“Bethlehem? Bethlehem?” an older man approached us, asking if we were looking for a “servees” that is heading to Bethlehem. A “servees” is the Palestinian term for a mini-van type of shared taxi. While most of the cities in the West Bank are connected to Jerusalem with public Palestinian buses, transportation between other cities in the West Bank is facilitated by these yellow mini-van “servees” taxis.
Geographically speaking, Jerusalem is located between Ramallah and Bethlehem. And technically speaking, the distance between Ramallah and Bethlehem via Jerusalem is about 23 km so it should not be more than a 40-minute drive. But practically speaking, travelling between Ramallah and Bethlehem via Jerusalem is limited to those who have Jerusalem IDs (Palestinian residents of Jerusalem) due to the Israeli Separation Wall that cuts off east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. As a result, we had to take the long, sometimes steep, at other times curvy road bypassing one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank- Ma’ale Adumim.
Ma’ale Adumim was built in the late 1970s. Located 4.5 kilometers from the Green Line and only seven kilometers form Jerusalem, it is an illegal Israeli settlement big enough to achieve a ‘city’ status with a population of about 39,000 settlers. Further, it is one of the settlements Israel is waiting to incorporate to Israel-proper (together with occupied east Jerusalem) by extending the separation wall to engulf the eastern edges of the settlement.
Sitting in the backseat and looking out, I couldn’t help but look beyond the settlements, to the tent-like Palestinian houses that sit in complete contrast to them, the destroyed olive trees and the “alternative” road we were driving on. I started thinking about the implications of such physical realities in light of sustaining the occupation.
For example, the road we were on and several others were build by contribution from the United States and other donors in order to allow Palestinian mobility within the West bank. In one way, it makes life easier than it would have been otherwise as a result of the barriers, checkpoints and lack of access to “settler-only” bypass roads Israel has built within the West Bank. But on the other hand, it sustains the occupation by providing a short-term solution to a long-standing problem.
The construction of the settlements and the labor employed in the construction of Israeli settlements in Ma’ale Adumim and others in the West bank is also another paradox. While all Palestinians are against the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, most of the labor employed in the construction of settlements is Palestinian. These workers know that with every brick they lay, the possibility of an independent Palestinian state fades away. They know that what they are doing sustains the occupation in one way or another. But that is in the long term; in the short term they have to put food on the table and send their children to school. Since the occupation and restriction on movement has put a stall on economic activity in the West Bank, most have been forced to work in Israel or in settlements in order to provide for their families.
I tried to put myself in their shoes thinking that theirs must be a life of constant dilemma and sacrifice. Not only are they forced to live under occupation but also to help sustain it, in one way or another. Suddenly, I had a flash back from a conversation I once had with a Palestinian nonviolence peace activist who said ‘pacifism is not passivism’. This means, it must be active resistance. But then again, think of the first intifada, one of the greatest Palestinian nonviolent resistance movements which caught Israel by surprise. The nonviolent protests, civil disobedience and defiance, strikes and the like were indeed an intifada (shaking-up) and Israel was stumped as to how to deal with the nonviolent nature of the movement. In fact Israel started encouraging and supporting violent resistance groups. Yet, the international community stood on the sidelines in indifference, choosing to treat the matter with double standards at it always does when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
History is witness that Palestinians are not passive. Despite Israel’s refusal to answer their call for equality, freedom and self-determination, the Palestinian struggle for freedom continues to date. Until the international community decides to engage beyond the usual ‘cultural exchange programs’, aid ‘capacity building’ projects, and utilize long due international legal, political, diplomatic and economic tools to stop the occupation, Palestinians must endure an occupation that robs them of their land and water resources but most of all their freedom and individual potentials to be who they want to be or who they are meant to be.
The occupation forces many Palestinians to not only live under it but to also sustain it. When faced with no other choice, they build Israeli settlements and work in Israeli factories, they facilitate long lines at x-ray machines on the Israeli side of the Allenby Bridge and they sweep up the Qalandiya crossing after rush hour. There is no doubt though, that every Palestinian would choose freedom and dignity over this. Turning to resistance, even nonviolent, on the other hand would mean risking their daily bread. Tough, if not an impossible choice, indeed.
Melkam Lidet is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.