Palesitinians in Tel Aviv
Palestinians bathing in Tel Aviv's beach. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Israel allowed some 130,000 Palestinians into the country this week to celebrate Id al-Fitr. Tens of thousands of West Bank residents had the rare opportunity to visit their families in Israel, swim in the sea and tour the country. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Civil Administration thereby took a courageous step, which, though they tried to conceal it from the Israeli public, deserves great praise.

The operation passed uneventfully. It enabled residents of the territories to leave their giant prison, if only for a moment, and get a taste of freedom in the country that occupies them, and which they are normally forbidden to enter. This holiday brought joy to tens of thousands of people who were able to swim in the sea for the first time, meet their families and vacation like human beings. The sights on Tel Aviv's beaches, which thousands of Palestinians visited, were moving indeed.

Despite protests by settlers and other rightists, Israel has slightly relaxed its cruel grip on the occupied territories in recent years. Dozens of checkpoints have been removed, roads have been opened to traffic, and the number of Palestinians permitted to enter Israel to work has increased somewhat. None of these steps compromised security in any way.

But this is not enough. In view of the relative quiet that has prevailed in recent years, Israel must greatly expand this trend. A controlled opening of Israel's gates to the Palestinians, rather than merely throwing them a holiday bone, is necessary not only from a moral standpoint, but for the benefit of both peoples.

After many years in which all contact between the two nations has been prevented, Israel must start gradually reinstating freedom of movement between the West Bank and Israel. This will improve living conditions in the territories, help to mitigate the feelings of despair on both sides, and bring the two peoples closer.

The sights we witnessed this week, which today are rare and almost surreal, must become routine. Especially now, when belief in peace has been completely lost, it is vital for Israel to open its doors wide, as long as there is no terror. The tens of thousands of Palestinians who were in Israel this week went home happy. Their happiness should also be ours.