Text size

Tarring a road, building an elevated traffic island as a lane divider, leveling an area and cleaning it - there is no reason for these to take up a single line in the newspaper. Tarring a road, as common sense would have it, means using taxpayers' money for their benefit, a service that goes without saying, that is part of the ongoing contract between citizens and the authorities.

But when this tarring takes place on a road north of Bir Zeit, and the one executing it is the Israel Defense Forces, which also grabbed under GOC order dozens of dunams belonging to several Palestinian families, and commandeered one family's home in its absence, then we're dealing with an ongoing contract of another sort. It is a contract between the state authorities and the Jewish citizens of Israel which permits them to use Palestinian land and property to the detriment of the Palestinian public.

The tarring is under way right now, and it deserves more than a line in the paper. But the problem is that even 50 lines, and even were these to appear on the front page, would not put a stop to this evil plunder.

When the authorities build a traffic island in Kfar Saba and designate driving lanes, they do so for the public good and for the sake of its safety. When the same thing is done at the end of a road like the one at the Bir Zeit/Atara junction, the objective is different: to erect another permanent checkpoint (a "monitoring area," in the IDF's euphemism), in place of the improvised checkpoint that has been in sporadic operation there for five years. And a permanent checkpoint means another violation in an endless series of violations of Palestinian freedom of movement.

This means another, nearly final, step toward completing the military and settler encirclement of the Ramallah region. In other words, another measure in severing the Ramallah province from the rest of the West Bank's cut off Palestinian enclaves.

That information, once it reaches the paper, already sounds like the selfsame news report being recycled over and over: a road tarred for a checkpoint, truncation, isolation, enclave, stranglehold. But that is what the IDF does day in and day out, with exemplary diligence: not invisibly, not clandestinely; an enormous checkpoint at the Zaatara (Tapuah) junction that will distance the northern West Bank from its center, a checkpoint and separation wall at Abu Dis that severs the West Bank's center from its south and screens those who go through it, and checkpoints and settlements "within the consensus" around Bethlehem that have long since turned it into a stifled, isolated city. And Hebron, so it seems to those living in the northern West Bank, is farther away than Saudi Arabia.

In the past two years, the Ramallah province has enjoyed a relatively loose encirclement, compared to other enclaves in the West Bank. True, three of the city's five natural entrances/exits are partially or wholly blocked: Bitunia, in the southwest, is open only to the passage of goods through the "back-to-back" method (whereby cargo is unloaded at the checkpoint into trucks waiting on the other side); Qalandiyah, in the south-center, is blocked to Palestinian vehicles and pedestrians are subjected to exhausting, annoying and humiliating checks; and the eastern exit is open only to VIPs in their cars.

But the Bir Zeit road, north of Ramallah, is one of only two roads that enable Palestinians to travel more or less directly from Ramallah province to the rest of the West Bank. It is a fairly crooked "directness" since the two roads in question are secondary, inter-village roads that are narrow, winding, long and not very safe. They are straining under the heavy traffic of cars that checkpoints and roadblocks prevent from reaching the West Bank's wide main roads.

Thus, the Bir Zeit road provides a very peculiar route for southbound travelers: it forces them to head northward in order to go south. But now, preparing the junction at the northern edge of Bir Zeit in order to erect a permanent army checkpoint will also kill the partial illusion of an "open Ramallah."

In each area of the West Bank, the regime of restrictions on mobility is characterized by various military orders and other types of roadblocks. The restrictions were not imposed all at once; the reasons given and the security incidents always make it possible to present them as a temporary "ad hoc response," but they serve a highly consistent colonizing purpose. Between one exacerbation and the next, the Palestinians are given a chance to adjust, to find a bypass road, to believe that "it can't get any worse." But then a new restriction is imposed, and it turns out that it most certainly can get worse.

At issue are not only the high gasoline expenditures, the time lost, and cars breaking down frequently on shoddy roads. The bisecting that Israel is carrying out undermines natural economic ties, without which any talk of development is an act of deception.

The bisection contravenes international resolutions regarding the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, and makes a mockery of the hopes for economic recovery and political calm expressed by the World Bank and Condoleezza Rice. In its overall effect, the bisection crams the Palestinians into a restricted, humiliated, stifled life in Third World enclaves and townships separated from each other, at a distance of five minutes from our life of convenience.