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Daoud Kuttab Headshot

Bringing Together the Palestinian Divide

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The end of Hana Shalabi's 44-day hunger strike has produced mixed results, and has pointed out another under-reported issue -- the separation and difficulty of movement between Gaza and West Bank.

Shalabi, like Khader Adnan before her, have done a great service to fellow Palestinians by exposing the undemocratic nature of administrative detention. It might be some time before it can be seen whether their struggle will reduce or totally end this kind of detention.

By choosing to reside in Gaza for three years, Shalabi exposed what few people around the world realize: Namely, that the unjust Israeli siege of Gaza also prevents 1.5 million ordinary Palestinians from the strip and over 2.5 million Palestinians from the West Bank to travel back and forth.

Much has been said about the unilaterally imposed economic siege on Gaza Strip. The Israeli land and sea blockade continues until this day. Repeated attempts to break it resulted in a marked easing of some of its aspects.

While the economic siege is meant to extract political results and effect behavioral changes from the Hamas-led government in Gaza, it is inconceivable that the travel ban between Gaza and the West Bank should continue forever. There has never been any serious effort to address this humanitarian need.

Now, Shalabi's exile in Gaza is being reported by local, regional and international media.

When the Israelis offered Shalabi freedom, they indirectly admitted that her detention was not necessary for security reasons. By offering to let her live in Gaza for three years, they hinted that the ban on travel from Gaza to the West Bank and vice versa will continue for at least three years.

The deal is therefore nothing less than a punishment for her and her family. The only possibility for her family to meet her now is if she can make it outside Gaza, to a third country (say, Egypt or Jordan) where her family would have to travel from Jenin to be able to see her.

Shalabi, who was arrested numerous times without charge or trial, was released in the Gilad Shalit exchange and thus legally pardoned.

The architects of the Oslo Accords designed what was referred to as a 'free-passage road' connecting the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. The Protocol Concerning Safe Passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was signed in Jerusalem on October 5, 1999. Israel's failure to honor this protocol led U.S. officials and peace envoys to work on and reintroduce it, to no avail.

Save for a short stint that lasted a few days, the safe passage road has not been opened, in violations of bilateral agreements as well as the agreement that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer worked on an entire night in Jerusalem to produce.

Israel has used one excuse after another to deny the Palestinians the right to travel from one Palestinian area to another.

The two-state solution, which has received international support and even Israeli public approval, includes a provision that says the Palestinian territory must be contiguous. While a fast rail or a tunnel connecting Gaza and the West Bank might take some time, it is still possible to allow Palestinians to travel back and forth.

The ugly Israeli wall is now in place and the Israelis can install whatever security measures they wish to ensure that the safe-passage road keeps Israel safe, but to deny millions of Palestinians the right to travel to and from Gaza clearly amounts to collective punishment.

Shalabi's agreement to end her hunger strike and live in Gaza for three years has highlighted the absurdity of the cruel Israel policy of separating Palestinians for no reason. International peace envoys as well as Palestinian negotiators must give the issue of a free passage way between Gaza and the West Bank top priority in any talks. By removing barriers from Palestine two geographical areas will the future of a Palestinian state -- as a viable contiguous state -- to be on the right track. As such the struggle of Hana Shalabi would become of even higher importance.