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Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 14.04.2011:

Toine van Teeffelen

April 14, 2011

Permits, permits

Mary says she hopes to get a permit for Jerusalem. During the upcoming Palm Sunday she wants to join the procession which starts at Al-Azzariyeh, the Biblical Bethany. The procession connects her with the people, the community, the land, with God. For the last couple of years she did not receive permits during Easter or Christmas but last year she got one for Christmas.

A colleague hopes to get an Easter permit to have his eye treated. He got a permit at Christmas but he did not get one when he applied last month for treatment in a Jerusalem hospital.

A neighbor hasn’t been in Jerusalem for 5-6 years. He says that during Christmas and Easter it is either him or his wife who gets a permit but never the both of them together. He wants to visit the church in Jerusalem as a family, not alone. Lately he and his wife gave up. It’s too much humiliation, he says, walking through those cages along the Wall at the Bethlehem-Jerusalem terminal, and showing a permit as if you are visiting a foreign country.

Permits, permits. I noticed that a Palestinian woman last Christmas got tears in her eyes when she finally obtained a permit after almost twenty years waiting. Was she happy or sad, or both? In a way, it’s terrible to be happy to get the permit. Some people refuse to take it. Some refuse in order to preserve their dignity; others because they simply gave up on traveling outside Bethlehem.

Some people take a permit mainly to shop in the mall at Malha, in a Jerusalem suburb built on Palestinian land. Last year, the rumour spread that a Bethlehem church – the churches receive the Israeli permits for religious occasions – did not want to hand over permits in advance of Christmas to prevent people to go to Jerusalem mainly for shopping.

The word “permit” with all is rational, administrative associations, hides the humiliations, the irrational and arbitrary treatment at checkpoints. As a Palestinian, you are a marionet, the soldiers and bureaucracies play with you. Mary and I tell our Dutch-Palestinian children Jara and Tamer not to be nervous at the checkpoint. Although they still remain nervous they usually control themselves well. Sometimes Tamer presses my hand while waiting.

When they were very young, both Jara and Tamer used to play the checkpoint game at home. They did so at a door or in our narrow corridor. They put a leg across the entrance, and Mary or I had to show our passport. Jara could well imitate a soldier’s bored and derogatory attitude. We let them play at the time, it was a way to cope with the situation.

This January, during the Christmas period on a Friday, Mary and her sister wanted to pass the checkpoint with the children. Going to Jerusalem is a nice outing for them. Also in order to buy toys in the Malha mall, I have to admit. Suddenly there seemed to be a new rule: a soldier declared that on Fridays children below 16 years were not allowed to pass. (The general rule is that children are allowed to pass until they become 16 years when they apparently become dangerous.) Palestinian parents with a Christmas permit could pass, but their children not. According to an observer of the Ecumenical Accompaniers for Peace in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), who are standing daily at the checkpoint, it may have happened because a new team of soldiers arrived.

Jara, our daughter of 13, started to cry a little. Mary’s sister was outrageous. Hamir, [donkeys], she fumed. It is difficult to keep yourself cool. There is this pressure that one is never sure what is happening at the checkpoint. That is now going on for many years. It eats the nerves of children and adults alike.

I sometimes tell Jara: see the checkpoint differently. Consider passing the checkpoint to be a civics lesson. A lesson in real life, outside the class. See how the Israelis are treating you when you go with your Palestinian mother. That’s very different compared to when you pass the checkpoint with your father. It is like a scientific experiment. In the first case it may happen that you have to take off your clothes, when you stay beeping in the X ray. The soldiers shout at you and your mother. When you pass with your father, you are suddenly a Dutch child: “Ahhh… the Dutch are friendly and civilized,” you see the soldier thinking. You are waved through.

When Jara was a small child, she once sighed: “Only in heaven there are no checkpoints.” Lately, Tamer’s best friend emigrated to Australia although his parents had good jobs here. They had their house next to the Wall. When Mary told Tamer that they perhaps left to get a passport and also to feel freedom, Tamer was unconvinced. He reacted saying that just to go to Australia to get a passport was crazy. Mary told him: “When you grow older and cannot enter Jerusalem you will understand what it means to get a real passport and to be free.”

Toine van Teeffelen is development director at the Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem, where he lives with his wife Mary and children Jara (13) and Tamer(9). For contact: tvant@p-ol.com

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