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T WOULD APPEAR that the IDF Commander for the Central Region, headquartered at Bethel in the West Bank, wanted to come up with a creative gesture to aid us in remembering the late Rosa Parks. On December 1, 1955, Parks was arrested and tried in Montgomery, Alabama, because she refused a bus driver's order to surrender her seat to a white man as the law required. The event moved the Afro-Americans of Montgomery to boycott the city's public transportation system until the law was rescinded 381 days later. Their boycott marked the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in America.
Emulating the elders of Dixie, the IDF Commander at Bethel has issued a new order, which will go into effect on January 19, 2007, that forbids Israelis or foreigners from transporting Palestinians in the West Bank. Violators will be punished with five years' imprisonment. Every soldier or policeperson will be authorized to use force in order to terminate any such violation—in other words, they can yank people out of cars.
If you are worried that this new measure may harm Israel's vital interests, fear not. The exploitation of cheap, unorganized Palestinian labor will not be impeded: exceptions will be allowed for those who drive Palestinians with permits to work in Israel or the settlements. Likewise, Israeli companies that operate bus lines in the West Bank will be allowed to accept Palestinian passengers as before; thus there will be no interruption in the flow of cash to Israeli coffers. It goes without saying that the Security Services will continue to provide free rides to Palestinians (at the small inconvenience of handcuffs and blindfolds).
Furthermore, the Commander's order generously takes into account the special needs of Arab Israelis with relatives in the West Bank. They will be entitled to transport, in their own cars, their spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, children and even their grandchildren. This exception is limited, to be sure, to blood relations, as befits a racist regime—grandparents are OK, in-laws not. Relationships that originate in social choice, rather than biology, had best be cut. Friendships or (heaven forbid) joint political activities are strictly extra-auto. The Commander justifies his order with the usual reference to security considerations—it will supposedly prevent attacks—and on grounds of public order. The measure accords, indeed, with Israel's general approach where security is concerned: we won't be safe till everybody's dead. Here, then, is a measure that adds yet another layer to the new social structure emerging in Israel and the Territories.
Within the human-rights community, for some time now, we have talked about replacing the term occupation with apartheid. The main thoroughfares in the West Bank have become Israeli-only roads, while those available to Palestinians crumble in disrepair. The checkpoints for entry into Israel have split into separate channels, one for Israelis, another for Palestinians. The areas between the separation wall and the Green Line are freely open to Israelis, whereas Palestinians need special permits to enter them. East Jerusalem, historically the geopolitical center of the West Bank, is open only to its residents—and all Israelis. The same holds for the Jordan Valley. The lands held by the settlements are freely accessible to Israelis—but to Palestinians only if they have permits to work in them.
On the other hand, the parts of the West Bank defined by the Oslo Accords as Area A, as well as the whole Gaza Strip, are forbidden to Israelis and most foreigners. This order is honored spottily in the West Bank but draconically in Gaza, which represents the perfect model of separation in the view of Israel's government.
There is a legal system for Israelis and another for Palestinians. An Israeli is tried according to the laws of Israel, the Palestinian according to military legislation for the Territories. Take, for instance, an Israeli and a Palestinian who are arrested for the same offense. The former will be brought before a judge in Israel within 24 hours; the latter will wait eight days, and the judge will be military.
This is not just oppression. It is also separation and isolation. Consider the separation wall and the Citizenship Law. Both attempt to cut contacts between the Palestinians in the Territories and those who live in Israel.
History has already passed judgment on the makers of racist laws, whether in Nuremberg, Montgomery or Cape Town. Clear lines stretch from these cities to Bethel. The day of Bethel will come.