Any improvement in the lives of Palestinians who have for many years endured the bitterness of Israel's oppressive policies is certainly a welcomed change. Yet a clear distinction must be made between real improvement and unreal improvement, which is intended to give false hope and a deceptive impression. The "Safe Passage," which is planned to open soon between the West Bank and Gaza, is indeed a typical example of the many illusions brought about following the Oslo Peace Accord.
In the world of politics, positive sounding names are often used to give poetic descriptions to ugly deeds and violent acts. While the Safe Passage is a clever title designed for media use only, the real story behind the Safe Passage is in fact irrelevant to the designated name. Arguably, if we confirm the safety of the passage, a question must be answered: Safe from whose perspective?
For many years, in order for a Palestinian to cross the Israeli controlled borders going from Gaza to the West Bank or vice versa, he had to acquire a permit from the Israeli Military Administration.
Israel used this process to filter Palestinian applicants. Some Palestinians were granted conditional permits, yet the larger bulk of applicants were rejected for various reasons. While Israel classified these reasons as security measures, the Palestinians viewed them as new, irrational, aggressive steps to add more hardship to their lives.
Those granted permits were demanded to prove, prior to receiving their permits, that they were never involved in any anti-Israel political activities, or that they had no relationship to anyone who possessed an undesirable political record. As such a condition was almost impossible to fulfill, those permitted entrance, numbered only a few thousands out of the entire Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
Moreover, Israel was never consistent with its decisions to grant permits. For example, a student from Gaza, who had already obtained a permit to go to his college located in the West Bank, could be rejected a few days later, while trying to renew his old permit. The uncertainty created by these irrational Israeli decisions has forced most of those who were lucky enough to enter to the other side, to stay in the place they need the most. Hundreds of Gazan students therefore, had to remain in the West Bank for years without visiting their families in The Gaza Strip
Another factor that has had great implications on granting or denying permits is the over-all political environment in the region. Israel's complete mastery over the borders was often used as a political tool, an active collective punishment measure and a stage to practice its political domination over weaker and less influential Palestinians. If Israel chooses to seal the borders, in the matter of a few minutes, well over 50 percent of the Palestinian workforce becomes unemployed. Also, in a matter of minutes Israel could prohibit thousands of students from attending their universities. But work and education were the lesser evil of the outcome of Israel's cruel use of the borders. Throughout the years, many ill Palestinians have died and many pregnant women have lost their unborn children while waiting for Israeli soldiers' mercy to let them cross to a nearby hospital.
Despite the political implications of such a move, and despite the heavy price that Palestinians are expected to pay in exchange for Israel's generosity, it would be a very joyful occasion to see Palestinians passing safely to the West Bank and Gaza. But, will they?
Until Oct 16th, no final decision regarding the Safe Passage had been agreed upon, although the primary arrangements have been made known. What has been agreed upon by both sides is described by both Palestinian and Israeli officials as, "... in principle, every Palestinian is allowed to use the Safe Passage..." Strangely enough, Israel's policy prior to the safe passage agreement also allowed every Palestinian, in principle to cross the borders.
According to the new arrangement, a Palestinian who seeks an entrance to the West Bank or Gaza must obtain a permit. Although applications will be submitted to PNA official offices, the ones who decide to grant a permit or reject an application are Israeli officials.
The "Free Passage" with Israeli control of its entrance and exit of both ends, will only be open for 10 hours a day. Israeli soldiers will be the ones checking the validity of the permits and deciding thereafter the fate of cars and their loads of passengers. When Palestinians asked for guarantees that Israel will not use its control over the passage to ambush those wanted by Israel for political reasons, Israel's only guarantee was a verbal promise by an official.
It was utterly sad to see Palestinians lining up to apply for an Israeli permit so that they could freely move about their homeland. Though Israel is expected to allow more permit holders to move between the West Bank and Gaza in the first few months, (as a friendly gesture), there is no visible change in the general Israeli attitude that assures a permanent solution. Palestinians will ultimately discover the conclusion on their own, when the "Safe Passage" is sealed by Israel for unexplainable "security related reasons."