HASS: It’s not that Israel is finding new ways to expel Palestinians, it’s that no one cares 17Nov11 November 16, 2011

by Amira Hass -  Haaretz  -  16 November 2011

The affair of the rapist president Moshe Katsav is always associated in my mind with my limitations as a journalist. And the mention of the week in which the affair became public (after July 8, 2006 ) brings to mind the Israeli expulsion bureaucracy.

How so? It was in that week that I planned to begin publishing a series of articles about a new step taken by the interior, justice and defense ministries. In league, and unbeknownst to the public, they decided to cease respecting a gentlemanly agreement with with Palestinians and their spouses holding passports of mostly western countries, and who were living in the West Bank on only a tourist visa. Some were born in the territory occupied in 1967 – Israel canceled their resident status based on various ruses, but allowed them to come and go as tourists. Others, particularly after 1994 (the year of the Oslo Accords ), were allowed to work in the Occupied Territory (in universities, various NGOs, PA bureaucracy and in businesses ), also based on a tourist visa only.

Suddenly, beginning in the spring of 2006, hundreds of people discovered that this arrangement no longer existed: At the border terminals at Ben-Gurion International Airport and the Allenby Bridge and Sheikh Hussein terminal officials began to mark their passports with the stamp “Denied Entry.” A similar stamp was put on the passports of those who had indeed come here for the summer, to visit family, to stay in the house in which they were born. Thousands of “convicted” Palestinians were suspected of an organized conspiracy to undermine the demographic balance of “Greater Israel.”

Due to the printed space and the media noise generated by the Katsav affair, the articles’ publication was postponed for a day or two. No big deal. But as expected, they did not generate much noise when they were published. Bureaucracy is boring, especially bureaucracy whose victims are Palestinians. It is the place where people exercise their right not to know. They take no interest, don’t read and don’t agonize over what they haven’t read. To myself I said: I guess I didn’t present the information in an attractive wrapping.

To my rescue came then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Palestinians who were citizens of Western countries, particularly the United States, and were hurt by the discrimination (compared with Jews or evangelist Christians carrying the same passports ) organized, protested, complained and met with their elected officials. The foreign press did take an interest. Rice reprimanded Israel, and the information’s stock rose high in the media market.

The chastised bureaucracy began to provide partial answers. Many of the “tourists” finally received Palestinian resident status. For others, new rules were created, as usual lacking any transparency, according to which they could acquire the desired visa. Sometimes it is a visa for two weeks, sometimes for three months. Sometimes for a year. And sometimes, the visa is flat out denied after all.

Routine denial

In the past two years a new ploy has been in regular use, the protests against discrimination notwithstanding. Yet despite a number of articles, its media stock value has remained low. Those suspected of being Palestinians or related to Palestinians receive visas to “Palestinian Authority only,” though, like tens of thousands of Jewish and evangelist Christian tourists, they are bona fide citizens of Western states friendly to Israel, first and foremost the United States.

True, they are not prevented from moving through areas designated as “C” (areas that make up 60 percent of the West Bank and are under double and triple Israeli control ) in order to be in what is officially defined as PA territory. But they are, by underreported routine, denied entry anywhere else (East Jerusalem, the Galilee, the “Triangle” region of Israeli Arab towns, places that lie west of the Separation Fence, etc. ), although (or perhaps because ) they have family, friends and property there, not to mention churches and mosques. And their foreign ministries are doing nothing on their behalf.

Routine is considered the enemy of the press. In the past, harassment of women by men (beginning with lower wages for women, not only rape ) constituted an unreported routine. Today, the (happily ) non-objective press races to report such routine harassment, taking pains to emphasize that although the case in question is a singular one, it represents a phenomenon. Readers of both sexes hungrily exercise their right to know, and the news item usually acquires high media value (expressed, among other things, in the length of its appearance on newspaper websites ).

A different kind of routine is implemented almost daily throughout Area C of the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem ). There, Israeli bureaucracy encourages Jews to do what it prohibits Palestinians from doing: building. Even when our soldiers are not destroying tents and huts without proper permits, the ban on building itself is a kind of passive destruction and expulsion of potential dwellers. In this way, the bureaucracy has ensured that the greater part of the West Bank will be inhabited by as few Palestinians as possible (today the number is around 150,000 ). This makes it easier to perpetuate the concept of empty land suitable for Jewish settlements and Israeli annexation.

One of the obstacles in the way of the “empty land” myth is some 27,000 Bedouin living in Area C. About 80 percent of them are already refugees, deported from the Negev desert around 1950. In a gradual, calculated process that has been going on since the 1970s, the Israeli bureaucracy has been closing in on them, limiting their nomadic way of life and destroying their livelihood as shepherds, while preventing them from improving their living standard on the sites they do inhabit.

An obstacle to the immediate plans for expanding Ma’aleh Adumim and its sister settlements, until they close ranks with Jerusalem, are some 2,400 Bedouin living east of the capital. In a few weeks or months, the Israeli authorities will implement a plan for their expulsion and forced concentration near a hazardous garbage dump, in a village also born out of the sin of expulsion for the sake of Ma’aleh Adumim and its expansion.

Please, someone, throw me an attractive lead paragraph and a sexy headline – something to give the item about the expulsion two more minutes of screen time and six more readers.

Amira Hass is the Haaretz correspondent for the Occupied Territories.  She spent three years living in Gaza, which provided the basis for her widely acclaimed book, “Drinking the Sea at Gaza.” She has lived in the West Bank city of Ramallah since 1997.  Hass is also the author of two other books, both of which are compilations of her articles.

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