I was invited to a New Years' party in a town 35 kilometers from my home, but I can't attend. I'm not legally allowed to visit that town.
Since the beginning of the Intifada all large Palestinian towns have been out of bounds for Israelis by decree of the military. The party is in Tul Karem, just east of the Israeli city of Hadera. I called a friend who sometimes sneaks across the lines to visit Ramallah and asked him how easy it would be to go to Tul Karem "under the radar" of the soldiers at the checkpoints. He said Tul Karem was completely out of bounds and if I did get in, getting out would be highly difficult. If I'm caught by the Palestinian authorities while in Tul Karem, they are obliged to turn me over to the Israelis, who would then have to interrogate me about my contacts with the enemy.
Just to be clear. I don't have enemies in Tul Karem. The people there who are furious towards me don't know me, because I'm not allowed to go there and converse with them. The people on this side of the wall who are afraid of people in Tul Karem can't think this fear through. They are not allowed to visit and get to know their scary neighbors. What a brilliant way our leaders have found to perpetuate war.
The ban that forbids me from going to Tul Karem, to Ramallah, to Lebanon and to enormous chunks of Africa and Asia is minuscule compared with the travel bans imposed on the Palestinians by Israel. We are talking about millions of people who are not allowed to leave their towns without going through an often humiliating inspection, who must travel unpaved, winding roads, while Israelis zoom by on roads paved only for them, who are barred from visiting the holy city of Jerusalem, found mere miles away from their home, and the Mediterranean coastline that they can often see from their windows. These are people for whom international travel is virtually impossible. Their world is as narrow as their village and the nearby town - if they're lucky. In times of turmoil, Palestinians are often placed under curfew, sometimes for months on end. They are not allowed to leave their houses under threat of death.
The security considerations cited by Israel are not legitimate. Yes, there have been terror attacks in Hadera, Tul Karem's neighbor to the west, as well as in my city of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo. Yes, I also want security. I love life and I benefit from the fact that this year had seen less Israeli victims than any year since the 80s, but nothing justifies the bending of human rights. We want security? let's find a legitimate way to gain it. Such a way exists. The current policies only offer symptomatic, temporary relief while nurturing disdain and anger that would later stir more violence.
As someone who loves travel, the condition at which my neighbors are placed by my government is infuriates me. Israel has turned the West Bank into a terrain of concrete walls, barbed wire fences, intimidation and sadism. Gaza, in turn, became a besieged disaster zone where multitudes are allowed to rot and die, trapped away from the public eye. Tonight a "critical mass" bike ride will take place in Tel-Aviv to protest limitations on travel. I bought a bike so I could join in. It's a cheap bike, but let's paddle it forward. The freedom to move is a basic right of every human being. Something has to change in 2008.