Blocking Mideast Peace
Checkpoints in the territories - and Jerusalem
by Akiva Eldar
Originally published 21 February 2002
in Ha'aretz

It is pretty certain that if the map that appears on this page were handed over to the military censor it would not have made it to print. How can an Israeli newspaper report to the Palestinians on the whereabouts of every checkpoint in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It could become the enemy's bank of targets. But in this case, the newspaper can relieve the censor of his troubles. The map was prepared by the staff at the Palestinian Authority Ministry for Planning and International Cooperation, and instead of military purposes, it is meant to help their diplomatic effort.

The question whether the checkpoints are a help or a hindrance is not a matter of the numbers, but of the way they are deployed. Assume that Mustafa, from a small village near Jenin, a peace-loving man since childhood, actually managed to get permission from the Israeli authorities to attend his daughter's wedding in the groom's home in Hebron. If things were normal, the 100-kilometer trip should take no more than two hours. But since September 2000, if Mustafa were to leave his home at 6 A.M., with luck he might make it to Hebron by 8 P.M.

No fewer than 24 permanent checkpoints block the way from Jenin to Hebron, and that doesn't count the "breathing sieges," "surprise" checkpoints, and various trenches dug across the roads to prevent cars from traveling. Indeed, it is very difficult nowadays to find a village in the West Bank whose residents are allowed to come and go freely.

The picture that emerges from the map is that most of the checkpoints are deep inside the territories, slicing and dicing the area into patches. It appears that the soldiers at the checkpoints are meant mostly to defend the settlements and the settlers who live outside the State of Israel. This is most striking when compared to the location of the checkpoints before the intifada - mostly along the Green Line - proving that the purpose of the soldiers then was to mitigate the risk of terrorists infiltrating Israel.

But another impression one gets from examining the map is that while the deployment of the checkpoints makes life difficult for peace-loving Palestinians, it also makes the work more difficult for those who want to strike at life-loving Israelis. Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz often takes pride in the fact that he foresaw the uprising, so he had enough time and money to prepare. That preparation, he says, was first and foremost, to build the fortifications and the checkpoints.

Bomb and drop

But for the past few months officials in the Israeli defense establishment and outside it, particularly in the U.S., are arguing that the checkpoints do more harm than good. They have turned into a symbol of the occupation, a daily reminder of who are the lords in the land and who are the subjects. There's barely a single Palestinian for whom the word checkpoint (and they know the word in Hebrew, mahsoam) isn't associated with rage and hatred. It is impossible to know how many Palestinian babies were born in the endless lines, on their way to the next checkpoint. The only Israeli faces they know are those of the young, tired and nervous soldiers at the checkpoints.

Nonetheless, the military echelon has never pressured the government to think about creative alternatives. On the other hand, both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the security cabinet members from the "peace camp," Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, haven't asked for an accounting of the value of the checkpoints.

Of all people, it was Minister for Regional Development Roni Milo who suggested that Israel seriously consider a proposal (that arrived as a hint from Washington) that Jerusalem learn from the conduct of the Americans in the war in Afghanistan: Send the warcraft after the bastards, and parachute food for the civilians.

Until yesterday, there was no sign that someone up there has drawn a connection between the checkpoints and terrorist attacks. Despite authorizations the Palestinians received to transfer 19 trailers full of equipment for an elementary school in Rafah, the soldiers at the Gush Katif checkpoint sent them packing. The efforts of the human rights group B'Tselem on the matter were for naught. It would be interesting to hear what the children who have to walk six kilometers to school every day think about their Jewish neighbors.

Bingo in Miami, fire in Jerusalem

Just when it seems we've seen and heard everything the politicians are ready to say and do in the name of the "war on terror," someone manages to come up with a surprise. After the Knesset debated a law to encourage Arabs to leave the country, and Tourism Minister Benny Elon proposed killing the relatives of suicide attackers, it is apparently time for some people to make a bit of money.

Between the lines of the latest plan to compensate merchants in the downtown Jerusalem area and along the Green Line "seam," there's a ticking candy bomb that will be very tasty for bingo tycoon Irving Moscowitz, friend of Ariel Sharon and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, but that will result in the Hebronization of East Jerusalem.

"There have been 10 terrorist attacks in Jerusalem since May, in which 29 people were killed and more than 450 have been wounded," says a ministry-prepared proposal due for discussion in an upcoming session of the government. Indeed, following the most recent string of bombings, Sharon and Olmert promised to compensate the merchants and the residents of the seam, the old Green Line that divided the city between 1948 and 1967. The plan, dubbed "Strengthening Jerusalem - special aid for the center of the city," calls for a NIS 50 million allocation this year, with a 50 percent discount on city taxes for merchants n the heart of the city. There is also an article proposing that every Jerusalem resident who earns less than NIS 10,500 gross a month, get two tax credit points (just like the residents of Ma'aleh Adumim and Givat Ze'ev, the eastern and northwestern suburbs of Jerusalem inside the territories). In addition, the proposal would have all government ministries conduct their various conferences and congresses in Jerusalem.

But hidden in Article 5, the last chapter of the document, which was prepared by the relevant ministries with the help of the Jerusalem municipality, is the ticking candy bar for Moscowitz - and the danger for the city. "To encourage the housing market in Jerusalem, the grants and mortgages plan (known as the Sharansky plan, after Housing Minister Natan Sharansky), the plan will include a NIS 100,000 "location" loan to purchasers of apartments in Har Homa, Pisgat Ze'ev, and Ma'aleh Hazaytim. If the purchasers commits to living in the apartment for five years, half the loan will be turned into a grant."

It would be interesting to conduct a poll to find out how many of the ministers know that Ma'aleh Hazaytim is the Hebrew name chosen for a Jewish neighborhood of 119 apartments in the heart of Ras el Amud, an Arab neighborhood of 11,000 in East Jerusalem. How many of them know it is a construction project owned by Moscowitz, who was trained as a doctor, who earns his living from bingo in America, while he plays with fire in Jerusalem? How many know that in April, the first 52 of the apartments will be populated? In other words, Israeli citizens, including residents of terror-weary Jerusalem, will be handing over their money to a millionaire who lives in Miami Beach.

It is not Peace Now activists who will be moving into the new Jewish neighborhood built by Moscowitz, the guest of honor at the opening of the Hasmonean Tunnel in September 1996, a ceremony that ended with 16 dead Israeli soldiers. But a copy of the proposal to "Strengthen Jerusalem" fell into the hands of Jerusalem peace activist Danny Zeidman.

In a letter he addressed to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday, Zeidman says that encouraging people to move to Har Homa and Ras el Amud "is the complete opposite of helping the residents of the seam areas, because the two neighborhoods will create new seams." Ras el Amud, writes Zeidman, will be an ideological enclave of extreme right-wingers in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood. Hebron redux.

Rubinstein doesn't get involved with racism

It took some time, but Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein finally reacted to the declarations by Tourism Minister Benny Elon about transferring Arabs out of the territories, and Effi Eitam's description of Israeli Arabs as a cancer, and their culture as feminine.

The attorney general pointed out the Supreme Court decision that rejected a 1995 petition seeking to ban a party from the Knesset because it included the idea of population transfer. Rubinstein also noted that three years ago he himself appealed to the Supreme Court against its decision to allow Moledet to run in the local elections in Upper Nazareth, because of the local party leader's rhetoric that Rubinstein is regarded as racist.

Rubinstein noted that he argued that "precisely because the State of Israel is Jewish and democratic, it must be specially sensitive to incitement against a minority. A political party in a foreign country that speaks out against Jews would be decried as anti-Semitic and cause much justified concern in the Jewish community," he wrote, adding, "the analogy speaks for itself."

Nonetheless, Rubinstein says that, "At this stage, the dominant effort should be the public debate and the public's judgment. As far as the law is concerned, the issues are examined on their own merit, with regard to concrete examples." And he adds, "without getting into the political debate, not only from the perspective of democracy, but also from the Jewish perspective, and even in difficult circumstances of a bloody conflict imposed upon us - there should be sensitivity toward the other, no matter who they are, and to avoid statements that mean a citizen should be uprooted." But he summarizes, "For now, the issue belongs on trial by the public."

The attorney general's position did not go down well with the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Justice and Law Committee, MK Ophir Pines-Paz - and he made no secret of it. In a letter to Rubinstein, Paz writes that "at this time, with the public seeking solutions at any price, the law enforcement authorities should not be caught asleep on duty. Racist solutions must be made clear to be beyond the realm of the permissible."

Unlike Rubinstein, Paz doesn't make do with talk alone. He has prepared an amendment to the law granting MKs immunity. The amendment says that an MK "will not benefit from immunity for written or spoken words, or actions in the Knesset or outside it, even if they were part of their function as an MK, if the verbal expression or the action was incitement to racism." It will be interesting to see which MKs vote against the amendment.

Copyright 1996, Ha'aretz. For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.

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