The mad mad world of trying to drive in a straight line in Israel (if you're not Jewish)

January 19, 2012
Sarah Benton

Otherwise Occupied / All roads lead to Ramallah

A riddle for the Internet-challenged: When is a kosher, Israeli-licensed car not permitted to travel on route 443?
By Amira Hass, Ha’aretz

We’ll stay on Route 443, where we were already last week. It’s convenient. This is the highway whose existence upgrades the capital as a city with two major traffic arteries to the coastal plain, and improves the quality of life of Israelis. Fewer traffic jams, less time wasted, and the Palestinian villages on whose land the highway is paved are concealed for our convenience behind the wall (like Bir Nabala ) or serve as exotic scenery, empty of human beings (like Al-Tira ).

After all, the area between Modi’in and Jerusalem, indisputably a part of the West Bank, was separated from it and annexed de facto to Israel, and is almost clean of Palestinians. It’s true that two demographic nuisances remain in this area (the El Khalaileh neighborhood and the village of Nabi Samuel ), but their presence is gradually evaporating thanks to the long-term and farsighted resourcefulness of the defense establishment (its civil administration branch and its armed branch ), to which we will return shortly.

This time, what connects us to Route 443 is Christmas, the holiday when the Christians in the West Bank receive an exceptional number of entry permits to Israel, which afterward can be used to boast that Israel respects the right of followers of all religions to practice their rituals.

An e-mail group of activists and lawyers was asked by one of member: “Is anyone familiar with a ‘general’s order’ that forbids Palestinians with an entry permit to Israel from traveling on Route 443?”

The person asking is a native of the Galilee, a lawyer who lives and works in Jerusalem and has family and friends in Ramallah. As we know – and apparently contrary to our unconcealed desires – the Green Line, the separation wall and its checkpoints have not erased blood ties, friendships and affiliations.

One day a few weeks ago, several of the happy permit recipients nervously phoned that same lawyer and asked him to come to the exit checkpoint from Route 443 known as “Maccabim-Reut.” Their relatives in East Jerusalem (which, as we know, and perhaps contrary to our desires, etc, etc. ) were waiting for them at the exit from the Qalandiya checkpoint. Happy and cheerful, they turned west on Route 443 in the direction of Nazareth, to celebrate the birthday of the messiah.

At Maccabim-Reut soldiers stopped their car. Although their license plate number is kosher and yellow (Israeli ), and although the passengers were not wearing clothes that identify their non-Jewish identity, the soldiers knew that they had to stop that car in particular. Happy and cheerful, the passengers showed them the special permits for Christian sects, and then were stunned to hear that they were not allowed to pass. In other words: The Jerusalemites among them were allowed, the West Bankers were not.

The lawyer who had been called urgently to the checkpoint tried to argue, but one of those in charge told him that “there is a general’s order” that forbids it.

We already knew that the residents of the villages themselves along the route of 443 – a highway that was built on their confiscated land, whose confiscation was approved by the High Court of Justice because the highway was paved “for them” – cannot use this highway. But we didn’t know that it is also unusable for those with valid entry permits to Israel.

And boy, is it unusable! The soldiers follow orders, and the car was required to backtrack, east on 443, in the direction of Qalandiya. But as the devil would have it, there’s a checkpoint on the other side too, near Ofer prison and for the glory of our Jewish hold on the entire area of the settlements of Givat Ze’ev, Givon and Ramot. There too the soldiers are familiar with the general’s order that forbids Palestinians, including those with valid entry permits, to cross. There too they follow orders. There too they ordered them to go back to where they had come from. Return to Ramallah, and then in order to go north to Nazareth, exit from Qalandiya again and go south to Route 1.

In order to reach Ramallah, the family in the Israeli car somehow found the “fabric of life” road, our old acquaintance from last week. They returned to Ramallah exhausted and obviously not pleased, and didn’t get to Nazareth that day.

At my request, the commander’s order in question was e-mailed to me by the army spokesperson’s office. In the order, signed by Avi Mizrahi on May 17, 2010, it says, among the other prohibitions, that a non-Israeli vehicle will not enter or leave from Route 443 without a permit. I went through it carefully and didn’t find that it said specifically that a person with a permit for Israel, who is traveling in an Israeli vehicle, cannot use the highway either.

Someone in the e-mail group suggested that we examine the “crossings order” from several years ago. I checked. On the military prosecution’s website all I managed to find was an order from November 14, 2010, also signed by Maj. Gen. Mizrahi. It includes a list of the “crossings” and was apparently issued in order to put some order in the mess created by the abundance of parallel authorities operating at the checkpoint. The list of crossings permitted to Palestinians from Judea and Samaria to Israel actually includes “Maccabim.”

For laborers only

A security official who is an expert on the regime of movement prohibitions tried to clear up the confusion: It’s forbidden to cross at Maccabim, he explained. It’s only for day laborers, between 5 A.M. and 9 A.M., and that’s why they installed a special “sleeve” there for pedestrians. But if someone with a permit who is not a laborer comes during those hours, this security official assumes that they won’t send him back. He also said that for those with permits they have installed (only recently ) the Na’alin crossing (another checkpoint that lies to us, pretending to be a border crossing, on land robbed from the village of Na’alin, and through which large numbers of Israeli cars pass ). He thinks that there is a general’s order regarding it.

With or without a general’s order, the fact remains: A permit that enables a Palestinian to visit Al Nasra (Nazareth ), Haifa and Yaffa (Jaffa ) forbids him from continuing from the Qalandiya checkpoint westward and from there to travel on Route 443. And if, like me, you don’t understand the logic, that means that we are all Internet-challenged and simply haven’t found the appropriate general’s order.

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