Tel Aviv’s beaches are packed with Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem this week, due to Eid al-Adha. Walking along the promenade, you can almost imagine what life would be like here without separation.
By Oren Ziv
Arabic. This was the main language spoken on the beach in Tel Aviv Wednesday. It was the second day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, and thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Israel took the day to come to the beach. For many of those who live in the West Bank, it was a rare opportunity to be given a permit to enter Israel.
On the border between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, I meet a family from the Nablus area. Although the lifeguard had already gone home, the children insist on playing in the water, perhaps because they do not know when they will return. Their father, Nasser, is originally from Jaffa, but was married to a woman from Nablus. He does not understand why the Israeli authorities grant him and his family permission to enter on the holiday. After all, it is generally extremely difficult to obtain entry permits.
“What is the difference between today and any other day?” he asks, pointing at his young daughters. “Today they do not pose a danger to Israel, and tomorrow they are a security threat? From the day we are born and until we die, they (the Israeli government – O.Z.) know everything we do, so what is the problem with letting us in?”
Nasser says that despite having Israeli citizenship, his family is unable to get permits to enter Israel. “Had I married a foreign national, they would let her come here, but my wife and children cannot enter. They can only come see my home city, Jaffa, on holidays, and only for one day.” His two young daughters, who have not spent time at the beach since the last holiday, refuse to leave even once the sun goes down.
Many of the Palestinians I spoke to on the beach said that the Civil Administration, a body that operates under the command of the Israeli military and runs the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinians in the West Bank, granted them entry permits for one day only.
Near a museum dedicated to the Etzel, the right-wing pre-state Zionist militia, I meet 11-year-old Muhammad from Hebron. He says that he has visited Tel Aviv a number of times during previous holidays. “I like the lights of the city,” he says, pointing at the row of high-rise hotels along the beach. I ask him whether his classmates have also visited Tel Aviv or Israel. “I have a lot of friends who have never been here,” says Muhammad. “Some of them did not get permits, but some of them do not want to come.”
Muhammad’s response reflects a growing trend among Palestinians. Over the past few years, many residents of the West Bank have forgone the opportunity to request entry permits for the holidays.
At dusk, many families are still enjoying themselves in the Mediterranean. Others walk along the promenade, which stretches the length of Tel Aviv and down to Jaffa, passing between makeshift food carts. Near the Etzel Museum, I see a long line of people standing next to a photography stand, established by two Israelis who recognized the business potential of the holiday. For ten shekels, families can have their photos taken on the backdrop of the Tel Aviv sunset. For those who cannot come to the beach whenever they please, it is a rare souvenir. Some take photos of themselves with friends and family, while others wait in line, even after the sun has set. The Israeli photographer tries to explain to them in Hebrew that the photo came out dark, that the sea is not visible.
It is difficult to explain the feeling of seeing the beach fill up — for just one day — with Palestinians from the West Bank. It is sad to come to terms with the fact that children, who live just an hour or two away, can only visit once or twice a year. On the other hand, it is one of the few moments every year in which one can physically see — and not just imagine — a reality not based on separation. On the main road, dozens of minibuses are parked, the drivers shouting “Qalandiya checkpoint,” “Bethlehem,” “Hebron.” For a second, one can forget that Palestinians, for most of the year, are imprisoned behind the separation wall.
Oren Ziv is a blogger for Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.