Recently, the destruction of a road in Palestine by Israel has made the headlines. Interesting, because roads in Palestine (and houses and schools and health clinics and and and) are destroyed by Israel all the time. But the main difference with this road is that it was built by the PA as part of PM Salam Fayyad’s state building effort. In short, the road was built, Israel destroyed it (for lacking a permit in Area C) and Fayyad and the PA are furious. The Palestinian PM has come out and promised to rebuild the road ad infinitum, with chief negotiator saying that Saeb Erekat saying that the destruction of the road is part of Israel’s “agenda to further isolate Bethlehem from occupied east Jerusalem.”
The road has somehow become of symbol of how boxed in Fayyad’s state building plan is. With only 17% of the West Bank in Area A (therefore with unrestricted construction), not much state building can happen without the consent of Israel. Needless to say, that is not enough space. Hussein Ibish has defended the road and made that same point: that state building must take place in Area C as well. I agree, but why make a stand over this road. Why not choose something more important to the future of Palestine. Say, education, for example.
Those following the blog know that I have been doing a series on education in the Jordan Valley (see here, more articles included) where schools are routinely demolished and denied funding. Moreover, many towns and villages completely lack a school, giving the children the unenviable choice between the dangerous walk around the numerous settlements or dropping out. Schools need to be both built and improved, but the PA, citing the fact that 95% of the Valley is Area C, plays helpless.
Not too long ago, I met with the Minister of Education for the District of Jericho (which governs most of the Jordan Valley), Mohammed Hawash. Other than describing the efforts of the Ministry in the Valley – which, to its credit includes providing legal aid and school supplies – Hawash and his aides continually stressed the fact that there is nothing that the PA could do in terms of school construction because of Area C. A statement which, of course, leads us back to the destruction of the road.
[tweetmeme] The road was built with Palestinian funds in the village of Bani Hassan, connecting that town to parts of Area A. For the villagers in that town, it naturally is very helpful as it would make transportation infinitely easier. Be sure, the road is a good project that should be reconstructed. But why has Fayyad chosen this road as the point where his foot comes down? Fayyad’s efforts are greatly based on economic empowerment of Palestinians, the creation of institutions and improvement of education. Schools across Area A have seen drastic improvement in the last few years as the PA pours money into the protection of Palestinian education (see: the future). Unfortunately, this effort has been contained completely to Area A schools. Those in Area C, well, they are left to provide for themselves.
Considering Fayyad’s devotion to education, why did he not build a school in Area C and make the same kind of effort to persevere over Israeli demolitions? Only a couple days ago, a school near the city of Nablus was destroyed and no such protest came from the Palestinian Authority.
Hawash, in our meeting, told me that the Ministry could do great things for the children of the Jordan Valley, if it wasn’t classified as Area C. His arms were tied. There is nothing he can do.
Fayyad though remains defiant about this road – “the freedom road”:
“We are going to rebuild this road and do it quickly,” he told a group of villagers as he examined the damage. “And if they are going to destroy it again, we will build it again, and we will pursue development in every square inch of our territory.”
“We will pursue development in every square inch of our territory.” Except for the Jordan Valley. Why is there such a difference between Fayyad’s attitude concerning development in Area C? In the long term, construction of schools – and consequently, the proper education of those who will one day take control of the country – is more important that construction of one road. Perhaps the difference comes from the fact that the Jordan Valley, it seems, is less important to Fayyad. Perhaps it is because more international attention can be brought to areas outside of the Valley. Or perhaps it is because Israel’s hold on the Valley is so tight.
Whatever the reason, I applaud Fayyad – who recently rehabilitated 14 neglected schools in East Jerusalem without permission – to stand up to Israel’s antiquated and discriminatory loyalty to the defunct Oslo Accords. Yet, to see the PM defend his project so vociferously while schools and children across the Jordan Valley suffer and struggle to live within Area C is painful. If Fayyad truly means he wants development across every square inch, he should live up to his word and start paying attention to the youth of the Jordan Valley.
Photos from Chris, 2010 and Now Lebanon