Roads to nowhere

Posted on 21 July 2012

The drive from Bethlehem to Ramallah, or from pretty much anywhere to anywhere in the West Bank now, takes you along many roads recently established courtesy of USAID. At intersections there’s big signs, telling Palestinian travellers that this road is a gift from the American people. The signs omit to mention the other gifts from America, including military and financial support used to prop up and maintain the racist government of Israel and its policies that discriminate against the indigenous population.

USAID’s project to provide a new road infrastructure in the West Bank is hugely problematic though. Building these roads, for Palestinians only, means that they have created facts on the ground. A Palestinian now need not be bothered that the sleek new highway he drives under is purely for the settler colonists, travelling to and from their shiny new homes built on Palestinians’ land, as he has his own road now.

This network of roads helps to entrench and solidify the presence of the settler colonies, enabling them to exist and function. Landscaped walls have been erected, so that the Palestinian cars passing behind them cannot be easily seen. A way of removing Palestinians from the landscape.

During the second intifada, Gilo, a colony built on lands owned by families from Beit Jala and now “absorbed” into the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, went to great lengths to obscure Palestinians from their view. Walls were built and pretty landscapes were painted on, just so people needn’t be reminded of who actually lives there.

But someone I spoke about the roads said: “How do you think we would be able to move around if these roads had not been built?” And he has a point. The argument would be, of course, to refuse and demand that Palestinians have full access to all roads in the West Bank. But reality isn’t like is.

Israel is intransigent, belligerent, stubborn, uncaring and disregards the Palestinian demands for justice, equality and human rights. It has behaved so for decades so it’s hardly going to change now. And when you have to live day in and day out under these conditions, sometimes what’s right is too hard, too unobtainable, to make it worth trying to achieve it.

From the outside looking in it is easy to be critical and judgemental. After all, what could possibly be right about accepting conditions that are harmful to the struggle for justice? But from the outside looking in, the scene is one-dimensional: it’s purely about the moral argument. But the moral argument does not help a student get to college, a pregnant woman to hospital, a businessman to his office. So for those who have to live this reality, particularly after the failure of the second intifada, many will accept whatever makes life here slightly more liveable. Who could blame them for that?

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