The Israeli government uses over 100 different types of permits to regulate all aspects of Palestinian lives. They are divided into four categories: civil and political rights that include permits for residency and travel; economic rights that encompass permits for work, farming, trade and even money transfers; cultural rights’ permits for education, worship and visiting holy sites and social that include permits for construction, renovation and health.
On the one hand, the permit regime could be seen as the mechanism for enforcing discriminatory zoning and planning policies such as denial of residency, land confiscation and access to land and natural resources but, as I’ve written in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, it is also a standalone method of imposing daily constraints that entangle Palestinians in a web that includes closures, work discrimination, entry and travel permits, restriction of movement, land appropriation; house demolitions; transfer schemes, a freeze on the natural development of Palestinian towns and villages, restrictions on the planting of crops and even their sale. All these fall under bureaucratic controls and these every day extremes remain largely invisible to the outside world, and therefore are rarely—if ever—exposed.
The idea of establishing a “permit regime” started with the first groups of Zionist colonists entering Palestine in the beginning of the 20th Century. Kibbutzim, or collective communities, were effectively “little fortresses” built by European Jews to exclude Palestinians with the aim of acquiring more and more territory and thus separating the land from its indigenous inhabitants. Over time, this strategy of acquisition of land and expansion has served to establish a territory for the Jewish people. Israel’s politics of separation and conquest are still visible in every aspect of Israel’s ongoing 50 year old military occupation of the Palestinian people and their land.
The practice of geopolitically dividing and subdividing the Palestinian population started in 1948 even with Palestinian communities that remained inside Israel after it declared its independence. Palestinians citizens of Israel in the Galilee and the Negev, for instance, are divided by the Israeli authorities. For instance, Israel considers the Palestinian Bedouins as an administrative category apart from that of Palestinians, while Muslims, Christians and Druze are also considered distinct nationalities by Israeli law and practice.
In order to apply a sophisticated permit regime the Palestinian population had to be classified and categorized. The permits infiltrate in various ways all aspects of the lives of affected Palestinians and the different types of permits cannot be viewed in isolation from one another. For example, although a Palestinian may obtain a “farmer permit” to work on his land located in the so-called Seam-Line (in the proximity of the Green Line and near the Separation Wall), he also needs several additional permits if he wishes to bring in equipment or if he wishes to visit family or friends since a permit only allows for individual people to carry out one specific identified task for a very limited time.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem are assigned “permanent” resident status. This “honor” comes at a cost for even if they were born in Jerusalem and if their parents were born in Jerusalem, they must constantly prove Jerusalem is their center of life by showing proof of home ownership, of taxes and bills paid in order to keep their permanent resident status. This status can be revoked if they leave the city for an extended period. Government officials actually go to peoples’ homes in the middle of the night to see if they are sleeping there, if there is food in the refrigerator and clothes in the closet. Ultimately, Israel seeks to revoke the permanent resident status of every Palestinian living in East Jerusalem for its ultimate goal is the Judification of all of Jerusalem.
Under “denial of natural resources,” a Palestinian has very limited access to water and needs a permit should he want to collect rainwater to compensate for the meager amount of water he is allocated by the Israeli authorities. He will also need a permit if he wants to install solar panels on his roof for energy efficiency.
As a way of discouraging higher education, Palestinian youth cannot start university until the age of 21 because their Israeli counterparts must serve in the Israeli Army and don’t finish until they are 21 years of age.
Taken together, these policies strip Palestinians of their fundamental rights and create an environment in which it becomes ever more difficult to remain. That is precisely the end goal of the permit regime whether in the Seam Zone or in the limitation of movement across the West Bank and Gaza or the construction in the Jordan Valley to the exclusion of any Palestinian presence. It is the gradually clearing out the indigenous Palestinian population in order to clear the lands for the benefit of Israeli settlements.
Israel’s hopes its method—revocation of permanent residency (forced transfer), prevention of agricultural and economic development, destruction of local communal and family structures and turning day-to-day routines into bureaucratic nightmares—will eventually force Palestinians to leave.
After 50 years of military occupation, Israel still does not understand the Palestinian people. They live by the word sumud (steadfastness) and their prime symbol is the olive tree representing their ancient connection to the land. They will never give up and they will never leave.
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