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The right of Palestinians to travel freely is a simple matter of dignity

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24 Jul 2022 07:07:29 GMT9
24 Jul 2022 07:07:29 GMT9

If you ask any Palestinian living under occupation, or any of their relatives living in the rest of the world, what is the one issue that bothers them the most about the Israeli occupation, there is no doubt that movement within the occupied area, and between the occupied areas and the rest of the world, would figure very high, if not highest, on the list.

Ironically, this issue is clearly and unambiguously answered in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sub-article 1 deals with internal movement by stating: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.” Sub-article 2 deals with movement in and out of the country: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

Naturally, when reading about these rights the first question that comes to mind is whether the areas that Israel occupied in 1967 represent a single country or not. As has been seen and shown over and over, Israel treats the entire area between the sea and the river as one area. In fact, at one time former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was asked by a reporter where the borders of Israel were and she replied that the edge of the border was where the farthest Israeli soldier stands.

Of course, Israel does not treat all the people under its control in the same way, dividing Palestinians into three distinct areas: Gaza, Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Within the West Bank, in fact, Israel has additional divisions defined as areas A, B and C, with only area A under full Palestinian administration and security (although Israel often violates that as well.)

If we accept Meir’s definition, then Israel is clearly violating Article 13 by preventing Palestinians in Gaza from traveling to other occupied territories. The same applies to the fact that Israel restricts Palestinians in the West Bank from traveling to East Jerusalem, which was occupied along with the rest of the West Bank in 1967, and to Gaza.

As for the second part of Article 13, namely travel outside the country, Israel also bans all Gazans from traveling via Israeli border crossings, prevents West Bankers (except for those in East Jerusalem) from using its airport, and imposes time restrictions on travel by land using the only border crossing allowed to West Bankers, the King Hussein Bridge on the border with Jordan.

For decades, dignity has been denied to Palestinians, their relatives and their friends who want to travel within their own country.

Daoud Kuttab

Furthermore, most Palestinians living outside Israel and Palestine face severe restrictions on their right to visit the areas under occupation in general, and Gaza in particular.

The issue of traveling via the King Hussein Bridge has been the focus of many political interventions by Jordanian officials of late due to a huge problem that arose there during the second half of July. As Palestinians who had participated in the Hajj pilgrimage arrived there on their journeys home, along with many foreigners, mostly American citizens, who wished to cross the border to visit relatives and the general increase in visitor numbers during the summer, conditions at the bridge became inhuman.

Literally thousands of travelers, most accompanied by children, were stranded on the Jordanian side of the bridge because of severe restrictions on the number of people that Israel would allow to cross the border, largely due to restricted hours of operation. While most border crossings around the world are open 24/7, Israel operates limited hours during the week and even shorter hours over the Friday and Saturday weekend.

In previous years, the Israelis have extended the border opening hours during the summer, and on more than one occasion kept the bridge open 24/7, but so far this year it seems that they are not paying attention to the suffering of Palestinians, and ignoring the pleas of the Jordanian government and international diplomats.

US President Joe Biden, who recently visited the region, has repeatedly stated that his administration seeks peace, freedom and dignity for Palestinians. While peace and freedom have been sorely absent, and according to Biden will continue to be so because the situation is not in a mature enough state for negotiations, the issue of dignity has been adopted by the US as a priority. Yet even having some semblance of dignity while traveling in and out of the Occupied Territories, as well as within the Occupied Territories (including Jerusalem and Gaza) — which should be a no-brainer for the occupying powers, whose single most powerful ally has made it clear that Palestinians under occupation should, at a minimum, be granted dignity — is denied.

Palestinian officials call the King Hussein Bridge border crossing in Jericho the Karameh border point. Karameh is the Arabic word for dignity. But for decades, dignity has been sadly denied to Palestinians, their relatives and their friends who want to travel within their own country, or leave it and return. Is that really too much to ask for?

• Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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