Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Bureaucratic Occupation By Julie Holm for MIFTAH

Traveling to Palestine through Israel for the first time can be quite the experience. Aware of this I was well-prepared, knew exactly what to say and do, what not to say and not to do, and remembered all the tips given to me by kind-hearted people before I left. Little did it help though, as it seemed the woman at the border control was having a bad day. Accordingly I only got an entry visa for a month. Since I was planning to stay for three or maybe even six months this meant that I had to go through a maze of Israeli bureaucracy even before I had reached my destination, Ramallah. Standing in line, early in the morning in front of the Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem I told myself that it was all part of the experience of traveling to and living in Palestine. After I had gone through security control just to stand in line twice again and finally being told that I could get an appointment three weeks later, it was hard not to get a little frustrated. I told myself, however, that it was nothing compared to what Palestinians go through every day.

This first encounter with Israeli bureaucracy opened my eyes to the realities of living in an occupied area. That realization is backed up every day by all the stories I hear of Palestinians fighting their way through the bureaucratic maze just to live and move around in their own country. I hear of citizens of east Jerusalem who get their residency status cancelled because the boundaries between Israel and Palestine run through their homes where it is a question of millimeters. This show how Israel uses laws and regulations to push the Palestinians out of their city and take away their rights. The bureaucratic occupation of everyday life makes Israel able to maintain their vigilant control over the Palestinian population. Further, it serves the purpose of slowly removing Palestinians from their land, making way for settlers. Through these bureaucratic procedures Israel continues to violate international law.

Another aspect of this is how the Israelis limit the movement of people and goods through a complex system of access restrictions to and from Gaza and the West Bank. Checkpoints, roadblocks and the separation wall (or “security fence”, depending on from which side you see it) are physical examples of the limited mobility experienced by many Palestinians. In addition are the restrictions on movement of goods, materials, products, equipment and tools.

Media coverage of Palestine is most often concerned with violence, and diplomatic fighting on an international stage. While that may draw attention to the area and the occupation, it is distracting the world from seeing the smothering bureaucratic control of everyday life that is an important aspect of the Israeli occupation.

Almost every day we hear how weapons, bombs, teargas and violence are used to enforce the Israeli occupation. Residency permits, application forms and population registers can be just as hard hitting instruments of occupation. Bureaucracy is infused in all aspects of everyday life in Palestine. Activities taken for granted most other places are restricted here. Not everyone is able to live with their spouse and children, and visiting family and relatives can be a difficult and sometimes impossible undertaking. Something as trivial as driving a car or going to work in another city often demands a range of permits only to be acquired though a strenuous process of filling out applications and standing in line.

After standing in line once again, this time with forms all filled out, letters of intent, passport photos, and everything else the Israeli bureaucracy wanted from me, I got my visa extended. For me it was just another experience, but for the Palestinians, having to find their way through the bureaucratic maze every day, it is a way for the occupation to affect every aspect of their relations, their mobility and their lives.

Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at

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