Peretz Doesn't Know - or Doesn't Care

Contrary to what his office says, some roads are still closed to Palestinians.

On September 26, I reported here that the Israel Defense Forces closed the Modi'in road, Palestinians' main route from the coastal plain to the capital, without obtaining a legal permit to do so first. Since the outbreak of the intifada, the road has in effect served only Israelis - including the 9.5-kilometer stretch in the West Bank, built on lands appropriated from six Palestinian villages for "public needs."

The IDF Spokesman said in response: "In light of the many security threats and dangers to traffic on Route 443 in recent years, the IDF Central Command decided to close a number of access points that connect directly from the villages to the road." Different parts of the road are opened and "closed depending on the assessment of the security situation."

I directed my questions about the road to Defense Minister Amir Peretz as well. "The Central Command notes that the IDF is not blocking Palestinian traffic on the segment of the road inside the territories," his office noted in a statement. "However, due to security requirements, several inspection points have been placed on the ascent from the rural areas to Route 443, and inspections are conducted there as necessary."

During the past few weeks, I traveled on this road eight times. Apart from a single open gate on the outskirts of Beit Sira, all other routes were blocked with concrete cubes or iron barricades, and there were no soldiers there inspecting cars. Taxis waited on the other side of the barricades for laborers returning home.

Two weeks ago I met Ayish Abu Safiya, head of the Beit Sira village council, and Attorney Limor Yehuda, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Yehuda is preparing a petition against the sealing of Route 443, which she will submit to the High Court of Justice.

Abu Safiya said that even when the entrance to his village is opened - and no soldier is manning it - for him, Route 443 is a road with no exits, not even onto the road to Ramallah. He didn't know whether to be annoyed or infuriated when he heard the defense minister's claims that the IDF is not barring Palestinian access to the road. Abu Safiya invited Peretz to join him and see how for 25,000 villagers, a 15-minute journey becomes a torturous 90-minute trek through the hills and valleys.

As we arrived at the entrance to the village Beit Ur al-Fuqa, a large truck was transporting a metal barricade where the defense minister's office alleges inspections are carried out "when necessary." Instead of an electronic gate, large concrete blocks were being placed across the road, completely blocking the village's entrance. A young sergeant, who was securing the operation, approached Abu Safiya and asked whether he had a permit to travel on Route 443 in a vehicle with Palestinian license plates. The soldier insisted Palestinians were not permitted to travel on this road without special permission; he hadn't heard about "inspections when necessary."

Last week I reported the response of the defense minister's office to the false testimony given to the High Court regarding the separation fence route around Tzufin. The office said Peretz had in June instructed Colonel (Res.) Danny Tirza, the official responsible for planning the fence, to stop appearing in court on his behalf. It's hard to say which is more serious: that the defense minister really didn't know one of his aides was ignoring his instructions and continuing to represent him before the country's supreme judicial authority, or that he knew Tirza was still representing him at hearings on the fence route - and just didn't care.

Ministers do not know or need to know every little thing that happens in their ministries. Sometimes senior officials manage to spin a web of lies. It appears Shaul Mofaz is still in the defense minister's office, but now he has grown a mustache. Nothing has changed, except that the senior brass did not lead Mofaz by the nose the way it is doing to Peretz. The juxtaposition of the Tirza incident alongside the stories of the West Bank apartheid road raises the question of whether Peretz really knows what the IDF is doing in the territories. Perhaps he knows and doesn't really care.

Is there a separation?

Haaretz readers who read Amira Hass' articles on the "separation policy" know that the Jordan Valley, including the main north-south highway (Route 90) bisecting it, is closed to Palestinians who live outside the area.

Cantonization, a cheap and convenient alternative to the costly separation fence, was born during the days of Ariel Sharon's administration and Mofaz. It has been criticized by many countries, including the United States. The European Union was about to file a formal complaint over the matter but decided to give the current defense minister, who is known to be a dove, a chance to cancel the decree.

The IDF Spokesman, however, says nothing has changed. Palestinians are allowed to pass between Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley only for humanitarian reasons or after having received special permits. Over the past year, the IDF thwarted several terrorist attacks at these checkpoints, the spokesman noted. Among the incidents were a young Palestinian caught wearing an explosives belt at the Bekaot checkpoint, and a foiled shooting attack, in which First Sergeant Roi Farjun was killed. "Only Palestinians who reside in the Jordan Valley and have permits may travel freely on the Jordan Valley road," the spokesman confirmed.

And what does the defense minister say? "The relevant officials have informed us that travel on the Jordan Valley road does not require a special permit and that Palestinians travel on it regularly," a statement from his office read. He doesn't know and doesn't care.

Olmert on Lieberman

What should readers learn from a document signed by the prime minister that says the principles of a party in his government are contrary to democracy and civil rights? On October 19, Olmert sent this letter in response to the publication "Injustice and Folly - On the Proposals to Cede Arab Localities from Israel to Palestine." Thousands of copies of the publication were distributed in Hebrew, English and Arabic by the Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies. The institute deals with, among other things, Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. One member of its board of directors is David Brodet, a former Finance Ministry director general and a close friend of Olmert.

The publication's authors, Shaul Arieli, Doubi Schwartz and Hadas Tagari, addressed the idea of exchanging tracts of populated lands. Their research questions not only the moral basis of the idea, the internal consequences for Israel and its legality, but also its demographic contribution. The letter Olmert addressed to Prof. Shlomo Hasson, the deputy director of the institute, indicates the three researchers did not have to exert themselves to convince Olmert that Avigdor Lieberman and his party's ideas are foolish and unjust.

"Sometimes there are calls suggesting a given agreement include a clause on the transfer of Arab settlements and their annexation to the Palestinian Authority," wrote the prime minister. "Those proposing these ideas make various arguments in order to justify their positions, which essentially are to ensure a Jewish majority in the land of Israel.

"I deem it very important to preserve the Jewish character of the state and ensure a solid Jewish majority in the State of Israel," wrote Olmert. He then added a key sentence: "At the same time, I reject ideas contrary to the principles of democracy and human rights. Israel's Arab citizens are citizens with equal rights, and we are working to ensure this. I believe with all my heart in the welfare of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and in our moral and humanitarian obligations to ensure the existence of citizens who are not Jewish in our midst on an equal basis - in accordance with Jewish tradition, which places concern for the gentiles among us as a priority of the highest order."

Have you read this, Lieberman?