It’s kind of boring in the West Bank. The Gaza Strip has been closed to Israeli journalists for about six years now, and very little is actually happening in the West Bank. There is no way to reflect routine, week after week, no matter how discouraging it is. And the routine of life in the West Bank, we must admit, has been a bit more humane in recent years. The Israeli occupation has become more comfortable, a little.
There are no terror attacks and therefore there are no Arabs – in the Israeli mind. Indeed, there are no terror attacks and there are no assassinations; let us admit this as well. In recent years the occupation and resistance have been in another of their intermissions between bloodletting. But this will continue only until the next uprising, which will most certainly come – although not very soon, one might hazard.
Don’t mention the fence – it isn’t because of the fence that the land has been quiet. Every day thousands of Palestinian workers filter into Israel – illegal sojourners, we call them – to find a living for their families. In exactly the same way, dozens of terrorists could be making their way into Israel. It isn’t because of the erection of the fence on Palestinian lands (and not on the Green Line as required) that terror has stopped.
The same people who were prepared to embark on a suicide attack in 2002 would also be prepared to sneak into Israel one by one in 2012. Every Palestinian who is determined to enter Israel can also do this today, even if there are more difficulties. This isn’t happening, not (only) because of the “security coordination” with the Palestinian Authority, and also not (only) because of the activities of the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces. Above all, this is not happening because the second intifada generation is still bleeding. Part of it was killed, part of it was wounded, part of it was locked up in an Israeli prison. The entire Palestinian people is licking its wounds.
There is no chance of another intifada soon, because the Palestinians have realized, for the most part, that the second intifada brought down disaster not only on the heads of the Israelis but also on their own heads. Nothing came of it for them, apart from the blood that was spilled, the freedom that was denied even more and the chance of putting an end to the occupation that has receded even more. The people who thought Israelis had to pay for the occupation, and therefore caused the Palestinians to pay the price for the life of fear and bloodshed at the beginning of the past decade, have forgotten that someone also has to make the connection between the occupation and terror. This connection is not legitimate in Israel, and therefore the intifada failed in all its aims.
It seems that the Palestinians now understand this. Also, the third intifada hasn’t broken out, as of now, because there is no one to lead it at present. The previous generation was wiped out, has died or is sunk in deep despair; the next generation has not yet arisen. It is now growing up in more comfortable circumstances, as noted, and therefore it is not yet taking to the streets, neither in Nablus nor Tel Aviv, except for the regular demonstrations in a series of determined villages.
True, recently more voices have been heard saying that the next intifada is on the way. In recent months in this column, we heard a number of authentic voices from the Jenin Refugee Camp, where they believe the harsh economic distress will very soon engender an uprising against the Palestinian Authority, which will swiftly be redirected against Israel. But it is doubtful this will happen in the next few months.
There have already been a number of opportunities when the fire was supposed to have sparked: once on the Temple Mount and once in riots in Hebron; once in the southern Hebron Hills and once on Highway 443. And as for “the Arab Spring,” which might have brought about popular uprisings not only in Benghazi and Tahrir Square but also in Bethlehem and Qalqilyah, not only against the Arab tyrannies but also against the Israeli tyranny – this Spring stopped on the outskirts of Ramallah. The leadership is lacking, the spirit is lacking and the fuel is lacking.
Less bloodshed, fewer roadblocks
There is a lot less bloodshed in the West Bank, fewer roadblocks, fewer prisoners and fewer administrative detainees. For nearly four years, from the end of Operation Cast Lead until now – according to the figures of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – only 43 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by IDF fire, a number reminiscent of the years of quiet that preceded the last storm. Only 20 Israelis were killed in those years by terror from the West Bank.
For the sake of comparison: In the eight years prior to Operation Cast Lead, 4,789 Palestinians were killed, of them 1,790 in the West Bank alone; 239 Israelis were killed during that period in the West Bank and another 492 inside Israel.
There is also a bit more freedom in the West Bank. A Palestinian is allowed to travel from Jenin to Hebron stopping at only a very few roadblocks. A few months ago at a reception in Ramallah, I met my acquaintance Dr. Ghassan Hamdan, from the Palestinian Medical Relief Services organization in Nablus. For years I would visit him in his besieged city; now he relates that he arrived at the reception in his car within an hour.
A few years ago, the roadblock at Hawara, outside of Nablus – one of the cruelest in the West Bank – was lifted and the settlers screamed “Terror, terror!” I drove there and went past it, again and again, as though in disbelief. Sometimes it is manned by soldiers even now, but usually the roadblock is open and the cars zip right through it.
Not all the roadblocks have been lifted, of course, and there are still many of them, painful but less so. This last February, there were 98 permanent roadblocks in the West Bank; 57 of them were internal and only 32 manned at all times. The rest were entry barriers into Israel. Only someone who has driven along West Bank roads in previous years can appreciate the difference. True, there are also hundreds of portable temporary roadblocks that go up in a flash and some 450 physical barriers on the roads. A year ago, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs counted 232 kilometers of segregated roads, for Israelis only. Nevertheless, it is considerably easier now to move around on the roads of the West Bank. In addition, a few days ago it was decided to open the occupied Jordan Valley to Palestinian traffic.
There has also been a significant decline in the number of Palestinian prisoners and detainees – 184 administrative detainees at the end of last month. Ten years ago they numbered nearly 1,000. There were 4,373 Palestinian prisoners last month; four years ago there were twice as many.
In the meantime, the West Bank towns are lively with visitors: Israeli Arabs have been allowed to enter them in recent years and they bring money with them. You have to see the processions of buses from the Galilee and Little Triangle area of Baka al-Garbiyeh, Taibeh and Tira, and the lines of private cars at the entrance and exit roadblocks. This, too, is a positive step on Israel’s part.
For the Eid al-Fitr holiday this August, tens of thousands of Palestinians received one-time permits to enter Israel, for a day of vacation and happiness at the seashore – which some of them had never seen in their lives. This operation passed totally peacefully but wasn’t enough to lead to the question: Why, in fact, only once a year?
The injustice continues
Nevertheless, even in this tranquil year, the injustice continues full force in a number of areas. The silent transfer in the valley and on the ridge, in the Jordan Valley and the Hebron Hills, has not stopped for a moment. Illegal sojourners have been hunted in Israel and, in a number of cases, killed. The routine of poverty and unemployment is basically unchanged, even if more BMW and Mercedes SUVs have been spotted in the Ramallah bubble. The routine of collective imprisonment inside the territories also persists like a decree of fate.
The IDF is continuing to trample the Oslo Accords and regularly invades Area A – which is defined by the Accords as being under full Palestinian control – sometimes every night. The water shortage in the territories has been oppressive, as it is every summer, while the fields and lawns in the settlements are green. Sick people have had a hard time getting permits to enter Israel, as have work seekers, and sometimes they are required to collaborate with the Shin Bet. The olive harvest now underway is sown with violent rampages by settlers – hardly a day goes by when a grove isn’t burned or a farmer injured.
And, above all, the occupation continues. Two million people without civil rights, in a century that has made a motto of the liberation of peoples – or at least Arab peoples. Two million people in the West Bank without basic human rights, whose plight no longer bothers the Israeli general public at a time when the world, too, is a bit weary of their distress.
For example, at two pretentious international conferences held recently in Istanbul, there was not even a single panel on the topic of the Israeli occupation. However, five or six years ago, these conferences were devoted almost solely to that issue.
Life in Israel is great. Most Israelis claim in surveys that they are satisfied. The occupation has long been far from their minds. In the West Bank, too, life is a bit better. The roller coaster of the occupation is now in one of its relatively relaxed stretches. Like any flat stretch on a roller coaster, as every child knows, this presages ill. It will appear unexpectedly, when actually it is the most predictable guest.