Who doesn’t sympathize with the plight of two lovers separated by a heartless bureaucracy? Certainly not Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times who, with the assistance of one of the paper’s stringers in Gaza, wrote a story published yesterday in which the star-crossed romance of a Gaza woman and a Nablus man serves to highlight Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between the Hamas-run strip and the West Bank. The situation of teacher Dalia Shurrab and social media marketer Rashed Sameer Faddah is worthy of sympathy. But as much as the story Rudoren has written casts the Israelis as the villain of the piece, the real culprits are not to be found in the Jewish state. Palestinians who would like to see more liberal travel policies should address their anger to their leaders whose war on Israel is responsible for their inconvenience. Those who would like the borders of these areas to resemble the ones that separate Canada from the United States can’t at the same time support the ongoing war to extinguish the existence of the Jewish state.
There’s no doubt that Shurrab and Faddah appear to be innocent victims of a struggle that has nothing to do with the efforts of two individuals to find happiness. But when you are a citizen of an area ruled by a terrorist group pledged to fight a genocidal terrorist war against your neighbor, is it really fair to cry foul when the government of that country isn’t particularly interested in facilitating your travel?
Palestinians and their foreign supporters apparently think so. They believe that Israel should let Palestinians from Gaza come and go as they please and settle in the West Bank if they like. In a better and more peaceful world, that shouldn’t be a problem. Indeed, if the Palestinian Authority that runs the West Bank and/or the Hamas government in Gaza were ever prepared to make peace with Israel, it might be possible. As Rudoren points out, a commitment to facilitating free travel between the two Palestinian areas was part of the original Oslo Accords. That seems to paint the Israelis as not only hard-hearted but also treaty breakers. But the truth is a little more complicated than that.
Were Israel and the territories as peaceful as the Israelis who helped draft the Oslo Accords assumed they would be once their deal was signed then free passage might make sense. But the reality of Oslo was very different from the “New Middle East” fantasies popularized more than 20 years ago by Shimon Peres and others who championed the accords. Under PA leader and arch terrorist Yasir Arafat, both regions became hotbeds of terror and incitement. Free passage, which was a matter of course during the pre-Oslo period of Israeli rule, was impossible under those circumstances. Once Arafat turned down then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s two offers of statehood and independence in 2000 and 2001 and launched a terrorist war of attrition, it become even less likely. After Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007, even Western nations that were not sympathetic to Israel agreed that the area had to be kept in quarantine lest the terrorists exploit travel to further their bloody ends.
It is in that context that any restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to move between the West Bank and Gaza must be seen. It is true that Israeli authorities have adopted passport policies regarding the West Bank that are not liberal with respect to the ability of Palestinians to come and go as they please. But is there another country in the world locked in a mortal struggle against an adversary that would be more lenient with respect to such policies? The answer to that question is a resounding “no.”
The Palestinians and their foreign friends consider all of the West Bank and Jerusalem as sovereign Palestinian territory from which the Israeli must be evicted. But there has never been such a sovereign Arab state there and Jews have rights there as well. Even if the current Israeli government and its predecessors have signaled a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal from much of this land, that does not mean it has no right, in the absence of a peace treaty, to ensure that Palestinian travel from the Gaza terrorist enclave should be only allowed for humanitarian purposes such as visits to hospitals.
Perhaps one could argue weddings should also constitute such an exception. But does Israel really want to be put in the position of verifying that every Palestinian couple that seeks such a waiver is actually going to be married rather than part of a ruse that might be used to facilitate illegal action? Israel has enough problems dealing with the West Bank without becoming the moral equivalent of American immigration inspectors trolling for information to deny illegal immigrants green cards obtained under false pretenses.
But the bottom line of this issue is not about Israeli rules. It’s about a Palestinian people and its leadership that has consistently rejected every opportunity for peace including four times in the last 15 years. When the Palestinians are prepared to give up their dream of Israel’s extinction and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, free passage between peaceful countries won’t be an issue. Until then, Palestinian lovers stuck in the two areas should send their complaints to Fatah and Hamas and not to Israel via the New York Times.