On Friday a bus got stuck in the mud somewhere between Morag, a Gaza settlement, and Rafah on an unmarked dirt road that winds between fields and orchards, hothouses and stone houses scattered across the farmland. It's more a track than a road, carved out by travelers after the IDF blocked the main road between Khan Yunis and Rafah a day earlier.
A long queue of cars got stuck behind the bus. Gradually, the drivers and men got out of the cars to help push the bus. Two youths began speaking with the only woman who got out of the vehicles. The two said they were from Tufah neighborhood in the Khan Yunis refugee camp (where the IDF has demolished dozens of homes in the past year) and that they are in the Palestinian navy. Then came the inevitable question, does she speak Hebrew? And completely naturally, even before her professional identity became known, they continued chatting with the Israeli woman, answering her questions about their lives, and asking her their own questions. The conversation ended only because the bus was finally freed from the mud.
Hundreds of Israelis who certainly would like to have similar chatty experiences would be able to do so if were it not for the Israeli army ban on Israelis entering Palestinian Area A territories. The security imperative and the need to save lives sound very convincing. Palestinians did murder several Israelis who entered Area A to shop or dine in a Palestinian town. Other Israelis on innocent trips were kidnapped and it took intervention and pressure to secure their release. Regrettably, another Israeli was murdered yesterday in the Beit Sahur area.
But there are three comments that have to be made in response to these ostensibly reasonable arguments:
1. About 200,000 Israelis risk their lives every day when they drive on West Bank and Gaza roads to reach their homes in settlements. The IDF does not prohibit them from risking their lives and the lives of their children. Quite the contrary - young soldiers are sent to risk their own lives to provide protection for the settlers. Meanwhile, 3 million Palestinians live in a regime of closure, curfew and siege, essentially incarcerated to prevent any possible breach in the defense of the settlers.
2. Tens of thousands of young Israelis risk their lives every year in traveling to exotic and dangerous places around the world. They climb snow-clad mountains, hike in jungles, and visit drug-stricken islands. No government authority would dare prohibit them from tempting fate with their adventures.
3. The all-encompassing ban on entry to Area A does not really prevent those who want to buy a cheap sofa or some hashish. But it does limit hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Israelis who are fed up with the patronizing one-way filter through which the IDF passes its recycled, chewed up statements to the Israeli press. There are Israelis who are convinced that their moral and civic responsibility is to monitor closely what their government and army are up to.
If these people could get into Area A and Gaza, they could come home and widen the circle of Israelis who are ready to hear something other than the IDF's interpretation of reality. They would see - and then explain - the real balance of forces, who is threatened and who is doing the threatening.
They would see dozens of tanks (each weighing more than 50 tons) perched over neighborhoods from hilltops. They would see people forced to hike through wadis to get to home or work. They would see the armored outposts with machine gun barrels poking out of every crack, and they would see the countless observation towers surrounding Palestinian villages and towns.
They would see with their own eyes the fields and orchards burned to the ground by the IDF as it departed. They would go to places where dozens of Palestinian children have been killed, and they would find out that no child throwing a rock or even a Molotov cocktail could have possibly harmed the soldiers there.
They would hear, maybe even witness, soldiers shooting at residents, firing shots that never make it into the IDF spokesman's reports. They'd see how the West Bank and Gaza have turned into huge fields of fortresses and outposts whose only purpose is to protect the settlements.
These Israelis would go in peacefully and leave peacefully, and they would bring out proof that the mythical fear of all Palestinians is not only groundless, but is promulgated for strictly propaganda purposes.
More than anything, the ban on entering the Palestinian-controlled areas allows the IDF to control absolutely the perspective of reality that reaches Israelis. It allows the government to postpone over and over again the point at which more and more people will inevitably reject the logic of that government's policies.
Unfortunately, the High Court of Justice last week cooperated with the army and the executive branch when it rejected a petition from three members of the legislature - MKs from Hadash - who petitioned the court to force the IDF to allow them into Gaza. There was no question of danger to their safety, but as the justices wrote, "public order" might have been disrupted.
In other words, this is the comfortable screen from behind which the army and the government bombard the public with distorted pictures of reality.
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