Palestinians working to stop Israeli bid to divide West Bank and Gaza residents
As Israel cracks down on Gazans living in the West Bank, a new group is demanding freedom of movement for all Palestinians.
A mistaken report needs to be corrected. Two weeks ago I wrote about a young man who claimed he was expelled from the West Bank to Gaza. He was born in Gaza but had lived in the West Bank since he was 7, he said. The military spokesman's office informed me that it was not familiar with the case, but I've heard that line before - for example, in reference to Palestinians who were used as "human shields" during Operation Cast Lead. The fact that the army says it doesn't know about an incident doesn't mean such an incident hasn't taken place.
But this time, it turns out that there was no evasive maneuver here, and there was a real reason this case was unfamiliar to the Israel Defense Forces: The young man has lived with his family in Israel for many years. And it was from Be'er Sheva, not the West Bank town of Dahariya, that he was expelled. For him, the lie he told reporters, myself included, is perhaps a fraction of a lie. After all, the distance between Dahariya and Be'er Sheva is small, the borders are artificial, the lifestyle is similar, relatives live on both sides of the Green Line. But as far as I am concerned, his tale is a full-fledged lie that piggybacked on the great media interest, the first of its kind, in the situation of Gaza natives who live in the West Bank.
Over the last few months, all sorts of rumors were disseminated, but were easy to spot right away as being totally unfounded: the rumors that 20 Palestinians were expelled as a single group to Gaza, that a Shin Bet questionnaire was distributed in four homes of native Gazans, that dozens of deported Palestinians were gathered in a protest tent in Gaza. These false rumors came on the heels of a Haaretz report about an amended military order, No. 1650, that is aimed at preventing infiltration into the West Bank.
In suspiciously vague language, order No. 1650 (amendment No. 2 ) expands the definition of "infiltrator" such that it applies to anyone who is in the West Bank without a permit from the military commander, and anyone who fits that definition is subject to expulsion. Rumors sparked by the fact that this order went into effect on April 13 caused panic and uncertainty, primarily among Palestinians whose identity cards bear an address in the Gaza Strip.
Long before the order was made public, many knew that the Israeli authorities - the army, Civil Administration and the police - consider West Bank residents with a Gaza address on their ID cards to be living in the West Bank illegally. Many sought over the years to change the address that appears on their official records, and discovered that Israel was preventing them from doing so. One case even required the intervention of a very senior French minister who knew the Palestinian woman who has been married for years to a West Bank native; she lives and works in the West Bank, but continued to be registered as living in Gaza. The minister approached a certain party and the address was changed. Those who do not have such high-level connections have long stopped moving around the West Bank and leaving the Area A enclaves where they live.
True, the IDF and the other official spokesmen sought to explain that the order was not intended to kick out Gazans who do not have a permit to stay in the West Bank, which the IDF did not even require them to get until 2007. They distributed a reassuring letter to diplomats as well. Though the diplomats haven't come out in favor of the Fayyad government's demand that the order be rescinded, "in Israel they know we are on the watch," one of them told Haaretz.
Like the diplomat, Palestinian officials in the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization have not been convinced by the reassurances Israel has issued. "The order is another substantial blow to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, as agreed to in the Oslo Accords," said Saeb Erekat on Thursday at a public meeting in Ramallah. He told his audience that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has asked the Americans directly about the order, saying: "Are you interested in my having authority in the Palestinian territories or not? I want an answer."
The public meeting with Erekat was a first-of-its-kind event. Three Palestinian groups joined together to arrange it: Al Haq, a veteran human rights organization; Right to Enter, a voluntary association of Palestinians with foreign citizenship who live in the West Bank; and Harakeh ("Movement" ), an organization started about three months ago by Gaza natives who live in the West Bank. The right to have freedom of movement and to choose where they want to live, the fight against the restrictions on movement that Israel imposes on all Palestinians, the tie that should not be broken between Palestinian society in Gaza and that in the West Bank: This is the underlying basis of the organization. The surprising thing is that no one formed a group like this 15 years ago, and that there aren't thousands of Palestinians waiting to join.
The issuing of order No. 1650 was an opportunity for Harakeh to come out of the closet, so to speak. Around 10 days ago, its representatives attended a closed meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during which social activists discussed ways of combating the order. But the meeting with Erekat was open to the public (and was later broadcast ), and he was asked several direct questions. For instance: The office of civilian affairs, which mediates between Palestinian residents and Israel's Civil Administration, and which is subordinate to Abbas' office, recently started handing out Israeli-issued permits that allow Gazans to temporarily stay in the West Bank; isn't that a kind of recognition of the separation that Israel has created between the two societies?
The participants at the meeting asked the PA to take some action and not just issue denunciations. For example, they asked, why shouldn't the PA change the addresses of thousands of people, instead of having its officials turn them away while explaining obediently that "the Israelis don't agree to it"? In this way, the PA will exercise its authority in accordance with Oslo.
This would be a form of integrated civil disobedience, if you like: the leadership and the public together reject the occupiers' dictates. It's just like Bil'in, in a different guise.
Erekat talked at length about the occupation. It is only natural for something 43 years old to lead to the development of racism among Israelis. It is an illness that endangered and endangers all of mankind, he said, and people always find pretexts for it. The head of the Palestinian negotiating team reiterated that "our choice is a two-state solution" and that "there is no Palestinian state without the Gaza Strip." He joked that even Abbas can be seen as an infiltrator. The meeting concluded with an agreement that Erekat would send Abbas a letter containing the three groups' recommendations on how to proceed. It was also agreed that a joint coordinating committee would be set up (including representatives of the president's office, the government, the PLO and civil society organizations ) to work against order No. 1650.