Getting the word out has always been difficult for Palestinians. The major reason for this is that Israel often succeeds in framing the issues from its point of view, and the mainstream media in the West goes along with it. A favorite gambit that Israel uses to cloak its outrageous policies towards the Palestinian population is to cry “security”, which then pretty much allows it to do anything. When “security” is too conspicuously untrue, it justifies itself by referring to its own policy. This can be questioned only through its own legal system, which is not exactly designed to safeguard Palestinian rights. It sets up the equation of “lawful” Israelis and “unlawful” or criminal Palestinians.
Not even highly regarded media outlets such as National Public Radio (NPR) in the US can be counted upon to sort things out for their public. Linda Gradstein, Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990, has a well documented bias in favor of Israel, including the revelation by EI in February 2002 that Gradstein had been receiving cash honoraria from pro-Israeli organizations for years in violation of NPR’s written policies. She has recently given another sloppy and careless report on an issue that is playing havoc with the lives of thousands of Palestinians.
From the NPR report: “Israel has begun to restrict residency permits in the occupied West Bank.”
Actually, Israel has been restricting, discouraging or denying Palestinian residency in the occupied West Bank, the occupied Gaza Strip and occupied East Jerusalem since its occupation in 1967. Afraid that residency would eventually lead to Palestinian nationality (for which it has always set a strict criteria and at times non-existent quotas in order to control demographics), Israel much preferred to deal with the situation by giving out tourist visas to certain “qualified” residents and trouble them to go in and out of the country every few months. Israel has done this for years - no, for decades on end. What it has just “begun” to do is to stop allowing foreign passport holders into the occupied territories unless they can somehow acquire permits from the army - as per a standing “policy” it has unearthed.
Behind Israel’s restrictions and denials lie thousands of anguished and ruined Palestinian lives.
NPR: “The move has left tens of thousands of Arabs, most of them married to Palestinians, living in the territory illegally.”
This particular “move” has left a great number of non-Arab foreign nationals (Europeans and Americans among others) violently separated from their families, work or scholarship. By any measure of human decency, such people have every right to re-enter the occupied territories. Once back in, they are likely to join the thousands of others who are living with their families “illegally” in the occupied territories. As a result, the Israelis have acted with characteristic cruelty. Starting a few months ago, they gave people no warning before suddenly cutting them off from their lives — loved ones, home, belongings, work — everything that gives meaning to one’s existence.
These newly-cut-off people used to think that their West European or American or Canadian nationalities gave them an edge over nationals of less elite or powerful countries such as Eastern European countries or the “tens of thousands of Arabs” - meaning mostly expatriate Palestinian nationals of neighboring Arab countries with whom Israel has peace treaties. But Israel’s action proves them wrong.
NPR: “According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, there are 72,000 people who are now residing illegally in the West Bank; most of them are Jordanians married to Palestinians.”
There are not 72,000 people living illegally in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. How many such unfortunate people there are is unknown. I suppose one could conduct a survey promising anonymity and come up with a fairly accurate figure of “illegal’ residents in the occupied territories. But no one has conducted such a survey.
What B’Tselem has done is simply tally figures it was able to extract from the Israeli side. 72,000 refers to the number of people, mostly of Palestinian descent, whose applications for family unification Israel has refused to process since 2000 - as punishment for the second intifada. Some of these people may be living illegally in the West Bank or Gaza Strip and some may be living apart from their spouses and children in a kind of forced divorce in Jordan or elsewhere. Additionally, before the intifada had even started and before Israel’s retaliatory action of refusing to process applications took effect, it had already accumulated a backlog of 50,000 such applications. That such a system would generate “illegal” people is only to be expected.
This tells us much more about Israel’s unconscionable practices than it does about how many “illegal” residents there are. The bottom line is that the demand for family unification or for residency in the occupied territories far exceeds Israel’s willingness to comply. This is in lurid contrast to how eager Israel is to attract and retain new Jewish residents or immigrants in Israel and in the settlements. Not only are there no backlogs for such people, Israelis greet them at borders with garlands.
NPR: “Until recently, they [the 72,000 “illegal” residents Gradstein has pulled out of the air] could stay on three month tourist visas, which Israel granted.”
But that, too, is false. People who lapsed into an illegal status in these past six years are not the people who could partake in the dance of renewable tourist visas. Either their nationality (Jordanian, for example) did not give them such a privilege, or jetting in and out of occupied territories every three months was simply not within their financial means.
This NPR report, like so many of Linda Gradstein’s reports, ends with the official Israeli position, which remains unchallenged and unquestioned. The official Palestinian side is absent, as usual, even though Linda Gradstein did not have to exert too much effort get an official Palestinian statement. Quite a few of the members of the Palestinian legislative Council are right there in Israeli prisons, themselves pronounced “illegal” by Israel.
Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.