Israel accused of apartheid over travel permits
IN A MOVE expected to affect the daily lives of nearly two million people, Israel has begun requiring Palestinians to carry permits for moving around the West Bank.
Israel says the step is being taken for security reasons while Palestinians and human rights groups say its aim is to increase Israeli control over those living in the Palestinian Authority self-rule enclaves.
They predict it will impact on all spheres of life by making people dependent on the goodwill of Israeli authorities for getting to their work places, their relatives, and even to take small trips between suburbs and a city.
"This is one of the most serious measures yet since it affects the entire population," said Lior Yavne of Israel’s B’tselem human rights group.
Despite disclaimers, the step formalises the separation of the nearly two million Palestinians of the West Bank into eight enclaves: Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem, Kalkilya, Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron.
In order for a Palestinian to move between those areas, he must, according to the new procedure, apply within his district for a pass that permits him to stay in the other district between 5am and 7pm. The passes are to be renewed monthly.
More than 200,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank. Their travel is not affected by the new policy.
South Africa’s top diplomat in the West Bank, Hanlie Booysen, said yesterday: "One can certainly draw comparisons with the pass system under apartheid.
"A Bantustan situation has been going on for a while in the West Bank, with Palestinian pockets of control," she added. "If the West Bank is divided into eight areas, then one thinks in terms of Bantustans."
Bantustans were homelands for Blacks in South Africa, which they were forbidden to leave without a pass.
South Africa opposes Israeli curbs on movement that "suffocate" the Palestinians, she said, adding that harsher strictures "will make things that much worse".
Noam Katz, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, took issue with Ms Booysen’s remarks: "The reason for this situation is completely different than with the apartheid regime. The reason for this is security. We would like to solve the conflict through dialogue but we believe that peace and terrorism cannot co-exist."
The latest move follows the army policy of closure - the encircling and sealing off of Palestinian cities for the stated reason of thwarting those bent on attacking Israeli targets.
Israeli military authorities said in a statement that the new permit requirement was part of Israel’s "taking the appropriate steps to ease the daily life of the Palestinian civilian population". The argument of the authorities is that when Palestinians are issued permits it becomes easier for them to transit through the army checkpoints that regulate traffic in and out of self-rule enclaves. They will not be turned away by soldiers as is often the case now, according to the argument.
B’tselem’s Mr Yavne said: "If you look at it shallowly, it seems like a good idea to give people the possibility of getting a permit. However, experience tells us that this is nothing but another way for Israel to take control of the Palestinian civilian population."
He said authorities had a history of denying permits to enter Israel in "arbitrary" fashion and sometimes blackmailed permit applicants to work for the Shin Bet secret police.
Palestinians this week have already been turned away at checkpoints and told to apply to the military administration for permits, said Azmi Shueibi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
"Without freedom of movement what kind of economy can we speak of?" Mr Shueibi asked. "Unemployment in refugee camps and villages will rise because people cannot get to jobs in the cities. If there is no work, what will the young people do? Go to the mosque and pray five times a day. It will be a suitable environment for extremism."
A spokesman for the United States consulate in Jerusalem said of the new requirement: "We are looking at its implications for movement of humanitarian aid workers and employees of international missions in the West Bank and its implications for facilitating reform in the Palestinian Authority, including elections."
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