Monday, May 19

MCC Palestine Update #80

MCC Palestine Update #80

May 19, 2003

Each May brings the commemoration of two very different events in Palestine/Israel. Israelis mark their Independence Day (held on May 7 this year, as it is observed according to the Jewish calendar): Israeli flags are draped from nearly every balcony, flown from almost every roof, and attached to many cars. On May 15, however, Palestinians remember al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, the forceful eviction of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948, Palestinians who live as refugees and who to this day have been denied the possibility of returning to their homes and properties, this despite UN resolutions, international law, and accepted practice in other refugee cases to give refugees the choice of whether or not to return. Palestinian refugees—those from 1948 and their descendants—now number in the millions, with many of them still living in camps in the occupied territories, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

A just and durable peace will not be achieved by simply brushing aside the question of refugee return. Mennonite Central Committee is this year supporting efforts by two organizations, one Palestinian and one Israeli, to help raise awareness of al-Nakba within Israeli society and to generate discussion within the Israeli public about how refugee return could be a key component to a durable peace rather than an obstacle to peace. The Badil Resource Center for Refugee and Residency Rights in Bethlehem this month issued a Hebrew-language packet on the right of Palestinian refugees to return aimed at Israeli audiences: journalists, academics, politicians, peace activists, etc. Zochrot, an Israeli organization whose name means “those who remember,” meanwhile, held a ceremony in Tel Aviv on May 15, remembering al-Nakba. Zochrot will be conducting a series of tours over the coming months for Israeli Jews to destroyed Palestinian villages inside Israel and will be helping to distribute Badil’s Hebrew-language packet. More on Zochrot and Badil can be found at: [The rest of the site is in Hebrew]

One disturbing event for international NGOs like MCC has been the indefinite closure of the Gaza Strip to all foreigners (except for some diplomats) since May 19. Palestinians, of course, are also not allowed in or out of Gaza. Humanitarian organizations like MCC who work with Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip to provide needed services to women, children, persons with disabilities, the economically marginalized, etc., require free and unhidered access. MCC and other NGOs have written to the members of the Quartet, noting that this indefinite closure of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military authorities is not an auspicious way to inaugurate the roadmap to peace.

Below you will find four pieces. The first, somewhat lengthy piece, is a set of frequently asked questions issued by the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Palestinian refugees. The second piece, by Tel Aviv University professor Tanya Reinhart, examines the probable fate of the “roadmap” to peace issued by the “Quartet,” a roadmap that the Israelis have yet to accept (and to which they are demending 14 major changes). The final two pieces, by Ha’aretz journalists Gideon Levy and Danny Rubinstein, look at the continued travel restrictions and humiliations faced by Palestinians at military checkpoints and while trying to live normal lives in the occupied territories, this despite calls from the Quartet to ease travel restrictions on Palestinians.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Palestinian Refugees
Produced by the Negotiations Affairs Department, PLO, May 2003

1. Who are the Palestinian refugees?

The Palestinian refugees are approximately 726,000 Christians and Muslims (amounting to 75% of the Arab population of Palestine) who resided in what is now Israel and who fled or were expelled prior to, during and after the 1948 War to create a state for Jews in Palestine. They and their descendents are often referred to as the “1948 refugees.” See map: Population Movements, 1948-1951,

In 1967, an additional 200,000 Palestinians[1][1][2][2] fled their homes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip when Israel launched a war against Jordan and Egypt, capturing and occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip (the Occupied Palestinian Territories). They and their descendents are often referred to as the “1967 displaced persons.”

Neither the 1948 refugees nor the 1967 displaced persons have been allowed by Israel to return to their homes in what is now Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

2. How did they become refugees?

Like all refugees, the Palestinians left their homes out of fear for their safety due to the military conflict. Many fled due to direct military assaults on their towns and villages; others were forcibly expelled by Zionist forces. Massacres of Palestinian civilians created an atmosphere of fear that understandably caused many Palestinians to seek safety elsewhere. The most famous massacre occurred in Deir Yassin (not far from what is now Israel’s Holocaust Memorial) where, by most conservative estimates, Jews murdered more than 100 Palestinian men, women and children.[2][2][3][3]

Israelis understandably have a difficult time accepting that their independence came at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians, who were dispossessed of their homeland and property. Consequently, Israel perpetuates a number of mythologies with respect to the causes of the Palestinian refugee crisis, including: Arab armies ordered the Palestinian refugees to flee; Arab radio broadcasts ordered the Palestinians to leave; Palestinians do not originally come from Palestine, and that the refugee crisis was the result of a war started by Arabs (even though the New York Times documents thousands of Palestinian refugees prior to any Arab invasion). These mythologies have been debunked not only by newspaper reports, UN documents and Palestin! ian sources, but also by Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappé and Benny Morris.

Most importantly, even if such theories were true, none negates the Palestinian right of return: under international law, refugees have the right to return regardless of the circumstances by which they became refugees.

3. How many Palestinian refugees are there?

Today, the original Palestinian refugees and their descendents are estimated to number more than 6.5 million[3][3][4][4] and constitute the world’s oldest and largest refugee population, making up more than one-fourth of the entire refugee population in the world.[5] They include:

· 4 million 1948 refugees who are registered with the United Nations;
· 1.5 million 1948 refugees who are not registered by the United Nations either because they did not register or did not need assistance at the time they became refugees;
· 773,000 1967 displaced persons; and
· 263,000 internally displaced refugees (see question 5 below for more on the internally displaced).

See map: Palestinian Refugees, 2001,

4. Where do the Palestinian refugees live?

Palestinian refugees live around the world, though most live within 100 miles of Israel’s border.[4][4][5][6] Half of the refugees live in Jordan, one-fourth in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and approximately 15 percent live in Syria and Lebanon. An additional 263,000 live in Israel. The remainder live scattered around the world, primarily in the rest of the Arab world, Europe and the Americas. [5][5][6][7]< /P>

More than 1.3 million Palestinian refugees live in 59 UN-administered refugee camps in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and 12 unrecognized refugee camps: 5 in the West Bank, 3 in Jordan and 4 in Syria.[6][6][7][8] See map: The Palestinian Diaspora, 1958,

5. Why are there Palestinian refugees in Israel?

In 1948, approximately 32,000 Palestinians left their homes but remained within the borders of what became Israel. These Palestinians have never been allowed to return to their homes and villages in Israel, despite the fact that they are Israeli citizens. Their homes, like the homes of other Palestinian refugees, were either demolished or given to Jews.

6. What happened to the property of the Palestinian refugees?

Following the 1948 war, approximately 531 Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed or resettled by Jews in an attempt to erase any evidence of a non-Jewish history and attachment to Palestine. Many destroyed Palestinian villages were rebuilt as Jewish towns and given Hebrew names. See map: Palestinian Villages Depopulated in 1948 and Razed by Israel,

7. Have the Palestinian refugees been compensated for their property losses?

No. Conservative estimates of the current value of Palestinian property stolen or destroyed by Israel run well into billions of dollars, though estimates can vary based on whether non-material losses and compensation for host countries are included.

8. Do the Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homes?

Yes. Under international law, civilians fleeing a war are entitled to return to their homes. This right is embodied in:

UN Resolution 194 - (passed on 11 December 1948 and reaffirmed every year since 1948):[7][7][8][9]

“…the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” (Article 13(2)).

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:

“…State Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination on all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of…[t]he right to leave any country, including one’s own, and to return to one’s country.” (Article 5(d)(ii)).

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

“No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” (Article 12(4)).

International Practice - In Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, and Rwanda refugees have had their right of return honored. In Kosovo, the right of return was considered a “non-negotiable” issue. See PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, Double Standards: How the International Community has Taught Israel that it is Above the Law,

9. Why haven’t the Palestinian refugees been able to return to their homes in Israel?

Israel refuses to abide by international law with respect to the rights of the indigenous non-Jewish population. Israel defines itself as a “Jewish state” and Palestinian refugees are Christians and Muslims. Jews from all over the world, and even converts to Judaism, are allowed to immigrate to Israel under the “Law ! of Return,” but in a clear demonstration of religious/ethnic discrimination, the indigenous Palestinian Muslim and Christian populations are banned from returning to their homes.

10. Doesn’t the right of return threaten Israel’s “Jewish character”?

The end of religious/ethnic discrimination with respect to the right of return threatens nothing other than discrimination itself. Allowing Christians and Muslims to return to their homes does not negate Jewish historical attachment to Israel nor does it deny the rights of Jews to immigrate to Israel. The right of return seeks only to address historic injustices and affirm the rights of the indigenous non-Jewish population.

11. Why can’t the host countries simply absorb the Palestinian refugees?

The Palestinian refugees are not from the host countries: they are from what is now Israel and have the right to return to Israel. While many countries have granted Palestinian refugees full citizenship, acquiring rights in another country does not negate a refugee’s right to return home.

12. What has the international community done about the Palestinian refugees?

The international community has largely supported the Palestinian right of return and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which is the primary relief organization responsible for the welfare of the refugees. Nevertheless, the international community has failed to take any concrete measures to force Israel to abide by international law and allow the refugees to return.

13. Can’t the Palestinian refugee crisis be resolved through financial compensation to alleviate the poverty?

The term “refugee” does not refer to economic status – it is a legal status: financially successful refugees who have obtained citizenship in other countries are still refugees and still have the right to return. In addition to their right of return, all Palestinian refugees have a right to compensation for their losses.

14. How can the 55-year plight of the Palestinian refugees be resolved?

There can be no comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without honoring the rights of Palestinian refugees. Palestinian refugees must be given the option to exercise their right of return, though refugees may prefer other options such as: (i) resettlement in third countries, (ii) resettlement in a newly independent Palestine (even though they originate from that part of Palestine which became Israel) or (iii) normalization of their legal status in the host country where they currently reside. What is important is that the refugees decide for themselves which option th! ey prefer – a decision must not be imposed upon them.

15. How was the issue of refugees addressed in negotiations with Israel?

At Camp David, Israel refused to discuss the issue of refugees, arguing that it bore no responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem or its solution. In December 2000, US President Clinton, through the “Clinton Parameters,” adopted the concept of choice but by excluding the most fundamental option of allowing refugees to choose to return to Israel, the Clinton Parameters effectively negated the legal rights of Palestinian refugees. At the Taba negotiations, Israel continued to press for an abandonment of ! the right of return. Palestinians should not be the first people in history forced to abandon their right of return.

For additional information on Palestinian refugees, please visit:

BADIL - A Bethlehem-based resource center for Palestinian refugee rights.

Shaml - A refugee rights organization whose mandate is to create regional and global public awareness about the conditions of Palestinian refugees and strengthen links between Palestinian communities in the Diaspora and the homeland.

The Palestinian Return Centre - An independent academic/media consultancy specializing in research, analysis, and monitoring of issues pertaining to the dispersed Palestinians and their right to return. The site offers a monthly newsletter as well as photo, audio, and video galleries.

UNISPAL - A searchable database that contains full-text documents of the United Nations relevant to the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict, including refugees.

UNRWA - The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is the main provider of basic services - education, health, relief and social services - to over 4 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East.

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition - A grassroots organization whose objective is to fulfill the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland and their right to full restitution of all their confiscated and destroyed property in accordance with international law.

Palestine Remembered - A website created to highlight the towns and villages destroyed by Israel in 1948.

Deir Yassin Remembered - A website created to highlight the Deir Yassin massacre.

For a bibliography, please visit

Tanya Reinhart
Yediot Aharonot, May 14, 2003

Every few months, a "peace plan" is pulled out of the drawers of the white house and keeps the public discourse busy for a few weeks. Although this ritual has a fixed pattern and predetermined end, it is curious that many in Israel are still tempted to believe that this time it is different.

The Road Map announces that this time "the destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005". To check if it offers anything concrete in this direction, it is necessary to first get clear regarding what the conflict is about. From Israeli discourse one might get the impression that it is about the right of return: the Palestinians are trying to undermine the mere existence of the state of Israel with the demand to allow their refugees to return, and they are trying to achieve that with terror. It seems that it was forgotten that in practice this is a simple and classical conflict over land and resources (water). The Road Map document as well manifests complete absence of any territorial dimension.

The demands from the Palestinians are clear: to establish a government that will be defined by the U. S. as democratic, to form three security forces which will be defined by Israel as reliable, and to crush terror. Once these demands are fulfilled, the third phase is to begin, at which the occupation will miraculously end. But the document doesn't put any demands on Israel at this third phase. Most Israelis understand that there is no way to end the occupation and the conflict without the Israeli army leaving the territories and the dismantlement of settlements. But these basic concepts are not even hinted at in the document, which only mentions freezing the settlements and dismantling new outposts, already the first stage.

The first stage is more substantial, because it repeats the Tenet plan. In this stage Israel is expected also to "withdraw from Palestinian areas occupied from Sept 28 2000... [and to restore] the status quo that existed then". There is no doubt that fulfillment of this demand can contribute greatly to establishing some calm, even if a temporary one. Had I believed that the European representatives in the quartet could bring this plan to implementation, I would have welcomed it. But there is no basis for such a belief. The Tenet plan has come into the spotlights many times before. The last round was what appeared to e an American cease-fire initiative in March 2002, for which Zinni and Cheney were sent to the region. Already then Sharon clarified that he does not agree to this demand, and he only agrees to easing the conditions for the population in areas in which quiet will be preserved (Ha'aretz, Aluf Ben, 19.3.02). This did not prevent the U.S. from pointing at the Palestinians as the side that refused the cease fire. With the end of this initiative, Israel embarked on the "Defensive Shield" spree of destruction, with the blessing of the U.S.

Israel responded also to the Road Map with the same old objections. It further emphasized that a negotiated halt to terror is not sufficient and what is required is a visible clash between the new security forces and the opposition organizations (namely, a civil war). Israel even demands that a Palestinian declaration of end of conflict and renunciation of the right of return must be given as a precondition at the beginning of any process, and not at the end. Again, none of this undermines the U.S. position that Israel is the side that is seeking peace, the side "whose security is the key to the security of the world", as Condoleezza Rice put it. The U.S. is ruled today by hawks whose vision is an unending war. Israel, whose leaders are always eager to go on another war, is an asset in this vision. There is therefore no basis for the belief that the U.S. will allow anyone to force Israel to make any concessions.

In March 13, 2002, at the eve of Zinni's peace visit in the previous round, the Israeli army welcomed him with an attack on the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, in which 24 Palestinians were killed in one night. Now it has welcomed Powell with a wave of arrests and deportation of international peace activists. In the Pax Americana, there is no room for peace activists. Peace will be brought by the tanks.

3. Empty gestures
Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz, May 16, 2003

It is forbidden to stand, to smoke, to speak, to read a newspaper, to look to the side. They sit like this for an hour, and hour and a half, with their legs amid the garbage. Several male conscripts and one female soldier stand over them, rifles poised, with their armored truck parked on the side. "Mamnu'a"- "That's forbidden!" soldier H. growls at someone who tries to violate orders by lighting a cigarette. H. is armed and protected from head to toe. His round glasses peek out from under a helmet that's too big for him and covers his boyish face. His armored vest rests heavily on his scrawny body. At the dusty checkpoint near the town of Beit Anoun on the outskirts of Hebron, about 50 Palestinian men sit at the soldiers' feet on the filthy pavement and wait. It's not hard to guess what kinds of feelings are building up inside them and what kind of hatred they must feel, sitting there in the trash like animals waiting for their masters' orders. It's harder to guess what is going through the minds of the soldiers who are standing over them, making sure they do not move or speak or smoke. This happened last Sunday, when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was shuttling between Jerusalem and Jericho. Israel Radio announced that the "closure has been lifted in the territories" and the lead headline in the International Herald Tribune said: "Israel Lifts Limits on West Bank Travel." At the checkpoint on the edge of Hebron, a group of residents who hadn't heard the news was sitting in the dirt. All they had wanted to do was to pass on foot - there is no other way - from their town to Hebron across the road, or back. They sat there silently until H. returned from a patrol car parked nearby, ID cards in hand, and began calling out one name after the other. Maybe their release was accelerated because we media people sat down there, too. Or maybe because they had been humiliated enough. They got up, one after the other, shook the dust off their clothes, took their ID cards from the soldier without saying a word and continued on their way. One of them was held back: "Captain Omer wants to meet with you," the officer told him, and both sides appeared to understand each other well. The last of the men to go on his way, a 24-year-old shoemaker named Mamoun Zidat, who wears his hair slicked back with gel, was on the way from his shop in Hebron to his home in Bani Naim. By the time he gets there, he may have to endure another one or two humiliation rites. He says he's used to it already. Two or three times a week, the soldiers block his way, inside the occupied territories. The soldiers get into their armored vehicle and drive away. Not far away, in Hebron, the entire area under Israeli control is as deserted as when a curfew is in force. The settlers' wives haughtily walk the streets, while the Palestinian residents hardly dare look out of their shuttered windows anymore. Essentially, a "transfer" is taking place here, in plain sight. About 2,000 stores, market stalls and businesses have closed and been abandoned here, and hundreds of families have left their homes, according to the estimate of B'Tselem researcher Musa Abu Hashash. He is the one who exposed the case of the killing of Amran Abu Hamdiya in Hebron by Border Police officers, who are currently being tried. His organization is currently preparing a special report about the transfer occurring here. The residents apparently can't take it anymore. Only the poor remain, waiting for donations. On the side of the road that leads down from Tzurif to Emek Ha'ela, two figures stand behind a blue Border Police jeep. The Border Policeman is restraining a Palestinian's hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs. The one being handcuffed is a young man dressed in jeans and a tattered T-shirt. As soon as we draw near, the policeman hurries the Palestinian into the jeep and drives off. Border Police spokeswoman Liat Perl: "This is a regular crew (of Border Police volunteers) that detained a Tzurif resident at a construction site, because his entry is restricted due to a criminal past. The young man tried to flee, they stopped him, handcuffed him and put him in the jeep. After they had a talk with him, and he promised not to return, they let him go." Such is the easing of the closure. The southern town of Dahariya is blazing in the heat. It's harvest time now, and two Thursdays ago, the Samamra family decided to go out to their land - 12 dunams of wheat and sheep fodder, eight kilometers southeast of their home in Dahariya. The harvest lasts a week, during which time they usually stay out in the field with the sheep, who eat the remains of the harvest. That Thursday, the mother, Amana, the eldest son, Omar, 23, his brother Hilal, 16, and their cousin Kamal, 15, set out early in the morning with their sheep and donkeys. Omar works as a mailman; he took a break to work on the harvest. Hilal, a 10th-grader, took time off from school. The father of the family died some years ago. On Friday, their water ran out and Omar decided to take the sheep to drink near one of the houses closest to the family's land. Hilal and Kamal went too, alongside the settlers' road between Hebron and Be'er Sheva. Suddenly, says Omar, a white Renault van with yellow license plates pulled up. A large, bearded man with a kippa on his head and a rifle in his hand got out and ordered them in broken Arabic to get away from the road. He was about to leave when he saw Omar writing the car's license plate number in the sand; he wanted to complain to the Red Cross. The bearded man backed up. "Do you want your name to be on Al Jazeera?" he asked, threateningly. The man made a call on his cell phone and soon afterward a black Toyota appeared and two uniformed men got out; Omar says they were wearing Border Police uniforms. The vehicle had yellow civilian license plates. One of the men took out handcuffs and handcuffed Hilal and Kamal. They were blindfolded with a black cloth. Omar got on the donkey and escaped. Hilal speaks in a terse monotone, but his brother says that he has recovered from the anxiety that gripped him since then. Kamal is in worse shape: He has not uttered a word since the incident. Hilal says that after they handcuffed and blindfolded him, he felt that he was being peed on. Then came the beating: slaps and kicks that went on for about 15 minutes. Then Hilal heard the attackers driving off. At 5 in the afternoon, Omar, who had come back with two other shepherds, found his brother and cousin laying there in handcuffs, with the sheep having dispersed in all directions. He used a scythe to slice through the handcuffs and then went off to collect the sheep. Thirteen were on the verge of collapse, six had died - from dehydration, Omar believes - and another six disappeared. He shows photos of the dead sheep. They finally made it back home at 10 P.M. Now they are afraid to go back to their land. Amana won't let them go. So what happened on Friday afternoon, on the settlers' road between Hebron and Be'er Sheva? Who was this civilian? Where did he come from, and who were the men in uniform he summoned? The IDF Spokesman: "The event you describe was investigated, despite the paucity of details, and is not familiar. It should also be noted that the IDF does not have any vehicle of the kind described." A Border Police spokesperson added that there was no Border Police activity in the area at the time.

"Easing the closure": A Palestinian in handcuffs soon to be bundled into a jeep by Border Police.
(Photo by Miki Kratsman)

4. The point of control
Danny Rubinstein
May 18, 2003

The list of demands raised by Palestinian Prime Minster Mahmoud Abbas in his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, included all the familiar items: an end to the Israeli raids and assassinations, prisoner releases, settlement freezes, and an Israeli withdrawal from areas that used to be in Palestinian control.

But ask anyone on the street, anywhere in the West Bank and Gaza, what they hope for more than anything else, and most will answer: it's the checkpoints. They want the Israelis to get rid of the checkpoints.

To judge by the Palestinian press, the editors of newspapers apparently have tired of the subject. The number of reports and articles about what goes on at checkpoints has been dropping lately, apparently because there's not much new to report. Still, there's practically no street corner conversation, from Rafah to Jenin, that doesn't touch on the checkpoints.

Everyone knows the problem firsthand. The residents of the West Bank (and less so Gazans) cannot leave their towns and villages - all the roads out are blocked. Arab vehicles are not allowed on the roads, except with special permits. Anyone who leaves home reaches a checkpoint, and if they get through the first one, they no doubt end up at a second or third or more on their way to their destination.

They arrive by private car or public transport, and then have to get out to go through the army controls on foot. Many bypass the checkpoints via dirt roads and paths through the hills. The checkpoints totally disrupt the Palestinian economy, because workers can't get to work, merchandise can't get to shops and raw materials can't get to manufacturing plants. The school system and health system barely function because of the checkpoints.

At the major checkpoints, there seems to be constant chaos. Long lines of cars, yellow taxis, white vans, and trucks all jockey to move ahead in line. On the side of the roads are improvised parking lots, full of private cars and vendors selling food, drink and almost anything else to those waiting. All around are huge concrete cubes and barbed wire, and the entire area is filthy, strewn with trash. Above it all is a heavily fortified guard post, with an Israeli flag fluttering on top.

His friends call Bethlehem University administrator George Sahar, Dr. Checkpoint. He says that the checkpoints have become the core of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The checkpoint, he says, is now the place where the Palestinian meets the Israeli. "It's where the Israeli soldier delivers a personal, clear and direct message to every Palestinian man, woman and child, young and old, who passes through - and the message is, `I don't want peace with you.'"

Sahar lives in Beit Hanina, south of Ramallah and every day he has to go to Bethlehem University. Like all those who go through a checkpoint, he never knows how long the journey will take and whether he will even make it.

"It's the gate to heaven or hell," say some Bir Zeit University students waiting in line to get through the Qalandiyah checkpoint. They refer to the permanent state of uncertainty that reigns at the checkpoints. They imply there's no way of knowing what will happen. Maybe you'll get through in a few minutes, maybe you'll have to wait hours, and maybe they'll close the checkpoint and tell you to come tomorrow.

"You're in the hands of the demon," goes the Arabic _expression which the students quote. The demon controls your fate and you feel helpless. The soldiers can suddenly arrest you, because your name is similar to that of a wanted person. Or because they are looking for a relative of yours and meanwhile want to interrogate you. One of the students says that sometimes there are Israeli intelligence agents at the checkpoints who try to recruit new informants.

The Palestinians are flooded with photographs (published in the press) and stories of humiliation at checkpoints. Hisham Urthani, a well-known economist from Nablus, tells of what happened a few weeks ago at the checkpoint at the entrance to his city. He waited for more than an hour and when he finally reached the soldier who would check his papers, Urthani mentioned he was in a hurry. The soldier got angry. "You're in a hurry? Then go back to the end of the line."

Urthani, who was enraged, waited in line again and when he reached the same soldier the second time, the Bethlehem University administrator mentioned that he knows many Israelis, some in positions of power, and that he would be complaining to them.

"Nice," said the soldier. "So whom do you know, for example?"

Urthani, who regularly takes part in academic conferences and often meets Israelis, thought for a second and said, "Shimon Peres, for example."

That apparently was the wrong answer. The soldier said, "Well, if you know Shimon Peres, then you should go ask him for a job at a checkpoint, because you won't get past me today."

Urthani went home ashamed and humiliated, and wondered whether to complain. He decided not to. In a phone conversation from home, he explains that among his acquaintances and neighbors, there are quite a few who have lost relatives in the intifada. He knows people who were left crippled, and people whose sons are in prison or lost all their property, so how can he start a campaign of complaints because one soldier insulted him at a checkpoint?

One day, as he was on his way from the university to Beit Hanina, says George Sahar, he was made to wait in line for about an hour-and-a-half near Rachel's Tomb, north of Bethlehem. It was very hot and he was exhausted. He eventually made it through the checkpoint, but after a few hundred meters on foot, he was amazed to see another checkpoint with a long line. Again he waited and waited, until he cracked, and began shouting. One of the soldiers aimed a rifle at him. In retrospect, he knows he was close to death, because he nearly charged the soldier out of frustration. But he was lucky. The people around him grabbed him and one woman told the soldiers that she knew him and that he's a little crazy.

The conditions at checkpoints can change from minute to minute. A lot depends on the orders reaching the soldiers from various levels of the chain of command, in light of changing reports. The soldiers sometimes accelerate the pace of people moving through and sometimes slow it down or sometimes simply close the checkpoint without warning. The Palestinians, of course, haven't got a clue when and why the changes take place. Many in the territories are convinced it's all a matter of the mood of the soldiers and their commanders.

What is clear is that the Palestinian ability to adapt is amazing. When the soldiers just start heading toward the concrete cubes and barbed wire to close the passageway through the checkpoint, the entire Palestinian convoy lined up to get through immediately starts moving to find an alternative route. Within minutes, the pedestrians have found their way to dirt paths that bypass the checkpoint. The yellow taxis and white vans show up and with them the hundreds of vendors who had turned the sides of the road leading to the checkpoint into a shopping center.

"Duty-Free Palestine" is what those teaming markets at every checkpoint are called. People need to wait for hours, so they can be sold things. You can buy anything at a checkpoint, from a shoelace to a refrigerator, and of course food and drink. There are dozens of stalls and improvised sheds, and the prices are very low. The vendors don't pay rent, city taxes or any taxes at all, and there are no water and electricity bills, so they can keep their prices very low.

It's odd to remember that up until 12 years ago there were no permanent checkpoints between the territories and Israel nor inside the territories. For 24 years, from 1967 to 1991, the Erez and Karni junctions at Gaza, which now have full-fledged border control systems considered among the largest in the world, were open roads without a soldier in sight or any border control procedures at all. There were terrorist attacks then, too, though not like now, but according to the policies laid down by defense minister Moshe Dayan after the Six-Day War, there was freedom of movement throughout the entire land, for both Jews and Arabs.

No doubt, many a Ph.D. dissertation or master's thesis will be written about when and how the Israeli perceptions changed, leading to the checkpoint policies. Whatever those studies show, the checkpoints are now the essence of Israeli control over the Palestinians, and there is no chance that they will be removed any time in the near future.

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