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> Het netwerk
> The network
> Under, through, over the Wall
> Onder, door, over de Muur
> Trails and maps
> Bussen en bewegingsvrijheid
> Buses and freedom of movement
> The permit issue revisited: toward the Easter...
> De schoolbus
> Liberation seeds
> Impressions of Gaza
> The Mad Permit Game
> Verdwijntruc: landeigenaars in Betlehem
> Vanishing Act: Land owners in Bethlehem
> The Crow Cries - Bethlehem 2006
> Sylvana Giacaman
> Odette El-Sleiby
> Sandra Nasser
December 31, 2011
“Ahhh ya [oh] Toine,” Mary says with a heavy heart. On the background sings the Lebanese singer Fayrouz her melancholic sounding Christmas songs. Mary received a Christmas permit for Jerusalem, but others in the family did not. She had wanted to go to Jerusalem with all her close family, especially because Mary’s sister and her family from France are on a visit. Mary calls other family. The same problem: half of the couples or families got a permit, the other half not. Everybody is calling each other to learn who has and who doesn’t have a permit, as if the lottery announced its prizes.
Mary closely studies the permit. She notes that it is for about a month and that it is only valid when specific conditions are followed, numbered 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9 and 10. One condition says that this particular permit can be used without a magnetic card. Another condition specifies that you cannot stay the night in Jerusalem, and so on.
But there is something else. Mary hears that also children below 16 years are receiving permits at the parish. “That would be the day,” she says - the day when children need permits as well. “You know how they [the permit bureaucracy] are,” says the parish secretary, “They sometimes do this, and sometimes that.” Until now children automatically receive permission to enter checkpoints when accompanied by an adult who can prove their age. Maybe, Mary guesses, the army wants to announce that they have distributed more permits than last year.
But a bell rings in my head. About half a year ago it happened for the first time that at the Bethlehem-Jerusalem terminal soldiers asked our daughter Jara (14) for a permit. At the time we thought the soldiers were simply in a crazy mood. (The more Palestinians get support in the world, the more majnoun – crazy – Israeli politics becomes, says Mary).
However, it seems there is a method in the mad game. In the occupation machinery, it happens that slowly, covertly and with intervals, a new measure is introduced like in this case preventing access to Jerusalem for children. The measure is tested out here and there and now and then, thus making the public ready to become acquainted with it while creating confusion and ambiguity so as to soften people’s anger and will to resist it - up until the moment when the measure is publicly declared and fully implemented. In this way, piecemeal, the connection of West Bankers with Jerusalem is eroded, and Bethlehem and other areas are becoming more like a prison. Israel’s occupation is a process, sometimes overtly, such as in the case of Wall building, but sometimes covertly and gradually.
(Another example of this covert process is the way how Palestinian landowners such as in Bethlehem are gradually displaced from their land. For innstance, stage 1: no access to the lands except by permits; stage 2: decreasing the permit periods; stage 3: no access and no permits but land still defined as owned by the land owners; stage 4: land redefined as absentee property but not formally expropriated; stage 5: expropriated. In other words, a “clean” bureaucratic form of ethnic cleansing. Such stages, with all kinds of administrative variations, are relevant to the permit regime, too.)
Jara is almost excited having received this large permit with so much text and special lay-out. Her friends also got one - but not all. Imagine, the permit system now plays with the hearts of children as well. Jara asks me to leave a permit behind the flower plant in front of our house for one of her friends to take. The families are picking up permits at the parish and distribute them to neighbors, friends and family. Tamer (9) also gets a permit, but he protests: “Why do I need one?”
A recent article in Haaretz specifies that there are 101 types of different permits used to “regulate the mobility” of Palestinians in the occupied territories. You have permits for going to a wedding, to a funeral; permits for patients and those who accompany patients; for going to court in Jerusalem, and for Christians and Moslems of course. Thousands of Israeli employees obtain a living through the permit bureaucracy. The paper mentions that “according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, international agencies operating in the West Bank waste an estimated 20 percent of their working days on permits from the Civil Administration - applying for them, renewing them and sorting out problems.”
And further: “The checkpoint-monitoring organization Machsom Watch claims that the Shin Bet security service uses the permit regime to recruit informers. Palestinians whose permit requests are rejected ‘for security reasons’ are often invited to meetings with Shin Bet agents, who then offer ‘assistance’ in obtaining the desired permits in exchange for information.” The other side of the coin is, I know, that people are reluctant to become involved in any kind of nonviolent opposition because they are afraid to loose their chances of getting a permit; in other words, to become blacklisted.
Last year local and international academics called for establishing the field of “Wall Studies” in Palestine. It should certainly include “permit studies” as well. Foreign researchers should have more interest in these fields which when done well would yield fine academic fruits, and would be directly relevant to Palestinians.
I discuss with Mary how fake permits could be made for foreign visitors to Bethlehem. Such permits should specify that the visitors are welcome to visit the Church of Nativity for 1 hour only per day, and on 7 conditions. On the backside of the fake permit should be a real permit story. Mary likes the idea, as do my colleagues at the institute. Alternatively, we can sell a set of playing cards representing foolish permits, the Mad Permit Card Game. At least to bring the dehumanizing permit absurdity out into the open.
For articles and photos about the Wall story poster action in Bethlehem around Rachel’s Tomb: