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In the West They Say It's Rain

Amira Hass

Israel, via the Interior Ministry, continues to spit in the face of friendly countries, and those countries continue to admire the falling raindrops. The ministry's most recent gob of spit was the cancellation of the work visas that citizens of those countries who are employed by international NGOs have been getting for years.

Instead, they will be given tourist visas that restrict their freedom of movement and activity. These people are usually employees of humanitarian organizations that operate among the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

In taking this step, Israel is declaring its contempt for international aid organizations, as well as its ingratitude, because it is these bodies that put out the fires ignited by Israel's discriminatory policies against the Palestinians in the territories. It is the governmental, public and private foundations from those friendly countries, mostly in the West, that fix the damage done by the occupation, both in the past and present.

The donations to the Palestinian Authority and to international and Palestinian NGOs are ostensibly evidence that the outside world supports the Palestinians and their aspirations for independence within the June 4, 1967 borders. But actually, they are evidence of Israel's virtual inviolability. In 1993, the world did not demand that in the framework of what was named the peace process, Israel compensate the Palestinians for the damage wrought by the occupation. The friendly countries did it themselves, instead of Israel.

And today, they exert no real pressure on Israel to end its policies that restrict the development of the West Bank; policies that have created humanitarian disasters in the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It is easier for Western governments to spend billions of dollars of their taxpayers' money than to make Israel honor international laws and resolutions so that Palestinian dependence on aid money will diminish.


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The cancellation of the work visas is another expression of the way Israel unilaterally draws the borders of the Palestinian entity that it plans to define as a state; without the lands of East Jerusalem, of course, where efforts to reduce the Palestinian population are ongoing, and without the Gaza Strip. The separation fence, deep inside the West Bank, has already become part of the ostensibly moderate Israeli consensus as the "western border", and now a campaign is on for the annexation of most of Area C to Israel.

The Interior Ministry is doing its bit to create these facts on the ground. It takes pains to mention that its restrictions on foreign citizens are aimed at people whose destination is "the areas of the Palestinian Authority" - in other words, Areas A and B, or 40 percent of the West Bank. No Jerusalem, no Gaza, almost no Area C, where their work is limited anyway by the very restrictions on Palestinian development.

In the Oslo Accords, when travel and stays by foreign citizens are mentioned, the geographic reference is to the West Bank and Gaza. But the Interior Ministry distinguishes between "the boundaries of the Palestinian Authority" and "the boundaries of Israel." Israel's intentionally blurry borders are therefore being defined on the basis of the enclaves of the Palestinian Authority. The PA has no right to decide who enters its enclaves through the international crossing points, which are controlled by Israel. The Israeli Interior Ministry continues to prevent the entry of dozens of foreign citizens who have links of work, family or friendship with the Palestinian community.

"Israel has the sovereign right to impose restrictions on entry," is how foreign diplomats explain their governments' lack of intervention. That is, with their diplomatic laxity and financial generosity, the countries of the West, first and foremost the United States, are collaborating with the unilateral Israeli process of perpetuating the Palestinian enclaves.

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Amira Hass (born 1956) is an Israeli journalist and author, mostly known for her columns in the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. She is especially famous for living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and reporting on events from the Palestinian perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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