Advocates for Israel often claim that the Palestinians run their own life. Yet again and again it appears that the West Bank has become their prison.
Last week I posted here a criticism of Ambassador Michal Oren’s Foreign Policy piece, titled “Israel’s Resilient Democracy.” One of Ambassador Oren’s claims was that the fact that Palestinians in the West Bank are deprived of voting rights is not enough to question the nature of Israel as a democracy.
The existence of partially democratic enclaves within a democratic system does not necessarily discredit it. Residents of Washington, D.C., are taxed without representation, while those in the U.S. territories — Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands — cannot vote in presidential elections. Anomalies exist in every democracy, and Israel’s is not voided by the situation in the West Bank.
But voting is only part of the story; voting is a means, not an end in itself. Palestinians differ from American citizens in the U.S. territories in many ways: For example, they are tried in military courts, before of uniformed judges, and without the legal rights that defendants enjoy in Israel’s civilian courts. They are deprived of access to resources, of physical protection against violence and harassments, and much more.
Freedom – or lack – of travel is another major issue. Since the mid-90s, Palestinians have been unable to travel beyond the Green Line and into “Israel proper.” Nor can they travel abroad, unless they get a special permit from the military authorities. At times, they are even prevented from traveling between towns and villages in the West Bank.
People are also prevented from traveling into the West Bank: Israelis are prohibited by a military order from entering area A, and tourists, business travelers and diplomats must go through Israel’s international airport or through land crossings – all controlled by Israel – before entering the West Bank. Stating that your destination is a Palestinian town or village might lead to a refusal of a tourist visa by the Israeli authorities, so many visitors simply lie. This is the way most activists enter the West Bank today. The irony is that for some people it’s easier to enter to Gaza – which is officially still under blockade – than to reach “free” Ramallah, because Gaza has one land border that Israel doesn’t control.
The West Bank has become the Palestinian prison, and the PA is not much more than its guard. It’s very far from the reality that Ambassador Oren and other advocates of Israeli policy portray. Yet strangely enough, misconceptions regarding the real state of affairs are widespread, even in Israel. Yesterday, as the local media was reporting on the effort of international activists to travel to the West Bank without lying about their destination – the so-called “flytilla” – I came across several comments on Israeli news sites wondering why “those provocateurs” don’t travel from Jordan through the “Palestinian-controlled” Allenby crossing. I heard the same remarks last year; there was even a comment on this site justifying Israel’s refusal to have the internationals enter by commenting that a tourist to Palestine shouldn’t try to pass through Israel.
But there is no independent Palestine. The “Palestinian Authority” has no authority over any significant matter. Control over borders is considered among the important measures of sovereignty. The Palestinians are not sovereign, nor do they have any citizenship rights in Israel. They are neither here nor there, but prisoners of a system that views them as enemies and doesn’t offer them any future or hope.
By refusing to allow members of the flytilla entry into the West Bank, Israel actually proved right their original claim: that the level of control Israel exercises over the Palestinian population in the occupied territories for nearly half a century makes the occupation is a unique phenomenon, well deserving of the world’s attention.