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Karameh Means Dignity for Palestinians

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Although the Arabic word karameh simply means dignity, it has become an expression that has many more usages and meanings.

Karameh is also a Jordan Valley town in the Shuna District which witnessed a fierce battle against the Israelis. The date was March 21, 1968, and the Israeli army was trying to stem attacks by Palestinian fedayeen coming across the Jordan River into areas occupied by Israel. In its attempts to curtail the guerrilla attacks, the Israelis decided to launch a cross-border attack only to be rejected by brave Palestinian fighters and members of the Jordanian Army. After the battle, King Hussein was quoted as saying "we are all fedayeen".

The combat, coming less than a year after the 1967 defeat, became a battle cry for Fateh and the PLO who were credited, along with the Jordanian Army, with forcing the Israelis to leave Karameh that day, after practically destroying the entire town.

Palestinians used the battle to recruit fighters and to lay claim to a national movement. Since then, the Palestinians have been taking pride in using the word for activities that reflect a fighting spirit that refuses to accept occupation and humiliation.

After the return of the PLO leadership to Palestine, as part of the Oslo Accords, the name was given to the Jericho District crossing terminal with Jordan, which lies not far to the west of the river from the Jordanian town which carries the name Karameh.

Two days ago, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad participated in the launch of the Karameh National Fund, which is a public-private partnership aimed at purging Palestinian markets from products made in Jewish settlements. Speaking at the event, Fayyad noted that "cleansing our markets from products made in settlements is not incitement or an expression of hatred but an affirmation of our people's right to live".

His statement came after Israeli officials accused him and President Mahmoud Abbas of incitement because a West Bank street was named after a female fighter, Dallal Mughrabi, and Abbas joined Fayyad in the campaign against settlement products.

The term "Karameh campaign" has also been used successfully by a group of Palestinians who are angry with the treatment of Palestinian travellers. While the campaign is said to focus on how Palestinians are treated at all airports and crossing points, a major part of their effort has been focused on the only crossing point available to Palestinians in the West Bank.

In one statement, the campaign called on all Arab political parties to pressure their governments to ease the movement of Palestinians in and out of their countries.

Campaigners have called for the cancellation of all fees levied on travelling Palestinians when exiting Palestine or entering Jordan.

A Palestinian leaving his West Bank town and heading anywhere in the world must cross the Jordan River and, as a result, has to go through many Israeli and Palestinian checkpoints upon leaving and returning, is separated from his/her luggage (which is dumped in the middle of the road to be picked up), pays exorbitant fees and waits for hours at times.

Early results of the campaign appear to have come from the Palestinian Authority. Speaking on Palestine TV this week, Hussein Sheikh, the PA's coordinator of civilian activities with the Israelis, indicated that at least one unnecessary stop (ironically named Istiraha - resting place) run by the Jericho Municipality will soon become unnecessary. Sheikh told viewers that the PA is hoping that it will be allowed to be again in charge of the terminal.

The roadmap agreement calls on Israel to return to the pre-October 2000 state. Palestinian police were stationed at the terminal before that date and their absence has been the reason for many of the unnecessary delays.

The exit fee which is twice it is on all other crossings out of Israel (147 shekels, $40) is said to be split between the Israelis and the PA. Sheikh said that the PA's half will be either eliminated or greatly reduced.

Palestinian campaigners continue to have many other demands, including the basic right of people to travel to or through Jordan in their own vehicles; for the bridge to be open 24 hours a day and for the entrance fee into Jordan (JD10) to be eliminated.

They are also requesting that East Jerusalem residents who have to pay an additional fee for a one-time permit every time they travel (205 shekels or $55) be allowed to use the laissez-passer travel document which would allow them multiple trips without needing to take out a one-time expensive permit.

Travellers also regularly demand that small taxis (instead of buses) be made available. They also demand the regulation of the monopoly of the crossing company which operates what is called a VIP service and which charges a staggering $92 per person for the four-kilometre crossing between the terminals on the two sides of the river.

For 43 years of occupation, Palestinian travellers have faced difficulties crossing the River Jordan. The best way to end this dehumanisation is to end the Israeli military occupation. In the meantime, Palestinians should be granted the basic human right of leaving and returning in dignity. This should not be that hard to accomplish in the second decade of the 21st century.