The main highway of the southern section of the West Bank - Highway 60 that links Bethlehem and Hebron - has been closed both to Palestinian cars and to Palestinian pedestrians since May 3, 2001, after two women, residents of the Jewish settlement of Efrat, were shot dead by terrorists.
The closure of the highway to Palestinians was ordered by the Israel Defense Forces. Since that time, no vehicles bearing Palestinian license plates have been seen on this highway, built on the lands of Palestinian villages whose access roads have been blocked in any case for the past 10 months.
About half a dozen or more IDF roadblocks have been set up along Highway 60, the Bethlehem bypass that has also become the Hebron bypass. The soldiers operating these roadblocks carry out the orders of their commanding officers to the letter as they check the papers of all persons traveling in Palestinian automobiles from East Jerusalem, which bear (yellow) Israeli license plates.
Palestinians traveling from Hebron to Bethlehem who are found to be in possession of an identity card of a resident of the territories, rather than that of an East Jerusalem resident, are told to get out of the "Israeli" vehicle and to return to Hebron and to continue to Bethlehem via a highway that is located to the east and which is, for the most part, poorly paved, winding and narrow.
Thus, Highway 60, a wide road that has been renovated and expanded and which is well-maintained, is off-limits for the 600,000 Palestinians who live in the greater Hebron-Bethlehem area and, of course, for Palestinians who live in the northern section of the West Bank and who are forced to travel almost as far as the Dead Sea if they are Bethlehem-bound.
As of last Thursday, the badly-paved, twisting eastern highway is also out-of-bounds for Hebron residents. After a resident of Upper Betar and a resident of Kiryat Arba were murdered by terrorists, the IDF encircled Hebron and its 120,000 inhabitants. It is forbidden for Hebron residents to exit the city by car, even via the eastern highway.
When a community is "encircled," the practical meaning is that the Palestinians living in that community cannot leave Area A. Until yesterday at least, the encirclement of Hebron and its inhabitants was still in effect. The soldiers stationed at Hebron's exit routes, which have been blocked off by huge piles of earth, are making sure that Palestinians going by foot will not cross the main highway, which is now used exclusively by Israeli cars, and that these Palestinians will not enter Areas B or C.
A similar situation prevails in other parts of the West Bank. Here a main highway has been closed off to Palestinian vehicular traffic, there "encirclement" has been imposed on an entire district, meaning that neither Palestinian cars nor even Palestinian pedestrians can pass through. Earth ramparts and huge concrete blocks can be seen everywhere. These devices have cut off whole villages from the district highways. This has been the state of affairs on the West Bank for the past 10 months.
The West Bank is dotted all over with hundreds of Palestinian communities that are cut off from one another, while any travel between them, along dangerous dirt roads, is a tortuous process that consumes several hours in either direction. It is not surprising that the majority of Palestinians living in those communities are prepared to forgo such "pleasures."
Naturally, Israel refuses to accept the Palestinian claim that these measures constitute a form of collective punishment. Instead, the Israeli authorities consider the fragmentation of the West Bank to be a legitimate, unavoidable step intended to prevent terrorist attacks against the Israelis - both soldiers and settlers - traveling through and inhabiting the West Bank. According to Israeli military logic, were it not for this fragmentation and for the internal closures, there would many more terrorist incidents.
This logic is used to justify the moral legitimacy of the following statistics: For the sake of the 400 or 500 Jews living today in the Old City of Hebron, it is completely sensible and perfectly appropriate that a full curfew should be imposed on the 26,000 Palestinians living there. For the sake of the 6,000 Jewish residents of Kiryat Arba, it is completely sensible and perfectly suitable that the 120,000 Palestinians living in Hebron should be encircled.
And, for the sake of the 200,000 Jews living today in the settlements of the West Bank (except for East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip and for the sake of the thousands of IDF soldiers protecting those settlers, it is correct and just that communities with a total population of 3 million Palestinians should be encircled.
This logic did not begin with the outbreak of the Intifada. This logic is the bullet-proof vest of a line of thinking that has developed over a number of decades and which, since 1967, has become the hallmark of Israeli rule in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. It is obvious that Jews have every right to live and work in these territories and that they should receive generous government subsidies.
By the same logic, it is obvious that Palestinians have no right to live and work within the Green Line. It is obvious that "state lands" belong exclusively to Jews, not Palestinians. It is perfectly natural that both the development of master plans and investments in highways and other infrastructures such as electricity, water and telephone systems should be for the sole benefit of the Jewish settlements, not the Palestinian villages adjacent to these settlements. It is self-understood that no water consumption quotas should be imposed on the settlements but that such quotas can be imposed on the Palestinian villages adjacent to them.
In other words, by definition, Jews living in this land have more rights than the Palestinians living here. Since the Palestinians refuse to accept this logic, they must pay by forfeiting some of the rights that they still have.
This logic is continuing to speed down the highway that was built decades ago. Despite the grim projections, Israeli society has done very little to try to block this "attitudinal highway" - a highway of logic that determines that Jews deserve more rights than Palestinians.
Down the broad highways of the West Bank and through the streets of the Old City of Hebron - roadways that are closed off to Palestinian cars - Jewish cars are speeding along, Jewish cars bearing stickers that read, "No Arabs, no terrorist attacks."
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