|Posted on December 27, 2011 at 5:05 PM|
An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind. ~ Buddha
Anyone that travels in Palestine, who has been here before – even just a year ago – would be struck by the changes. Now I can take a bus to Jerusalem without going through the main checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. This past week a friend from Jenin traveled to Bethlehem without having to stop at a single checkpoint. New hotels and restaurants are everywhere. Manger Square is bustling. On the surface it looks like life is getting better here – that it is a benevolent occupation. The little reporting that makes it into the traditional media highlights this for a receptive audience. Just do not look too closely. It does not take much to scratch off that golden veneer.
On my trip to Jerusalem last week the bus was stopped, and even my passport was checked – which 'never' happens. The funny (SAD) thing is that I showed the soldier the wrong page, with last year’s visa stamp, and she did not notice because she did not actually look. My friend from Jenin was scared the entire trip from Jenin and back because he does not have an ID anymore. Why not? Well he committed the crime of traveling within the West Bank with an Israeli. A soldier stopped them as they were hiking in a “Palestinian controlled” area and took his ID. In order to get it back, he has to go to court, swear that he lost it, pay a large fine and then publish a notice in the newspaper that he lost the ID. He has done none of these things because he feels (and he is right) that he did nothing wrong.
The hotels and restaurants are real, but really meaningless. Israel effectively controls the tourism sector. Bethlehem (a "legitimate" pilgrimage destination) is the only area in the West Bank which tourists can access relatively easily directly from Israel. Of course Palestinians would welcome guests throughout the West Bank. There is even a new hotel in Jenin. It, however, will not see much business because Israel makes it very difficult for Internationals to even consider going there. There is also a real price to pay for any tourist business that wants to be on Israel’s approved list.
The best analogy I have seen is that of prison control. In order for the guards of a prison to control the entire prison population, they only need to control a strategic 5% of the prison. This gives them choke points through which they completely control the movement of the prisoners, who by number could overwhelm the guards. Jeff Halper, founder and Director of the Israeli Committee against home demolitions (ICHAD), has referred to this as Israel’s matrix of control.
The apparent easing of restrictions in movement, only mean that Israel has become very efficient at enforcing this matrix of control. Every Palestinian lives with the fact that at any moment, things can, and do change. It is the predictable unpredictability that keeps everyone on edge. In the refugee camps incursions by the Israeli military are regularly documented by human rights workers. in these incursions (night raids) children as young as 12 are targeted for 'arrest'. They are then pressured to become informants / collaborators for the military.
Recently UNESCO granted Palestine full membership. Immediately Israel froze all payments of Palestinian taxes collected by Israel. This runs to the tens of millions of dollars and is a large part of the Palestinain Authority's monthly budget. Now, as Hamas and Fatah continue negotiating over a unity government, Israel is threatening to cut off water and electricity to Gaza. Is that what you would call a benevolent occupation?