By Ramzy Baroud
Israel’s decision to bar two US Democratic congresswomen, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from entering the country and visiting Palestine has further exposed the belligerent, racist nature of the Israeli government.
But our understanding of this Israeli decision, and the massive controversy and discussion it generated, should not stop there. Palestinians, who have been on the receiving end of racist Israeli laws, will continue to endure separation, isolation and travel restrictions long after this story dies down.
A news feature published by the British Guardian newspaper last June told the story of Palestinian children from Gaza who died alone in Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem. Ever since Israel imposed near-complete isolation on the Gaza Strip in 2007, thousands of Palestinian patients requiring urgent medical care, which is available in Palestinian East Jerusalem or elsewhere in the West Bank, have faced options, all of them painful. As a result, many died at home, while others waited for months, if not years, to be granted permission to leave the besieged Strip.
The Guardian reported on 56 Gazan babies who were brought to the Makassed Hospital, but without any family accompanying them. Six of these babies died alone. The Israeli human rights group Gisha putsthis sad reality in numbers. When the Erez Crossing between Gaza and Israel is not completely shut, only 100 Gazans are allowed to cross into Israel (mostly on their way to the West Bank) per day. Before the breakout of the Second Intifada in 2000, “the monthly average number of entries to Israel from Gaza by Palestinians was more than half a million,” according to Gisha. The impactsof this massive reduction on the Palestinian community in the Strip in terms of work, health, education and social life were laid bare in a 2003 report.
But this goes well beyond Gaza. Indeed, if there is one consistent set of policies that has governed Israel’s relationship with Palestinians since the establishment of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948, it is that of separation, siege and physical restrictions.
While the establishment of Israel resulted in a massive exodus of Palestinian refugees, who now number in the millions and are still denied the right to even visit their homeland, those who remained in Palestine were detained in small, cut-off spaces, governed by an inhumane matrix of control that only grows more sophisticated with time.
Immediately after the establishment of Israel, the Palestinian Christian and Muslim communities that were not ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias during the war endured years of isolation under the Defense (Emergency) Regulations. The movement of Palestinians in these areas was governed by military law and the permit system.
Following the 1967 occupation of the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine, the emergency law was also applied to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, in the period between 1967 and 1972, all of the Occupied Territories were declared a “closed military area” by the Israeli army.
From 1972 to 1991, Palestinian laborers were allowed entry to Israel only to serve as the country’s cheap workforce. Hundreds of thousands of impoverished, desperate — though often well-educated — Palestinians endured humiliating working conditions in Israel in order to sustain their families. But even that route was closed following the First Intifada of 1987, particularly after the Gulf War in 1991.
The Oslo Agreement formalized the military permit system. Oslo also divided the West Bank into three zones: A, B and C, with the latter two (comprising nearly 83 percent of the total area of the West Bank) falling largely under Israeli control. This ushered in yet another horrific reality, as it isolated the West Bank’s Palestinians from one another.
East Jerusalem also fell into the same matrix of Israeli control. After 1967, Palestinian Jerusalemites were classified as living in either area J1 or J2. J1 covered Palestinians with blue cards living in areas annexed by Israel after the war and incorporated into the boundaries of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality, while J2 Palestinians resided outside the municipality area. Both communities were denied “fundamental residency rights to adequate housing and freedom of movement and their rights to health, work, (and) education,” wrote Fadwa Allabadi and Tareq Hardan in a report for the Institute for Palestinian Studies.
The so-called “Separation Wall,” which Israel began building in June 2002, did not separate Palestinians and Israelis, for that had already been realized through numerous laws and restrictions, many of which are as old as the Israeli state itself. Instead, the wall created yet more restrictions for Palestinians, who are now left isolated in Apartheid South Africa-style “Bantustans.” With hundreds of permanent and “flying” military checkpoints dotting the West Bank, Israel’s separation strategy was transformed from isolating all Palestinians at once to individualized confinement that is aimed at destroying any sense of Palestinian socioeconomic cohesion and continuity.
Moreover, the Israeli military “installed iron gates at the entrances to the vast majority of West Bank villages, allowing it to isolate them within minutes and with minimal personnel,” according to research by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
It does not end here, of course. In March 2017, the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) approved an amendment to the law that would deny entryto foreign nationals who “knowingly issued a public call to boycott the state of Israel.” The “Boycott Law” was rooted in a 2011 bill and a 2015 Israeli Supreme Court decision that upheld the legal argument in the bill.
According to Israeli website Globes, almost 19,000 visitors to Israel were turned away at the country’s various entry points in 2018, compared to only 1,870 in 2011. Omar and Tlaib will be added to that dismal statistic for this year.
Every Palestinian is subjected to these restrictions. While some are denied the right to visit their families, others are dying in isolation in besieged areas, in “closed military zones,” while separated from one another by massive walls and numerous military checkpoints.
This is the story of Palestinian isolation by Israel that we must not allow to be forgotten, long after the news cycle covering the two congresswomen’s story has moved on from Omar, Tlaib and Israeli transgressions.