This Passover I received greetings from all over the world thanks to my connectivity in various social networks on the Internet. However, one of the most meaningful greetings came from someone who lives about a ten a minute drive from my home and yet is a world away.
Saed Abu Hmud is documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist I have never met in person. We originally met in trying to organize a charity event coordinated through Twitter, an on-line micro-blogging platform. Twestival, which was organized completely by volunteers in over 200 cities around the world this past February raised $250,000. The money raised is funding 55 water projects in Ethiopia, Uganda and India providing clean water for over 17,000 people. I organized the Jerusalem Twestival and Saed expressed interest in organizing the event in Bethlehem.
With each of us experiencing difficulties in organizing the event, we thought of pooling our resources and working together. Bethlehem is just over the hill from my house and is closer to me than most of Jerusalem. Except for the roadblocks.
We spoke on the phone and sent emails back and forth, but meeting face-to-face was not to be. We quickly learned that we would not be able to combine our two events. It is illegal for Israelis to enter Bethlehem without a special military permit and Palestinians from Bethlehem are not allowed into Jerusalem without similar authorization. We investigated further and learned that Saed would not be able to attend the Jerusalem event because of security restrictions. It is nearly impossible to get permission for a Palestinian man from Bethlehem to come to Jerusalem.
Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem. Not long ago, there was a constant stream of life back and forth between the two cities. Before the first Intifada, I visited Bethlehem several times. At that time, Jerusalemites would go to Bethlehem to shop and to dine at restaraunts. For those living in Bethlehem, Jerusalem was their lifeblood. Many residents of Bethlehem worked in Jerusalem commuting each day from what was essentially a Jerusalem suburb ten minutes away. No longer.
Today scores of Israeli military checkpoints restrict the movement of all people in the region. There are roads in the territories on which only Jews may drive and there are often curfews enforced on the Palestinians under martial law. There has been a constant trend by the military to keep Palestinians and Jews separated in order to avoid conflict. This was highlighted when, after the outbreak of the second Intifada, Israel began constructing the “Separation Fence” in 2002. However, since 2007 almost no work has been completed on this project which stalled with only about 60% of the fence in place. While the fence was originally created to keep terrorists out of Israel, Israel’s State Comptroller has said that most terrorists crossed into Israel through existing checkpoints. In addition, Palestinian terrorists have changed tactics firing missles onto the civilian population. Nonetheless, the portion of the fence in place has caused hardship to many Palestinians including the loss of land, separation of families, increased difficulty in accessing medical services, water and employment.
I have no doubt that reducing the amount of contact Jews and Palestinians have with each other reduces the amount of violence and conflict. However it also reduces the amount of communication, commerce, cooperation and the exchange of ideas. It seems to be that the safeguards in place are excessive and a more moderate means of patrolling a defacto border needs to be found. As it stands now, the restrictions seem extreme and from what I have seen prevent our peaceful coexistence more than the conflict which has not ceased.
When the Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to wish him a Happy Passover, I thought, “We are almost normal!”
Were we to have normal borders with normal safeguards, perhaps Israel would be just as effective in keeping terrorists out of Israel without harming Israeli and Palestinian opportunities for academic, economic and social cooperation.
Like most Israelis and most Palestinians I am neither a peace activist willing to circumvent barricades nor a terrorist seeking to penetrate them. Like most, I do yearn for peace and normalcy as my latest conversation with Saed on Twitter expressed:
@CharlieKalech: Wishing all a happy Easter, Passover and Spring from Jerusalem
@SaedAbuHmud: And a happy Passover to you Charlie as well 🙂
@CharlieKalech: Shukran [Thank you] Looking forward to the day we can celebrate Easter and Passover without roadblocks between us
@SaedAbuHmud: Exactly the same what I am looking forward