Wednesday, June 20, 2012

And the Real Apartheid Winner is ... Palestinian!

Emily Amrousi..
Israel Hayom..
20June '12..

A well-known radio broadcaster recently told me that, as a settler, I am fine and my arguments may also be convincing. The problem, he said, is the "occupation." The thought that people might finally stop blaming "the settlers" for the problem felt like a breath of fresh air, pure oxygen. But then the broadcaster continued: people around the world see our apartheid roads in Judea and Samaria and this severely damages Israel's image. He asked me to consider what I would think if I were a Palestinian and someone told me that I could not drive on certain highways. That fresh oxygen I mentioned earlier quickly turned into non-breathable carbon-dioxide.

One can't even begin to confront this claim without starting with the firm truth that there are no apartheid highways here. This radio broadcaster was simply perpetuating a made up narrative. There are no highways anywhere in Judea and Samaria which Palestinians are forbidden from driving on, but which Jews are allowed to use. This includes all of the bypass roads and all of the settlement highways. It includes the road inside the community where I live as well, (according to a High Court verdict from just a year ago) which a Palestinian can drive on to get from their children's kindergarten to the grocery store, just as I drive on it to get from my house to my neighbor's house. Along the Trans-Samaria Highway there are signs cautioning all drivers to watch out for bicycle riders on the shoulder; both Palestinian and Israeli registered cars drive at the same high speeds. If there is such a thing as an "apartheid highway," it would refer to highways closed only to Jews.

About three years ago, the High Court heard two highway-related petitions in just one week. One of the petitions was submitted by Palestinians requesting permission to use the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, #443. The other petition was submitted by Jewish settlers requesting permission to use the highway from Talmon, a settlement near Ramallah, to Jerusalem. Both petitions rested on the principle of freedom of movement. Now, don't fall out of your chairs just yet. The High Court set that the security establishment must allow Palestinians to use highway 443, even if it could endanger Israelis on the road. Yet at the same time, it forbid the defense establishment from allowing settlers to use the short Talmon-Jerusalem highway. Now you should hold on to your chairs: the latter decision was based on the High Court's concern for settlers' safety.

Why am I bringing up these cases now? A week ago, the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, which despite its name actually exercises full military control over every aspect of the lives of 360,000 settlers, returned Palestinian lands that had previously been confiscated to build an alternative road, one that would not "endanger" Jews in the eyes of the High Court. It would also have finally allowed thousands of Israelis from the Talmon area to more easily reach the major city in their district, Jerusalem.

Here are the facts: 20,000 other Israelis and I live in absolutely legal settlements in the western Binyamin region, established with permission from the proper authorities. Jerusalem sits just on the other side of a mountain, about 15 kilometers as the crow flies; we can see the city's lights clearly in the night sky. Up through the late 1990s, residents in this area could drive on a highway that reached the city in about 20 minutes. But then, terror struck the roads, and some settlers paid with their lives for the drive. The short highway to Jerusalem was closed for security purposes, and instead cars were diverted to a new 60 kilometer (37 miles) spiral road, heading first west, then east and finally south, requiring drivers to pass through three IDF checkpoints before arriving in Jerusalem.

The state eventually understood that it must provide a reasonable route for Binyamin area residents, so in 1998 they decided to build a new paved highway from the Talmon area to Jerusalem. You might be asking: why punish the Palestinians and confiscate their lands to build a new and comfortable highway for the settlers? First off, Palestinian terror is the one and only reason that these people can't use the existing highway. Second, the settlers were ready to use the existing highway, but the High Court forbid them from doing so. Third, the new highway was designated for any licensed driver, regardless of license plate color, either Israeli or Palestinian.

Yet this has still not happened and now it appears that it never will. In response to a more recent petition submitted by Yesh Din, a NGO that advocates for human rights, the Civil Administration announced that it had cancelled plans to build an alternative paved highway. So here are the options: if you are a Jew, take the long road, which is totally geographically illogical. If you are an Arab, take the efficient short road, the one closed to Jewish traffic since the start of the first Intifada in December of 1987. If you want justice, and you were born to a Jewish mother, don't seek it in the Israeli Supreme Court. This, in essence, is the story of apartheid in Judea and Samaria.  


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