Back to 1869

The connections between the towns in the West Bank are getting closer and closer to what they were 150 years ago: walking by foot on dirt paths, riding donkeys or tractors in order to fulfill basic needs like water, a few vegetables, medicines and studies.

In 1869, the first road for carriages was paved between Jaffa and Jerusalem. Otherwise, the cities and villages were linked by narrow dirt paths, and people traveled from place to place and transported goods mainly by foot or on donkeys, camels or mules. An economy mostly based on primitive agriculture and scant education fits in well with this Palestinian road map, which the historian Benny Morris traces in one of his books (The Righteous Victims, A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict). One can assume in light of the distances between these communities that the feeling of common origin and destiny was still rather weak.

The connections between the cities and villages in the West Bank today is getting closer and closer to what it was 150 years ago: walking by foot on dirt paths, riding donkeys or tractors (the modern alternative to the camel) in order to fulfill basic needs like water, a few vegetables, medicines and studies. The distances are also starting to expand, and seem like what they were in the 19th century. It takes several days to get to Jenin from Ramallah, and half a day to reach Hebron from Bethlehem. Haifa and Jaffa (and the relatives and friends who live there) have been wiped off the map for all practical purposes, though their beauty and significance in the Palestinian consciousness have reached legendary proportions.

If 150 years ago people had to be wary of robbers along the way, those walking today along the mountain and valley paths have to keep a lookout for army patrols and sudden roadblocks where a tank, armored personnel carrier or police jeep is deployed and citations are written against whoever violates the military order of internal closure and travels without a permit from the Civil Administration. Two million lawbreakers are living in the West Bank, and a huge army of law enforcers are trying to track every breach in the fence, every roadblock of rocks that is cleared during the dark of night, every rampart of dirt that is breached, every new side path carved out by anonymous footsteps. These enforcers of law and order, using the most advanced observation tools from "the upper Land of Israel," watch over the "lower Palestine" of pedestrians and riders of donkeys and tractors from wide and modern roads that serve a small trickle of Israeli cars.

Internal closure - that is, the anti-modern process of returning to earlier transportation links - comes together with a modern mutation of house arrest to which half a million people have been subjected for over two months now. The school year began on Saturday and, except for Jenin and the Old City of Hebron, the curfew was lifted during the daytime hours in the cities so that the pupils could go to school (and they were excited to do so) after being cooped up in their homes the whole summer vacation. But the curfew was reimposed on most of the cities on Sunday and Monday, and the disappointed children were again buried behind the walls of their small apartments.

The internal closure and house arrest have not only reduced the distances and horizons to a minimum, they have already pushed the economy backward, together with the level of sanitation and medical services. The level of education is also regressing, despite official Palestinian attempts to deny this and to boast about the achievements of students in matriculation exams. Since most of the population is now urban, it lacks the land reserves that at least provide villagers with basic foodstuffs. In any case, even those who are able to grow a few tomatoes and squash in their villages cannot easily access their olive groves or sell their produce daily in the city market, which is closed due to the curfew. An entire population is therefore forced into the status of being dependent on handouts: The world finances unemployment payments for about 120,000 public sector officials and for those registered as members of the Palestinian security services; UNRWA distributes food to hundreds of thousands of needy people, also with international funding; and Arab and Islamic funds finance the distribution of food products by private charities and organizations of the Palestinian Authority.

Whether knowingly or not, and whether intentionally or not, the policies of internal closure and ongoing curfew are harming and even destroying the modern-national ties that the Palestinian public has developed during the past 100 years, shredding a collective into a collection of individuals that need to deal, mostly on their own, with an unbearable reality. This breakdown is consistent with the Israeli outlook of the 1970s that is returning to fashion today, according to which the Palestinians are not a "people" and are not entitled to the rights of a people and a community in this land, but only to the rights of "individuals" - and even this only on condition that they prove that they will behave accordingly. This breakdown is also consistent with the vision of disconnected enclaves that MK and former minister Avigdor Lieberman proposed, and it matches the so-called "interim solution" proposals that other Israeli groups are concocting.

Do people in Israel believe that the Palestinian national consciousness can also be turned back to 1869, in order to make things easier for those who are cooking up interim solutions for what seems to be an interminable period of time?