Every day between 8 and 9 A.M., or between 3 and 4 P.M., two lines of cars - one short, one long - stretch beyond the concrete cubes, the guard tower and the soldiers at the eastern exit from Ramallah. In the morning the lines are heading for Ramallah. In the afternoon they are leaving it. The Israelis call this the Beit El checkpoint, which separates the Ramallah salient from the Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the buildings of the Civil Administration and the huge military base. The Palestinians call it the DCO checkpoint, after the former location of the Israeli-Palestinian District Coordination Office, which is intended for foreigners and Palestinians with pull and special permits, including ambulances and service vehicles.
The short line of cars is in the middle lane of the crossing point. The longer one in the outer lane. The short line is short because it is populated by VIPS, who have preferential crossing rights: first of all the diplomats, the representatives of foreign countries; respected directors and employees of international organizations; and of course Palestinian VIPs of the first rank. The cars in the long line sometimes wait 10 to 15 minutes for the foreign and Palestinian VIPs who have just arrived to go through first.
Sometimes one feels like getting out of the car that is waiting in the long line and asking the diplomat or the VIP who has just arrived and will go through in a moment - his face looking straight ahead and not to the sides - whether he really thinks that his time is more precious than all the other people's time. But this desire is quelled by a sense of shame, because those who are in the long line of cars are also better off than those who have to go through the Qalandiyah checkpoint, or those whom Israel does not allow to go through at Qalandiyah, or those who go through only on foot, because the waiting in a taxi is too prolonged.
All in all, at the DCO checkpoint it is the privileged who are allowed to go through, among them Palestinian merchants, high status Jerusalemites who work in Ramallah, second- or third-rank Palestinian VIPs. Everyone who waits in the two lines of cars, Western diplomat or Arab diplomat, Israeli journalist or Palestinian VIP, will get onto the bypass road that is blocked to most Palestinians.
Each of the two lines collaborates the consistent Israeli policy of creating apartheid roads in the West Bank. There is one system of roads for the natives, and it is winding, narrow, long, bumpy, sown with military checkpoints and frequently closed. And there is the system of road for "Whites," that is, Israelis, or all kinds of people who have been whitened - diplomats, VIPs, wealthy people with permits, merchants, journalists.
The travelers in the two lines collaborate with the logic of the occupation, whereby in order to protect the welfare and well-being of the Jewish settlers, it is permissible to create two separate transportation networks.
There is one transportation grid for Whites that connects the Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Israel. It ensures not only superior transportation contiguity for the Jews but also Jewish territorial contiguity, while breaking any Palestinian territorial contiguity. The special transportation network for Whites was conceived by the Israeli authorities in the 1980s, and a prolonged legal battle that the Palestinians waged against the plan delayed it for almost a decade. And then - under the guise of the peace talks in the 1990s - the construction of the "bypass" roads began on lands that were stolen from the Palestinians for the sake of the master plan to expand and perpetuate the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and to link them to Israel.
The two road grids, like the Pass System (travel permits) that Israel introduced in 1991 and that to this day limits most Palestinians' freedom of movement, ensure Israel's control over the time of all Palestinians. Stolen land is concrete, so now and then calls are heard to stop the construction in the Jewish settlements or halt the confiscation of lands.
But time? It is abstract. Time, however, is a precious resource for every human being. Time that is robbed while waiting at checkpoints, or waiting for permits, cannot ever be returned. The loss of time, which Israel is stealing every day from 3.5 million people, is evident everywhere: in the damage it causes to their ability to earn a living; in their economic, family and cultural activity; in the leisure hours, in studies and in creativity; and in the shrinking of the space in which every individual lives and therefore the narrowing of their horizon and their expectations.
The travelers in the two lines collaborate with the logic that the time of the natives or of the non-VIPs is not precious, as opposed to their own time. The foreign diplomats and the Palestinian VIPs are signaling to Israel that as long as their precious time is not affected, Israel can continue unhindered to maintain the apartheid roads - that is, the apartheid reality in the West Bank.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now