Light at the End of the Big Prison

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Samir Awad is an American Palestinian architectural engineer. He has been working with the Kansas City bases Engineering company for the past five years where he lives with his 85-year old grandmother Huda. Earlier this month and because of a change of jobs he decided to pay his parents in Bethlehem a visit. Last Sunday, a day before he had to start his new job, he headed for Ben Gurion airport to take the KLM flight headed for Kansas City. But his trip was not to take place. He was refused travel by the Israeli security at the airport. His American passport couldnt help him. He was told Palestinians were banned from travel as a result of the Egged bus incident in Tel Aviv a few days earlier.

Four days later and after a lawyer submitted preliminary application to the Israeli high court he was allowed to travel. He had to provide proof of employment, a letter from his grandmothers doctor that she needs help because of a recent broken hip as well as a high power attorneys intervention just to be able to leave Israel.

Nahed Awwad, a Palestinian from Bethlehem was unable to return after a short visit to her aunt in Jordan because the Jordan River bridge was closed to Palestinians including those who found themselves trapped outside their homes.

Samir and Naheds cases are not unique. Hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians have been unable to travel in and out of the country. This latest closure is the most severe that the areas occupied since 1967 have witnessed.

In 1993 Israel began this closure policy by forcing Palestinians who wish to enter Jerusalem or Israel to obtain a permit. That closure has continued since then but to this closure many more layers have been added in recent years and especially in the past four months.

Since last October a new reverse closure was implemented. Under the claim of protecting its citizens, Israelis were no longer allowed entry into Palestinian areas. While this policy might be understood as far as Jewish Israelis were concerned, it made little sense when it was applied to Palestinians from Jerusalem or from Israel. The irony also was that the only people in real danger, namely Jewish settlers, were not prevented from entering the Palestinian territories. The safe passage road between Gaza and the West Bank was quickly closed after the start of the Intifada.

Next came the internal closure. Cities were cut off from their natural connections to the nearby villages. With a rural population in the West Bank of 60% this meant a major blow to the normal flow of people going to work, schools, and universities. In Gaza the already overcrowded and strangled strip was cut off into four areas each isolated from the other.

Throughout this period as has been since 1967, the bridge crossing to Jordan was not affected. Even when the Rafah crossing and the Gaza Airport were closed, the West Banks only exit to the outside world continued to be open. But the open bridge policy, this last sign of the late Moshe Dayans pride and joy fell victim to the bankrupt policy of the Israelis.

What is so amazing is that the strict ban on travel both departing and entering was caused by an act of a person whom the Israelis themselves had allowed to travel and even drive an Israeli bus. The driver Abu Ulba from Gaza had received clearance from the Israeli security, his record was spotless and his profile, (married with five children,) was unlike anyone who might be involved in such an operation. While the Israelis punished all three million Palestinians for this action, the direct family of Abu Ulba didnt go unnoticed. Israel radio reported that members of the extended Abu Ulba  family will not be allowed to travel (as if all Palestinians are) and that his family members will no longer be allowed to drive an Israel bus carrying workers, and finally that they will not be allowed to work in the industrial zone which was built near the Erez checkpoint.

This depressing news not withstanding my brother Jonathan, normally a pessimist was in a hopeful mood this week. He had been hearing the news in Hebrew all last week and he told me that almost all the security officials interviewed on the radio were saying to the Israeli listeners that they have tried everything against Palestinians and that they dont know what else they can do.  For Jonathan this was a sign of hope.

If this is the darkest moment in the tunnel, I mean big prison, there must be a light at the end.

Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.

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