It is an unlikely request. But Palestinians would be pleasantly surprised if US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would do it when she comes to Ramallah. Many would be surprised if the convoy of the senior US diplomat would take the same route –” that going through the Qalandia checkpoint –” that thousands of Palestinians going to Ramallah take. This checkpoint has become the humiliating symbol of what the continued Israeli occupation is all about.
Checkpoints between Palestinian cities (and not just between Palestine and Israel) were erected shortly after the eruption of the second Intifada. All international peace agreements, including the one accepted by all sides: the roadmap, call on Israel to remove the tens of checkpoints and return the Israeli army to the pre-October 2000 positions.
The effects of the checkpoints have been disastrous. They stifled economic relations, as goods and people are not able to move between Palestinian cities. Ironically, the only goods easily allowed into Palestinian cities are Israeli, giving them a huge advantage, at the expense of local products and services. In addition to their negative effects on the economy, the checkpoints have had a huge negative effect on people’s psyche. Many Palestinians say that while they may not want to travel to other cities, the fact that they cannot make them feel claustrophobic.
Perhaps the best indication of the wide-ranging negative effects of the checkpoints can be seen by scanning the daily reports of the Israeli group Mahsom Watch. A look at the details of these reports shows that basic humiliations and restriction of movement is arbitrary. That humiliating practices often depend on the mood of a particular soldier or officer, rather than on any genuine security need.
Of real importance is to look at the variety of people of all ages, backgrounds, professions and economic status. This variety reinforces the feeling among Palestinians, as well as among legal experts, that these travel restriction between Palestinian cities is nothing less than a violation of international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention clearly defines such actions as collective punishment, prohibited by international humanitarian law.
The difficulties of transportation have forced the Palestinian telephone carrier PalTel to make all Palestinian areas one dialling zone. In an ad played on radio and television, a mother calls her two daughters in Nablus and in Gaza and talks for a long time telling them not to worry because all the calls have become local.
Six months after the elections of Mahmoud Abbas and after a long and continuous period of relative quiet from the Palestinian factions, there are no more excuses for Israel to keep these four-year-long humiliating checkpoints that restrict movement between Palestinian cities. They are clearly not security motivated but rather politically related. The continued use of an entire people as hostage should not be tolerated.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government, engulfed in internal political conflict over the withdrawal from Gaza, is hoping to trade the relaxation of these clearly not security-related restrictions for political results from a weakened Palestinian partner.
Rice’s upcoming visit to Israel and Palestine is unlikely to include the many checkpoints that are checkering the Palestinian areas and choking the possibilities of peace. With the continuation of these restrictions and unnecessary checkpoints, the seeds of hate and anger that have been planted during the past four years will mature into violent reactions. Talk of a third Palestinian Intifada is getting more serious, not only among politicians but also in the sitting rooms of most Palestinians.