The decision of the Federal Aviation Administration to resume US flights into Tel-Aviv airport was greeted with collective sighs of relief in Israel. But the sting of the ban still remains and points to the newly exercised reach of Hamas rockets, and their ability to seriously impact the lifestyles and bottom lines of Israelis.
Hamas's political leader, Khalid Meshal, said at a press conference in Doha on Wednesday, that the rocket attacks that led to the flight cancellations were "a siege in return for a siege," a taste of Israel's own medicine, and a highlighting the unfortunate double tragedy that Palestinian suffering only becomes a headline when the Israelis feel some pain too.
Israel's transportation minister called the previous flight ban a "prize to terror." But it is unlikely than any Palestinians will shed tears over what had become an airport closure, since, for us, the airport might as well have never existed.
It's very simple: Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip aren't allowed to use Israeli airports and we are not permitted to have any of our own.
As a Palestinian living in the United States, every time I visit my family in Ramallah I fly into neighboring Jordan and drive two hours to get to the "bridge," a tri-party international crossing point that encompasses a bureaucratic labyrinth of offices, checkpoints and security structures.
First I pass through the Jordanian intelligence office, then load myself and my bags onto a bus that will cross three checkpoints until it finally gets to a bridge that crosses over the Jordan River. This would ostensibly bring us right into the West Bank, but in fact, Israel controls the border, so we have to unload from the bus, go through another bag check, security scan and passport control. When this is all finished we are loaded into yet a third bus and taken to the Palestinian side to do it all over again.
This whole process takes anywhere from three to twelve hours, depending on capacity and the whims of the various security officers. If I had taken a flight straight from the US into Tel-Aviv airport, I would have been in Ramallah in less than an hour. And I know that because the last time I entered through Tel-Aviv I was with the press charter plane accompanying President Obama on his trip to the area last March. Even then, the travel office at the White House told me it took them a while to convince the Israelis to let me through.
Travel restrictions imposed by Israel on Palestinians are at the heart of the current conflict. Through a system of military-imposed identity cards Israel has managed to divide Palestinians into four separate categories that are used to control where we can and cannot go.
As a Palestinian from the West Bank I am prohibited from entering any part of Jerusalem, Israel or the Gaza Strip. In fact, I am not allowed to use many roads within the West Bank, since they are reserved exclusively for Israeli settlers. This summer I took my husband and my mother-in-law, Americans from Kansas with no connection to the region, to visit for the first time. With their American passports they were able to tour Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and most of Israel. As a Palestinian whose grandfather was kicked out of what-is-now Israel in the 1948 war, I would need special permission from the Israeli military authorities to enter my ancestral land.
For Palestinians in Gaza it's even worse: they can't enter Israel at all, nor can they go to Jerusalem or the West Bank. They must depend on the whims of the Egyptians if they wish to leave the Gaza Strip at all. Since the beginning of the year the border with Egypt has been open a total of 17 days. A Gazan with a visa to the US needs permission from Egypt to get to the States just as I, as a West Banker, need permission from Jordan.
The occupation, which is enforced through a system of checkpoint and walls, affects the transpiration of people and of goods. But it has an even more dangerous consequence: It separates Palestinians from fellow Palestinians. As an example, I have not seen my aunts, uncles or cousins who live in Gaza in over 14 years.
For Israelis, this period has been a difficult one, and a reminder that occupying another people can sometimes get in the way of summer plans. For Palestinians, however, it is just one more day under siege.