Passover Travels in Israel (though not for everyone)

02 Apr

So Happy Easter to everyone back home.

Here in Israel it’s Passover time – the Jewish holiday that celebrates their historic escape from Egypt; you know Moses, the 10 plagues, the parting of the Red Sea and so on. While the story may well be familiar to most of us, the manner of its observance here in Israel was something I knew very little about. It’s a long 2-week holiday, and probably the largest and most widely observed of all the Jewish holidays.

Alongside all the religious activities and prohibitions that make their presence felt across land – which still does take some getting used – many Israelis use the time off to head off abroad. The newspaper and TV news bulletins are full of stories of airport queues, extortionate holiday pricing, etc. etc.  An article in one of this week’s papers was no different: “At the airport and on the roads, Israelis feel the holiday rush”. A 19% annual increase in passengers flying abroad, airports full to the brim, Turkey again gaining popularity as holiday destination (Israeli tourists briefly boycotted Turkey due to tensions after last year’s war in Gaza) – all very good and well. What caught my eye in this particular news story was this brief following paragraph:

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered a full closure of the West Bank for the duration of the Passover. The closure will last for nine days except for those given permission to enter Israeli territory on humanitarian grounds and on the basis of Civil Administration recommendations. Christians will be allowed to leave the West Bank for the Easter holiday. (Haaretz 29/03/10)

Did I read this right? The entire West Bank was to be closed off for the whole holiday? Why? It seems to be an annual occurrence as Asya recalled it probably being like this when she was in the army, adding cynically that maybe the closure was enacted just so that they could give the soldiers who man the security check points time off over the holidays.

Cutting off the West Bank on an ad hoc basis for security reasons is one thing, but denying the freedom of movement for 9 whole days because of a prolonged national holiday does seem…well a bit much. The fact that this minor detail was hidden away in the middle of a seemingly inconsequential article just goes to show how little regard or awareness there is in Israel for much of what the Palestinians have to put up with. The liberty at which Israelis are free to flock to the beaches and sights over the holiday period is something that Palestinians can only dream of. And even the few Palestinians that have the right permit to travel freely across Israel are for some inexplicable reason unable to travel to all areas of Israel such as Eilat – one of Israel’s major holiday resorts located on the Red Sea.

Yes, beneath the cosy, care-free surface of sunny Israel there sure are plenty of injustices going on…


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