Road 443: The Facade of Human Rights

Gershom Gorenberg

Road 443 from Modi’in to Jerusalem through the West Bank has supposedly reopened today for use of the Palestinians who live along it. My new piece in The American Prospect explains what has actually happened.

Arriving home in Israel after a semester teaching in New York, I got in a taxi at Ben-Gurion Airport and asked the cabbie to drive me to Jerusalem. “Take the main road, not Route 443,” I said. Route 443 runs through the West Bank. When it was transformed from a country road to a highway in the 1980s, Palestinian land was expropriated under the legal fiction that the project’s main purpose was to serve Palestinian residents of the area. Since 2002, however, the Israeli army has barred Palestinians from using it. I take 443 only when I must to cover a story.

“I don’t like 443 either,” the cabbie said. ” It’s dangerous now that the Supreme Court made them let Arabs use it. ” He pronounced “Supreme Court” like a curse. Such antipathy is common among Israeli right-wingers, who regard the Court as a club of bleeding hearts. I prefer a calm driver, especially on a road into the mountains, so I didn’t argue politics with him.

Nor did I point out his factual errors: The army hadn’t yet opened the road to Palestinians. That’s planned for today. Even then, the military will allow so little access to the villagers living near the road that they will have scant reason to use it. All this is in keeping with the Supreme Court’s ruling last year, which affirmed Palestinian rights under international law — and then rendered that affirmation nearly meaningless by allowing the military a free hand in setting new “security arrangements” for the highway.

The fight over Road 443 is representative of the history of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank since 1967. The highway is mentioned in the first detailed proposal for Israeli settlement and annexation of parts of the West Bank. The road’s expansion was approved as part of plans for settlement in the Jerusalem area. Route 443 can be seen as a long, narrow settlement in itself: a construction project designed to “create facts” and prevent an Israeli withdrawal. The project first violated Palestinians’ property rights, then their freedom of movement. The Supreme Court, supposed guardian of human rights, has shown how weak it is when dealing with the politics of occupation.

To tell the story of the road properly, I must tell it out of order, beginning with Chapter II.

Read the rest at The American Prospect, and return to South Jerusalem to comment. (Note to our customers: This product produced within the Green Line.)

2 thoughts on “Road 443: The Facade of Human Rights”

  1. I’m sure readers know about thirst.

    A glass of wine can take care of it, a can of soda can take care of it, or a cup of coffee or even hot chocolate will do.

    But if you are in the desert without anything to drink for a day, so that thirst has a real meaning, none of these appear in your mind. Instead what you long for is simply a cold glass of water.

    As that glass of water is to those who thirst, so is your writing to those who seek the truth about the occupation.

  2. On the day of route 443’s racial opening BBC Online noted 6 Israelis were killed there in the second Intifada, not just one as perhaps implied by Gershom’s piece. Structual violence begets the original kind, which begets more structural violence–route 443 an example. The military check points will simply affirm again the structured violence in occupied life. Yet removing this structure will, after so many recent memories, evoke payback violence; and such violence can only be curtailed by Palestinian social process.

    One Israeli academic told me, before the 2nd Intifada, that Rabin had done little in response to Palestinian violence during his Oslo peace push. Perhaps because Rabin understood that some violence must be absorbed if violence overall is to be curtailed. But I have no relative or friend on a bombed bus.

    Peace is a form of risk. You can Wall off risk (and it has saved many lives), but the demands of other life, the other coin of that risk, will come out somewhere else–as in the futile rampaging bulldozers of Jerusalem. Wall that one off too. I suspect another form shall appear. As much as we try and make the world conform to us, it comes in its own way. There will always be a next Wall to make.

    I think nonviolence turns away from the walling option by facing the anger of those beyond our fences. Recall that one of Gandhi’s fasts was directed not to the British but to the removal of untouchability. It did not, ultimately, work. Perhaps it never does. His last fast, upon the death of an estimated 1 million, was over Hindu-Muslim violence.

    If you want to remove structural violence, know you enter a losing cause which never ends. That the cause never ends is called hope. But I have lost no one on a bombed bus.

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