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A Short Distance Between the Occupiers and the Occupied

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A demonstration for Palestinian reunification rights in El Bireh, on Sunday.
A demonstration for Palestinian reunification rights in El Bireh, on Sunday.Credit: אמיל סלמן
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

A small group of people marched down Nablus Street in eastern El Bireh this past Sunday afternoon. They met next to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Ministry. Their destination was the Israeli Civil Administration, located at the edge of a huge military base on El-Bireh land. The distance between the two buildings is about a kilometer (0.6 mile).

From the sidewalk below the Palestinian ministry, one can clearly see the fenced-in military building, which is an important link in the Israeli mechanism of control over the lives of Palestinians. The role of the Palestinian Civil Affairs Ministry is to mediate between the Palestinian resident and the Israeli ruler, representing the interests of the occupied. The very short distance embodies the asymmetrical symbiosis between the two.

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The group of marchers, which included children, stood in the parking lot outside the military building and called out in Hebrew: We want an ID card. We want an ID card. They also carried signs in Hebrew reading “I have a right to family reunification.” They are activists in the new grassroots movement bringing together people (most of them of Palestinian origin) who have been living in the West Bank for many years and are denied residency status by Israel.

This is the second time since first organizing, some seven months ago, that they are not merely holding a protest vigil in front of the Palestinian ministry, but are marching toward the Israeli center of power. They have always known that it is Israel that controls the Palestinian population registry and decides on people’s fate. But, by marching to the Civil Administration they are also expressing their opinion that the Palestinian establishment that claims to represent them before the occupier, and supposedly defends and attains their rights, has failed them.

The first time, in late June, a peeved soldier aimed his rifle and shouted that he would shoot if the marchers approached. This week, soldiers emerged from a military jeep standing at the edge of a field of thorns and calmly observed the demonstrators. Two of the demonstrators approached the concrete fence surrounding the building. Above it, on a staircase, stood two people. A conversation ensued. The two ran back to their friends and reported: “An officer in the Civil Administration asked us to give them a list of everyone here who requested family reunification.”

In the Civil Administration building, plans to take over as much Palestinian land as possible, to expand the settlements and to destroy Palestinian water pipes are coordinated and implemented. The place embodies the symbiosis between the army and the settlers – in the work meetings, staff, and the composition of committees. This is where the settlers come to complain about how hard it is for them without more Palestinian water and land, compelling the officials and the inspectors to plan additional tricks of grabbing and theft.

Palestinians reach the appeals committees meeting in the building to try and stop the robbery, or request to reach their cultivated plot or to lay a water pipe. The committee members are officers who claim they care about the welfare of the Palestinians and the settlers alike – as though there is no contradiction between the two – and young military legal advisers who know how to find and cite every clause that permits theft and grabbing.

This is where some of the money, with which the Palestinians pay for the occupier’s activities by means of fines and fees, is counted. It is also where soldiers coordinate information about every exit and entry of a Palestinian VIP, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, from the Palestinian enclaves, and where various requests for permits that are so essential to life are approved or rejected.

After the demonstrators handed their lists over to the Civil Administration official on Sunday, they jokingly expressed their fears: “At night the military jeeps will make their rounds among our homes, pick us up one at a time and expel us.”

And they immediately reassured themselves: “They know about every one of us in any case.” But according to one of the demonstrators, the administration official promised him: “When we asked you for the names, it was not a joke. It wasn't an impulsive decision by the lower ranks.” Time will tell. What is certain is that the very short distance between the two buildings embodies the inability of representatives of the occupied to defend, demand, and or attain their rights.

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