Bethlehem, Feb, 20th 2005 — Since the Sharm El Sheikh summit things have significantly improved in the Palestinian territories. The Army has stopped its incursions in Palestinian towns, Palestinian civilians are free to move, prisoners are about to be released and economic activity is slowly recovering…
At least this is the information that most western media is conveying to its people.
The situation on the ground is unfortunately completely different. The Separation Wall is being completed faster than ever, all the military check points are still in place, the Palestinian detainees are still under Israeli custody and daily life is still hell for all Palestinians.
The only significant gesture Israel has made towards the PA was the handover of 15 corpses of Palestinian gunmen kept in Israeli morgues. Nothing however has been done for the living. The Separation Wall or “Confinement Wall” should we say, has already been completed around most of the major Palestinian cities.
Ramallah is technically sealed off, Qalqiliya is surrounded and Bethlehem is almost completely cut off from the outside world. In this latter, the occupation authorities have left the temporary check point, and waited untill the end of the Christian holiday season (which goes on till the end of January in the Orthodox calendar) to complete the Wall. A major “border” terminal will be operational in few days and the face of this holy Christian city will be irreversibly changed.
However it is true that daily life inside these enclaves (Bethlehem, for instance, is reduced to a 35 km2 area) is generally calm these days. Healthy, elderly people earning a decent pension can live a fairly normal life. All the other sections of Palestinian society continue to suffer daily insuperable difficulties which make normal activities such as studying or earning a decent living “mission impossible”.
Students can hardly get to their universities unless they live nearby. For example, a student from Bethlehem enrolled in the law school at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis — only 20 km away and a 20 minute drive — cannot get to class without passing through “Container”, the major Israeli checkpoint cutting West Bank in two, and there is no tangible sign of this checkpoint being removed in the near future.
Anyone travelling from the south of the West Bank, from Hebron or Bethlehem to Ramallah or Nablus (note that it is almost impossible to enter Nablus due to near hermetic closure of this major town) has to go through this incredibly restrictive military checkpoint, which is located at the entrance of As-Sawahra village near Jerusalem at the top of a steep hill overlooking the Cedron Valley. Due to these checkpoints, which restrict all movement inside the West Bank, Palestinians are not only denied the basic human right of freedom of movement but also those of studying and working.
It seems clear, from tangible facts and observations, and daily travelling throughout the West Bank that these checkpoints are not going to be removed until the “Wall” is completed, and then they will be replaced by huge state of the art “terminals”, making it almost impossible for any Palestinian to get to East-Jerusalem.
According to Israeli sources, five such terminals are planned for the West Bank. One has already been completed in Bethlehem and is mainly intended for foreign tourists and pilgrims, and a second one will be located east of the city in Al Nu’man for Palestinian citizens. This “terminal” will allow some 250 trucks and 1,000 people (with special permits issued by the Israeli authorities) to pass each hour.
Only then will the 61 permanent checkpoints (there are 10 of them around Bethlehem alone), 48 road gates, and hundreds of earth mounds be removed.