The Problem with Permits

The Problem with Permits

Photo Credits: Andrew E. Larsen

Every year I wonder, “Why do I only get permits to enter Israel for two brief periods?”  I want to feel freedom like the Israelis.  It’s my land and their land, but they move freely and I don’t.  

This year, to my surprise and delight, my desire for freedom of movement was fulfilled.  Palestinian Christians received a three-month permit this summer, for no particular reason.  This is the first time in my life that such a thing has happened.  

The Israeli response to this situation is: The Israeli government is making things better for Palestinians.

The Palestinian response to the situation is: The Israeli government knows we wait for permits to come and do a lot of shopping, and they want us to shop.  

Over the past weeks, I have come in and out of Israel numerous times.  It turns out, a permit is not as special as I once thought.  Why, you may wonder?  My feelings go something like this:

  1. I am excited to be able to leave and go into Israel.  Yet when I am at the checkpoint, I feel depressed. There is nowhere for me to park my car.  I must park far away and walk miles to reach the checkpoint. I wait in line for a long time.  When checked, I am asked to take off my shoes, belt and any rings.  By the time I get through, my heart is heavy.

  2. When leaving Palestine for Israel, I prepare myself as if going overseas.  I think about everything.  If I want to take my children to some sort of entertainment in Jerusalem, I need to make sure I have a good sum of money since we’ll inevitably spend something.  I never know how long this journey will take, so I must be prepared.  I take a stroller, water, snacks, and more.  

  3. Transportation is complicated and expensive.  I have a brand new car, but I am only allowed to drive it in the West Bank.  I cannot use it when I have permission.  To go back and forth to Tel Aviv, I have to change transportation at least six times (if not more), and each time I change transportation, I pay. .  How much am I paying to not use my car?  I try not to think about it, but the money issue always stays at the forefront of my mind.

  4. Time is precious.  There are many things I would love to do, but knowing that I must spend twice or three times as long (if not more) as it should take to get from point A to point B makes me feel like I’ve wasted my day.  Recently I visited a small area 20 minutes away from Tel Aviv, about 1.5 hours from Bethlehem.  It took me four hours to reach home.

  5. Food.  When we come to Israel, we enjoy eating out and trying food we do not have at home.  We long for McDonalds, but in Jerusalem it’s kosher.  No cheeseburgers.  And whatever we do purchase is expensive (think $10 -$12 a meal).  When we settle for something cheaper, like shwarma or falafel, we see they call this Israeli food (at home it is Palestinian food).  It gives us mixed feelings.

  6. When going to Jerusalem, the street names and buildings have all changed and are less meaningful to me.  I hardly recognize things; I am a foreigner in my own country.

I thought I would enjoy my permit, but I’ve found that coming to Israel is painful.   I do it, because I am willing to put the injustices I see behind me, not to forget, but to try and live equally, and to cultivate friendships with those I love in Israel.   On my way in and out of Bethlehem, I see the expanding settlements as Jerusalem grows, further encroaching upon us, taking our land to build wide Israeli streets and beautiful tall apartments that cast their shadows over us.  This often leaves me sadder than when I left my home in the morning.

I return home at the end of the day, having come to a conclusion.  I believe permits are given to Palestinians to teach this lesson: never leave home.  

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