Thais and Yoga in Ramallah

Barley 'pitot' claims it can alleviate depression, as does the 'cobra' position in yoga. But can they really help workers in the northern West Bank?

Otherwise Occupied /

My creditors have been chasing after me and I have nowhere to hide. They've been doing so pleasantly - an e-mail here, a telephone call there, or sometimes an SMS. My debt? A few strands of information they gave me. And the only way I can defray it is by writing an item in the newspaper.

There's been a reason behind every delay in payment. For example, a gag order on a certain subject, or the young woman who said that when she complained to the Jerusalem police that a settler had hit her, she was arrested on the spot for assault. But this time it's my fault. Time has passed and I lost the opportunity to check whether the story could become a news item.

There are some creditors who are merely the figment of my imagination. A laconic report, something on a Palestinian site that sparks my curiosity, a casual remark from a shopkeeper or a neighbor, an anthropological stroll in the neighborhood grocery store. For example, the barley "pitot" with the sticker praising the virtues of the product, including the proclamation that one of their effects is "relief of depression."

I'd already prepared a list of people to interview and questions like: Is there a way to confirm the intuition that the vast majority of Palestinians are suffering from depression? And in the same breath: There is an active yoga group in Ramallah, whose members say the cobra position is excellent for fighting depression. Were the Palestinian Health Ministry to listen to me, I would propose that they train hundreds of yoga instructors.

This immediately reminds me of the Japanese acupuncturist who, after successfully treating dozens or perhaps hundreds of Palestinians whose pains conventional medicine was unable to ease, could not continue his treatments after the Israeli Interior Ministry refused to renew his entry visa.

Another imaginary creditor - mass e-mails from NATO. Some of these from last week spoke of the visitors who continue to venture to the Red Cross compound in East Jerusalem where three East Jerusalemites found refuge one month ago - a former minister in Ismail Haniyeh's government and two Hamas-affiliated members of the Palestinian legislative council - who the Israeli Ministry of Interior and police ordered to expel. The visitors have included Christian clergymen, senior members of Fatah and PLO, and the consuls of Egypt and Jordan. A show of unity which indicates that, despite the fact that this struggle against expulsion does not interest the vast majority of Israelis, it remains in the Palestinian headlines.

What isPalestinian here?

These threads of information have arranged themselves inside my head in a "Palestinian affairs section" and an "Israeli affairs section." In the first sector, for example, I would place how the residents of the northern West Bank are referred to in Ramallah slang - "Thais." I heard there's been an official ban on the use of this nickname, considered offensive apparently because it tells the truth. The prosperity of Ramallah, which in Israel is attributed to the generosity of the occupier, is also dependent on the employment conditions of Palestinian workers from the distant districts.

There are some who mistakenly define my task as a reporter on Palestinian affairs. What exactly is Palestinian about the demolition of homes and tents, the confiscation of water pipes and the razing of fields, the arrest of children on false charges and their subsequent beating? What is Palestinian about expulsion orders, about roadblocks that haven't heard the news that there are "no longer checkpoints in the West Bank"? If there was enough time and space, all of these loose threads could fill the entire pages of every newspaper published in the last week alone. And all of this is the work of Israelis.

Let's take, for example, the area between Bitounia in the north, Jib in the east, Beit Iksa in the south and Beit Sira in the west. Some people might ask why I didn't say I was referring to the area between Ramot, Givat Ze'ev and Route 443. No, I'm not referring to the giant settlements that are as illegal as the outpost of Migron, but rather to the many Israelis - who are smart and sophisticated and have excellent planning abilities, who have put their heads together over the past 40 years to dispose, step after step, this entire area of its Palestinian owners and residents and turn it into an area almost clean of Palestinians.

Unexplained detours

About two weeks ago I encountered Hussam, a Palestinian laborer, when I went to check on the road that leads to the villages of Bidu and Qatana (which had were permanently blocked a long while ago ). He'd left the settlement of Har Shmuel where he works, a mere eight kilometers from where his village is located. Before Route 443 was supposedly opened to Palestinian traffic, Hussam would travel along it with other Palestinians who work on the settlements. The road was officially "opened" on instructions from the High Court of Justice, only to be closed at its eastern side (before the turnoff to Givat Ze'ev ). Palestinians are forbidden to continue from there.

Now the laborer must make a 40-km detour, and so along with waiting in the morning at the checkpoint and having to walk several kilometers on foot to and from work, his route has been lengthened by two or three hours or so in each direction.

According to his work permit, Hussam is allowed to leave via the Jib checkpoint (eastern Givat Ze'ev ). But the soldiers there, for some reason, demanded that he drive back - another detour of some 20 kilometers - and leave only via the Qalandiyah checkpoint in the east. Why? No special reason. Hussam has not heard of yoga, but he's certainly familiar with depression.

The Israel Defense Forces spokesman responded on this subject: "As a rule, Palestinian workers are required by law to undergo a security check when they go to work in Israeli communities. The crossing point designated for this purpose was the Qalandiyah checkpoint. However, with the intention of making it easier for residents of the villages close to Givat Ze'ev, workers are permitted to cross at the nearby Jib crossing point. It should be noted that we are referring to some 80 laborers who constitute only some 10 percent of the total number of workers in these communities (Givat Ze'ev, Givon and Har Shmuel ).

Is this a Palestinian or an Israeli story?