Friday, October 22, 2004

Israelis and Palestinians locked in conflict, Oct. 22, 2004

Israelis and Palestinians locked in conflict
Creators Syndicate, Oct. 22, 2004
By Ray Hanania

Jaffa Road, Occupied West Bank -- As my British Airways flight entered airspace over Israel, I was surprised by the captain's announcement, "Photography is prohibited while flying over Israel."

I know that Israel has many things prohibited while in Israel, but I didn't realize they have also expanded their controls to the air or that photography from an airplane window was a villainous practice that might somehow contribute to terrorism, as a stewardess tried to explain when I asked.

As I sat in the plane, I wondered what would happen to me if I took a picture of the landscape as a souvenir. I take pictures out of plane windows all the time.

What were they going to do, tackle me to the aisle as I pulled out my threatening Sony Digital Video Camera, or my digital camera to take pictures out the side window of the Israeli and Palestinian landscape far below?

It's all a part of the upside-down, absurdity of Israeli life.

The conflict raged for the past four years making life difficult for both sides. Israel is just not a safe place. I was constantly reminded of that as soldiers held automatic weapons at ready and sometimes pointed at my face as I walked through Israeli and Palestinian cities.

One of the most talked about topics is the "Wall," or, as the Israelis cleverly prefer to call it, "the fence." The fact is that the "barrier," as the timid news media prefers, is both. It is a concrete wall towering 26 feet tall in areas where Palestinians live. And it is an electrified 18 to 26 foot tall fence in the countryside between Palestinian populations.

The wall has turned entire cities into prisons. Most Palestinians cannot travel from one place to another and are stuck in their homes. If you wanted to push someone to violence, Israel has found the perfect way.

Many Palestinians say they want a wall to separate them from the Israelis, but argue it should be built on the Armistice line commonly called the Green Line, or border that separated Israel from the West Bank.

They say they want the wall to stop Israelis from coming into Palestine and taking West Bank land for illegal settlements.

Settlements begin as little shacks and then morph into Jewish cities, like Ariel and dozens of others that dot West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The wall separates Palestinians from their homes and farmlands. But it's not just the wall doing so. Israel has built many "security roads" in the West Bank that serve as barriers and cut through the heart of Palestinian cities and farms.

Israelis insist the conflict is about security. But Palestinians know better. The real conflict is caused by Israelis who continue to confiscate more and more Palestinian land.

The old Jaffa Road which linked Jerusalem to Jaffa/Tel Aviv is now a "security road" that slices through the heart of the West Bank. Christians and Muslims are prohibited from using it. It separates Beit Hanina, where part of my family is originally from, and also Dir Nabala, a neighboring village.

The road is monitored by cameras and patrolled by police and soldiers. Apache helicopters fly over its length. There were four checkpoints where Arabs like me are pulled over and checked and interrogated. Even with a U.S. Passport, I am little more than an "Arab" to the Israelis.

I traveled the road before sunrise and I watched as farmers climbed the fence and scampered like frightened rabbits across the highway's empty six lanes in the pre-dawn night.

They were immediately rounded up by police and soldiers in military jeeps, sirens screaming and blue lights flashing. Fall is the harvest season and without a harvest, Palestinian families will surely die of starvation.

The wrists of the farmers are bound with those plastic ties. They are herded to a waiting area until at least 50 farmers are collected and are forced to walk several miles to the nearest detention center where their IDs are confiscated.

Without IDs, they can be expelled if they are caught again, forced to cross the border into Jordan or Lebanon. Some are taken to the big concrete prisons that line the route.

Mahani Ofer is a dark frightening place. Its sight stirs unimaginable horrors. Palestinians are held there in solitary, often never to be heard from again by their families.

Palestinians are prisoners in their own cities and Israelis are prisons in their own fear. They both live in a hell that neither seems capable of escaping.

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