I am unfamiliar with any location in Israel or in the occupied territories where a Jew cannot travel to his own home in his car. Yet for us, the Palestinians in Hebron, this is the norm. Since 2001, the main street in Hebron's Wadi Hassan, which you refer to as the Zion Route, has been closed off to the movement of Palestinian vehicles. The street is only open to Israelis, even though all its residents are Palestinian. Not even one Jew resides on this street. The road was closed off to us after the settler leadership advised the army to seal off certain areas, including the Zion Route, because of "security needs." The army implemented the recommendations as if these were orders.
The settlers, with the encouragement of senior Knesset members as well as government ministers, repeatedly explain why it is necessary for the street to remain closed off to its own residents. This argument is of course baseless, as Palestinians and Israelis travel side by side on many roads in the occupied territories. Yet the scare-mongering gets the job done.
This draconian ban has many implications: Basic urban needs are difficult to access, while sick individuals are forced to move elsewhere if they wish to be granted medical treatment. Heavy equipment is carried on one's back in difficult mountainous conditions. The elderly are unable at all to leave or enter the area.
The residents requiring protection are in fact the Palestinians, who on a daily basis become targets for settler attacks. After the evacuation of the disputed home in Hebron, for example, the settlers rioted in the city and on the street, burned cars, and destroyed plenty of property. And what did your army do in response? Removed the Palestinians from their homes completely. Instead of protecting the victim of attack (and this is your responsibility,) you are protecting the attacker.
Yet in recent months we were informed of the army's intention to reopen the street to Palestinian vehicular traffic. The decision followed growing pressure in the city of Hebron and constant pressure on your government to change this intolerable situation.
Yet as the date for opening the street approaches, we are again seeing the farce behind the decision. First, the street will not be completely open. Only few vehicles (belonging to street residents) can get a permit for it. The permit, of course, does not constitute a promise for freedom of movement. The permit is difficult to secure, even for residents who are not politically active or affiliated.
Even when one is given the permit, this does not guarantee unlimited entry to the street. The potential driver is required to renew the permit frequently. Yet there is no possibility of renewing the permit before it expires, and while waiting for the renewed permit the vehicle owner is required to park his car away from his own street. At the same time, settlers in the city can freely drive near their homes. Indeed, you made things easier for us, Israeli government ministers!
These games of rewards are not new in Hebron. We realize that Israeli governments use them in order to demonstrate how "kind" you are to us, yet ultimately the rewards disappear. For example, residents of the Shuhada Street received permits to travel on the road several years ago, yet not all families were given the permit. After the permits were renewed twice, the situation reverted to the previous state, and the permits were frozen. Today, no Palestinian is allowed to drive there.
The "opening" of the Zion Route to the movement of some Palestinian vehicles in a limited manner does not change the immoral and illegal situation in the city. Policy makers have no reason to praise themselves in face of the ridiculous rewards granted on one street or another. The situation in Hebron is one of complete inequality, where a minority enforces, with the help of the army, a series of limits on the overwhelming majority of city residents.
The freedom of movement of Palestinian residents of the Zion Route will never be realized until Israel stops viewing us, the residents, as second-class citizens in the area.
Issa Amro is a Hebron resident