Enough Palestinian Cars

A terrorist wishing to enter Israel will find a way to do so. The fact that the trip from Hebron to Bethlehem takes hours does not prevent terrorism; it encourages it.

We must stop this luxury immediately: The Palestinians should be prohibited from traveling in cars on all the roads of the West Bank and not only intercity roads, as was decided following the drive-by shooting attack at the Gush Etzion junction last week.

Any other solution, more "humane," will not prevent terror attacks. In any case, most Palestinians have become used to living without cars, without movement, without freedom. Therefore, let us stop playing with highfalutin words and partial solutions: no more Palestinian cars on our country's roads, including its occupied territories.

Toward the end of the week, people here were frightened a bit by the American criticism about the closing of main roads in the West Bank to private cars. A source in Jerusalem hurried to tell Haaretz, "There is no new plan to separate traffic on the roads of the West Bank." And the defense minister promised from London that it was only a temporary measure. Thus, it was proved again that our last moral barrier is not to be found in Jerusalem, but rather in Washington. The thought that people like George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice are the guardians of our morality should make us shudder, but that is the fact.

Nonetheless, the government source admitted that there is a contingency plan for separating traffic that would only be implemented if the Palestinian Authority collapses. It is difficult to understand what the relation is between the collapse of the PA and the complete collapse of what remains of our human values, as expressed in the imposition of chilling collective punishments.

In the meantime, the Israel Defense Forces has already implemented "parts of the plan as an immediate response to terrorism," the source explained. However, the prohibition of travel by private cars on intercity roads is part of a regime of ethnic-based separation that has been in practice for some time and which is most acutely expressed on the roads. For nearly five years, the basic freedom of movement has been denied to 2.5 million residents in the West Bank. Israel occasionally loosens the reins, as was the case during recent months, and sometimes tightens them, as is happening now. But the differences are minuscule: The ultimate fact is that the residents of the West Bank are imprisoned. The decisions to tighten the grip now and then, which are only intended to please the settlers, no longer make much difference.

There are only few Israelis who can fathom the implications of the defense establishment's arbitrary decisions. How many days would we be able to live without private vehicles? Who among us has any idea what someone experiences when he or she must go through the Hawara checkpoint on days when it is ostensibly open, and crowd into the endless line at the Qalandiyah checkpoint? Or how long a dialysis patient must spend on the roads to travel from Tul Karm to a hospital in East Jerusalem? Every journey in the West Bank has become a continuous nightmare of humiliation and physical anxiety.

Therefore, these things must be brought to the attention of the concerned Americans: The apartheid on the roads has existed for some time here, with or without the contingency plan. Most of the roads in the West Bank are desolate, with no people or cars. On days (Shabbat) and hours when the settlers are not traveling on them, they become ghost roads. Travel on the road leading from the J'bara checkpoint near Taibeh to Tul Karm and Nablus, and you will not understand where the hundreds of thousands of residents living in the area have disappeared. Have they vanished into thin air? Have they decided to sit forever under their grapevines and fig trees? When you travel on Road 443 leading from Modi'in to Jerusalem, which has become a superhighway to the capital, ask yourselves, where are the tens of thousands of residents of the villages scattered along the side of the road. For your information, their route is blocked. The road is for Jews only.

If you strain your eyes, you will notice at the sides of the road the traffic lanes assigned to the Palestinians: pathways through the terraces winding up the hills, goat paths on which cars are sputtering, including those carrying the sick, women in labor, pupils, and ordinary citizens who decide to place their life in their hands in order to travel for two to three hours to reach the neighboring village.

During these days of Ramadan, Israel - a keen proponent of freedom of worship - is allowing Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Al-Aqsa mosque. And some of these pilgrims are plodding through the hills to make this pilgrimage, as the Hebrew word for pilgrim (oleh regel) literally suggests. The buses now departing daily from Jenin, for example, with believers over the age of 45, as stipulated by Israel, leave at five in the morning and return around eight in the evening, with the full menu of humiliations and waiting along the way.

All of this has nothing to do with security. A terrorist wishing to enter Israel will find a way to do so, as evident in the large number of Palestinians who manage to do this without a permit. The fact that the trip from Hebron to Bethlehem takes hours does not prevent terrorism; it encourages it. And if the goal is to "respond to" and "punish" every attack, why weren't the residents of Tapuah denied the freedom of movement after the terrorist Eden Natan-Zada set out for Shfaram to kill its residents?

The truth should be spoken, not only in Washington, but first of all here: There is a system of apartheid on the roads of the West Bank that has no connection to the war on terror, and the decision to pull out this or that "contingency plan" is meaningless. For hundreds of years, the Palestinians lived in this country without cars, and there is no reason they cannot return to those days, especially when Jews-only roads have been paved on their lands. But, unlike the days of old, travel on donkey or by foot is also very difficult today.