportation or a prison sentence of up to seven years. The orders are a rewording of a 1969 order instated mainly to keep out Arabs and Palestinians entering from "hostile" countries. In practical terms, this will mean that thousands of Palestinians, either those who are registered in the Gaza Strip or foreign passport bearing spouses of Palestinians will be automatically categorized as criminal offenders. According to the Haaretz article that broke the story, the order, which is loosely worded, will also include the children of Gazan parents who have made their homes in the West Bank. Add to that the thousands of international activists who come to the Palestinian territories each year to show their solidarity with the Palestinian people. They will also be penalized for unlawfully entering the West Bank. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are also not immune to the order, many of whom are married to West Bank residents and who have made their homes on the other side of the fence for practical and economic purposes. While this group of Palestinians is already under Israeli scrutiny because of their own precarious status as permanent residents of Jerusalem not living within the self-proclaimed Israeli municipal borders, this new military order for "Judea and Samaria" (the Hebrew term for the West Bank) will only make matters even worse.

Mesh these sub-groups together and you have a big chunk of the already dwindling number of Palestinians allowed to live peacefully in their own homes. On the surface, the new order seems merely insane –” criminalizing Palestinians for living in Palestinian territory. Scratch that surface and Israel’s racist and expansionist agenda rears its ugly head. This is not about "legality" or "security" of whatever bogus pretext Israel may offer to justify its draconian measures on the Palestinians. This is about Israel’s long term goals, its greed for Palestinian land and its Machiavellian attitude that the end always justifies the means.

Like almost everything Israeli, the process is slow. Barring the actual occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in 1967 which took all of six days, the last 42 years have been an accumulative Israeli effort to make Palestinian life as difficult as possible if not impossible altogether. Today, Jerusalem is completely isolated from the West Bank, Palestinians only allowed entry into the city by way of the rare Israeli-issued day permit. Gaza is even more isolated, its 1.5 million people cut off from the outside world and from their own Palestinian environment. Furthermore, travel within the West Bank is hardly a piece of cake either, with the 600 or so Israeli checkpoints interrupting the geographical continuity of this space along with the serpentine Israeli wall which, in some areas, separates Palestinians from Palestinians.

So, the plan has been in place for years, its implementation piecemeal and insidiously subtle so as not to sound off any alarm bells. According to the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, the West Bank and Gaza are considered one "a single territorial unit". In his lifetime, late President Yasser Arafat insisted on one thing when negotiations were underway, which was never to separate the two parts of the future Palestinian state, reportedly holding out until "Jericho" was added to the "Gaza-Jericho First" agreement before giving his okay.

Unfortunately, this was not enough. Since Oslo, Israel has continuously and systematically breached the accords, settlement growth first and foremost. However, the new/old practice of the deportation of Palestinians was revived a few years ago and may now be implemented with a vengeance. Everyone has heard of the turning back of pro-Palestinian internationals at Israel’s border crossings, people Israel deems as a "threat to its security." Israel does not like the young westerners and Israelis who travel to Bilin and Nilin every week to protest Israel’s separation wall there, or those who stand outside the Hanoun and Ghawi homes in Sheikh Jarrah in solidarity with these Palestinian families who were kicked out of their homes by Jewish settlers and who now sleep on the street. With this newest military order, these foreigners would have committed a criminal offense by residing in the West Bank without the proper "permission slips" which we all know are not handed out at the door.

For the Palestinians, this spells disaster for God knows how many families. "Mixed marriages" between Jerusalemites and West Bankers pose enough obstacles as is, what with family reunification procedures and maintaining a "center of life" in Jerusalem in order to preserve residency status. However, what about all those families with one spouse from Gaza? Or Gazan students who study at West Bank universities? Once this order goes into effect, Israel will have the "legal standing" to send them all packing, back to the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip. Never mind that they have families, children and jobs here in the West Bank. That means nothing when you are branded as a criminal.

Israel has already started these procedures. Berlanty Azzam made headlines a few months ago when she was handcuffed and arrested at a Bethlehem checkpoint and deported back to the Gaza Strip with only one semester left at Bethlehem University. A husband and children in the West Bank town of Qalqilya are living without their mother who was deported back to Gaza in July 2007 and who has not seen her children since. Palestinians with foreign passports have been barred from reentering the country and have been separated from their families as a result. Now, as of tomorrow, all those Gazans living in the West Bank or foreigners married to Palestinians who have made it under the radar this far will now be automatically branded as criminals, infiltrators in their own homes.

It goes without saying that the order does not apply to the hundreds of thousands of illegal Jewish settlers living on confiscated West Bank land. They can come and go as they please, without the trouble of checkpoints, separation walls or racist orders branding them as criminals for living in their own homes. On the contrary, the less Palestinians, the more space to build even more settlements. Palestinians, on the other hand, who have lived on this land for centuries are barred from their original homes in pre-1948 Palestine, from Jerusalem and now even from the West Bank. Cruel and ironic? Apartheid-like? Without a doubt.

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