Yom Kippur Frustrations

For many years I used to look forward to the arrival of the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It was one of the few days of the year when I would get a chance to imagine what it would be like to live in a liberated area. The drive to my office in Jerusalem would be relatively easy, and East Jerusalem would be quiet as no Israelis were to be found anywhere.
This year when Yom Kippur rolled around, the situation was much different. Two tiny events happened which made me feel I was discriminated against for being a Palestinian. More than shootings and economic strangulation, these events made me feel the Occupation and Palestinian dependence on Israel.
To get to work in Jerusalem, I have to go through a checkpoint at the Ram intersection. This has been a troublesome spot where at least one Palestinian was killed. This checkpoint has been the cause of much anger and frustration. After many complaints the Israeli army and police have relaxed the restrictions, mainly by creating four lanes so as to ease traffic jams. Most people think that the Israeli army made the change because the delays were causing Israeli settlers to be held up. So in a way, Palestinians gained by the need of settlers to get to their work quickly.
Well, on Yom Kippur there were no settlers on the road, the traffic was easier and the four lanes were suddenly reduced to one. What would normally take five to ten minutes to get through, on this Yom Kippur took more than half an hour. What was more upsetting was the way Israeli soldiers were checking Palestinians. They were taking their time, checking one or two cars and then resting for a while, checking and waiting, and so on. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind, or in the mind of all of us waiting, that our delay was not for any security reason. We were delayed because the Israeli soldiers didn't much care whether we Palestinians got our children to school on time, or whether we were able to get to work on time. The attitude represented not only the arrogance of the soldiers, but the racism of a country that considers Palestinians a much lower category of human beings.

Shutting Down a Symbol

The second event on Yom Kippur was just as telling. The Israelis cut off the Voice of Palestine radio station. The new Palestine station, which broadcasts out of a studio in Jericho, sends its signals via a fiber-optic line to a transmitter in Ramallah. The transmitter is inside a military base and, therefore, the Palestinian station which was expected to be one of the symbols of Palestinian independence is physically within the control of the Israeli army. And since Yom Kippur is a holy Jewish day, and radio and television are off the air in Israel, the Israeli army decided that there was no reason for the Palestinian station to be operating on this day, so the plug was simply pulled out from sundown to sundown the following day in accordance with Jewish tradition.

Gaza: Clean-up and Freedom
I visited Gaza at the end of September. I was impressed. The streets of Gaza City are starting to be cleaned up; walls are being whitewashed and the atmosphere is very relaxed. During a three-day stay in Gaza, I spent every night at the beach till past midnight, enjoying beautiful weather and a calm and restful ambience. Women who would not dare walk around with their heads uncovered during the Intifada were walking without head-cover and without fear or concern.
However, the changes that are going on in Gaza so far are mainly cosmetic. There is no sign yet of a campaign to educate the public or to make laws that will ensure the permanence of the clean-up effort once the cleaners' immediate work is done. The public has yet to participate on a large scale in these clean-up activities. It is also interesting that the clean-up has so far been concentrated on the main roads in Gaza City as well as the beachfront area. Again, no attempt has been made to reach out to the camps and the rest of the Gaza Strip.
In general, what is worrisome in Gaza is the fact that little has been done to create a proper legal structure. Prisoners are still being held without charge, and it is still unclear under which laws the arrests are being made. The incidents surrounding Wachsman's kidnapping are a case in point. Hundreds were held as a result of the political pressure that came from the Israelis. The entire staff of Reuters News Agency in Gaza was jailed. The crime - Reuters reporting and distributing the tape of the kidnapped soldier. Taher Shreiteh, who received international awards for his professionalism and bravery during the years of Israeli occupation, found himself in jail held by Palestinian officers. Taher was held without an arrest warrant and was freed without a release form. He was kept in an office and had to sleep at a desk rather than in a proper bed.
The clean-up of Gaza from the dirt that has built up over the years of Israeli occupation is not enough. It is to be hoped that the Palestinian authorities will come out clean on issues of principle such as the freedom of the press and other personal freedoms and rights. The clean-up campaign would be nothing more than a superficial job without such clear guarantees for people's freedoms.

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