Something good happened to Na'im Saadi: Last Thursday he succeeded in visiting his parents and his brother in Jenin, in the northern West Bank. Saadi, who is the sales manager of the Al-Qasbi Theater in Ramallah, hadn't been home for months, and his face lit up with happiness as he set out for the drive.
Like him, thousands of Palestinians couldn't believe their eyes last Thursday. The soldiers at the Qalandiyah roadblock near Jerusalem, which cuts off Ramallah, the Palestinians' cultural and economic capital, from the rest of the West Bank, had vanished. Ramallah was crowded with people that day in a way it hadn't been for a very long time, and there was talk of newly uplifted spirits.
At the same time, everyone knows that this happiness will be a short-lived affair and that immediately after the United States emissary General Anthony Zinni leaves the region, the first excuse will be enough to bring back the soldiers from the Paratroop Brigade and the Border Police. In fact, on Thursday, too, they observed the doings at the roadblock from atop the earth rampart above the barrier. And when they resume their duties, they will once more deprive the young and the old, the women and children, of any semblance of normal life.
The soldiers will go back to their positions between the mounds of refuse and the dunghill at the largest of the West Bank roadblocks - a barrier that does not prevent Palestinians from entering Israel, but only blocks them from traveling from one Palestinian locale to another - and they will be the ones who decide who may and who may not visit his aunt, attend classes at the university, open his shop or get to the doctor.
The roadblock that has become the symbol of the abuse of the Palestinian population in the current intifada, the roadblock that is always crowded with masses of humiliated, irritated people, in vehicles or on foot, will resume its harsh routine. The scenes of the ill in wheel chairs and of the elderly on crutches fighting their way through the mud or waiting in the endless line, imploring the soldiers to let them through from one part of their country to another, will return in all their cruelty.
Now, however, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), which always moves ahead with the times, is building a mega-roadblock at Qalandiyah, with clearly marked lanes and a terminal building. Across from the decaying and empty international airport of Jerusalem, another border station will be established, which will split the West Bank permanently.
The IDF takes great pride in its new project. The head of Central Command, Major General Yitzhak Eitan, said a few days ago that this will be an "enlightened roadblock." He also drew a comparison between the new barrier, which is now under construction, and another roadblock he considers "enlightened," the one at Erez, on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
It's difficult to believe that after more than 34 years of occupation the IDF's word laundry is still operating the same way it did at the beginning, and that a general in the Israeli army can still believe in all seriousness that people out there will still accept the oxymoron of "enlightened roadblock." Years after the debate over whether there could be such a thing as an "enlightened occupation" was settled, along comes General Eitan and tries to breathe life into this old self-deception by means of another impossible combination of words. He should be told that just as there is not and cannot be such a thing as an "enlightened road," so there cannot be an "enlightened roadblock" in the territories under occupation.
There is absolutely no connection between enlightenment and the methods that are intended to embitter the lives of the local residents and deprive them of their basic right to freedom of movement. Boasting about enlightenment in connection with roadblocks that are manned by soldiers of an occupying army may be enough to convince officers in the IDF, but no fence of separation or terminal building will make the Qalandiyah roadblock, or any other roadblock, "enlightened."
The invocation of the Erez crossing point model as the apogee of an enlightened barrier is also outrageous. That deserted station, which hardly anyone is now allowed to approach, with its many lanes and its handsome terminal building and the soldiers who examine merchandise wearing white surgical gloves, is today the cruelest of all barriers: More than a million Palestinians are locked in behind it, with no exit.
Unfortunately, more than linguistic chicanery is involved here. Underlying the plan to build a permanent roadblock at Qalandiyah is another attempt to bureaucratize and banalize the occupation.
The inhuman decision to deprive people of freedom of movement will become a permanent fact, exquisitely organized, with neatly marked lanes and state-of-the-art terminals, until the point will be reached where it's not clear what's worse: the barrier of dirt and refuse that seals off the village, or the enlightened barrier, so well equipped and sophisticated, that blocks half of the West Bank. Pregnant women and aged men will have to find ways around both barriers on foot, in the mud, in the cold and the rain, and in any event it will be difficult to ever efface the disgrace of either one of them.
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