roadblock check point 521.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Several days before Tuesday January 18, someone in the IDF made a decision that
affected thousands of people, Israelis, Palestinians and others. Hundreds of
decisions like this are made on a daily basis in the IDF’s Tel Aviv
headquarters. That day, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev was visiting Jericho,
and so the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge was to close from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The
Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian government were not consulted and were
apparently in the dark about it until the last minute. Many Palestinians in the
West Bank and those outside wishing to travel, as well as foreigners planning to
cross in either direction, found out only when attempting to access the
While foreigners can use other land crossing points or even
Ben-Gurion Airport, the bridge is the only route for the 2.5 million
Palestinians in the West Bank.
For the IDF, there is a security
justification. After all, the person traveling was very important and the
area of the bridge is a closed military area. The actual time that Medvedev took
to cross the bridge that morning and again later that afternoon was probably not
more than a few minutes, compared to the hours it usually takes the
Muhammad Khatib, the spokesman of the Jordanian police, whose
office usually issues reports about such decisions, had no information as late
as noon the day before. Gen. Jamal Badour of the Jordanian police, the director
of the bridge, confirmed to reporters Monday afternoon that the Israelis were
planning to close the bridge because of Medvedev’s visit.
He stated that
while Jordan’s side was always open, if the Israelis close their side, the
bridge would be, in effect, closed.
An official announcement was made
later informing the public not to use the bridge during those hours. It was
published on the official news service, Petra. A similar statement was
made by the Palestinian news agency WAFA. The following day, the warning
appeared in newspapers. According to the protocols between Israel and Jordan,
the bridge is to be open all year except for Yom Kippur and Id
Palestinians from the West Bank wishing to travel anywhere or
return from anywhere have no choice but to use this crossing. People often make
plans months in advance, and if, for example, they have an afternoon flight,
they have to leave their homes that morning, the earlier the better. Those
returning can often cross the same day they arrive. Many, for example,
arrive at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman early in the morning and
take a taxi to the bridge to make it home that day. Hopefully.
LIKE the closing the bridge affect both the Palestinian collective and
individuals. Checkpoints that restrict movement in Palestinian areas can be
closed for hours for much less significant reasons without the local population
receiving any warning or explanation. But when a checkpoint in the occupied
territories is used by settlers, the rules of the game are so obviously
different. On any day of the year, a driver in a car with Israeli license plates
will face totally different treatment if the checkpoint is exclusively for
Palestinians or if settlers use it as well.
Try crossing into Jerusalem
at the Kalandiya crossing and your car will be stopped every time. You have to
get out and open the trunk. No non-direct relatives can ride with you. Have the
exact same car use the nearby Pisgat Ze’ev checkpoint and you will not be
stopped nine times out of 10. If the relaxed 18- year-old soldier chooses to
stop your car, he or she will open your trunk.
It’s the same scenario at
the Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint, compared with the Gilo Tunnel one.
individual level, Palestinian travel horror stories are experienced daily. Take
Rima, who wanted to come from Jordan to see her aging, sick mother for years and
was denied for no obvious reason. A last-minute attempt to see her dying mother
failed several weeks ago. Two weeks ago she was finally able to make it – after
her mother died – thanks to the intervention of MK Jamal Zahalka
Palestinians asking to see relatives in Israel, Jerusalem or
Gaza are often told they have to get a special humanitarian pass if there is a
death of an immediate relative. The idea of seeing him or her alive, even if
they are terminally ill, doesn’t qualify.
Governments accountable to
their people regularly balance different elements when making decisions. Even
security decisions are balanced with a country’s other essential needs. Had the
Russian president or any other official wanted to visit Lod, Ben-Gurion Airport
would not have been closed for 12 hours. If a visiting dignitary wanted to
dedicate a location near Haifa Port, no one in Israel would think of closing the
A civilian government would never think to ban all travel. The
problem is when the population is ruled by a military power.
last-minute decision by the IDF to close the King Hussein Bridge for 12 hours on
January 18 might appear insignificant. But such a decision is yet another
reminder that Israel’s military occupation is a problem. Medvedev, whose
presence caused further suffering to Palestinians (without his knowledge),
should insist – along with his partners in the Quartet – that Israel end its
The writer, a Palestinian journalist, is the former Ferris
Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. firstname.lastname@example.org