Let’s take Shoham, a bedroom community of 20,000 people with a country club. An hour’s drive away there’s a town called Sa’ir. It also has 20,000 residents (no country club, though).
Now imagine that a car had been shot at on Route 444, not far from Shoham. The police don’t catch the gunman, but suspect that he fled to Shoham. So what do they do? They impose a closure on Shoham. They seal it off totally. No one is permitted to leave for a week – not for work, not for school, not to see a doctor or do business. Whether you’re a resident or a guest, you’re stuck. No amount of begging will help. Some 20,000 people would remain under siege.
The city would go crazy. Israel would go crazy. A blockade on an entire city because of one person, who probably isn’t even hiding there? A week inside a cage? They would be Skyping Rafi Reshef’s program every day to describe the residents’ suffering – the stories of shortages in the stores, patients who couldn’t get their treatment, kids who couldn’t get to day camp, students who missed final exams, brides and grooms who couldn’t get to their weddings, businesses on the brink of collapse and withered fields.
Shoham would remember this siege with pain and anger. Every year it would hold a commemorative ceremony. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews would conduct a fundraising campaign and the local welfare department would treat traumatized children who can’t stop wetting their beds after suffering through the fear of the nightly searches. The police commissioner who issued the order would be forced to resign. Israel would go nuts from such a closure.
But Sa’ir, just an hour’s drive from Shoham, has been sealed off for five days. You haven’t heard much about it and it doesn’t interest anyone. On Saturday a Palestinian gunman shot at an Israeli car; the driver was wounded in the leg but was able to continue driving. Since that shooting, though, Sa’ir has been under closure. You can enter, but you cannot leave. An officer and two soldiers from the Kfir Brigade stand at a makeshift checkpoint and explain this to drivers seeking to enter. Some take the gamble and drive on through. Nobody knows when they’ll come out. Palestinians’ time is horribly cheap, as is their freedom, their lives and their dignity.
Stranded in Sa’ir this week were truck drivers on their way to sawmills, laborers, students, patients, buyers, sellers, everyone. One truck driver was held up this week for 16 hours at one of those checkpoints responsible for keeping the town under lockdown. Even an ambulance was stopped there this week. Since it was empty, it wasn’t permitted to leave. The order is unequivocal; no one can leave. Entreaties – and there have been many at the Sa’ir checkpoint – won’t help. There are soldiers who explain this humanely, as humanely as inhumane orders can be explained, while others bark and growl, as is customary at West Bank checkpoints.
Sa’ir isn’t Gaza, and the closure will eventually be lifted. The town will recover; it’s not the first time it’s been blockaded, nor will it be the last. Neighboring Samua has been sealed off since Tuesday; the Al Fawar refugee camp is also under closure, and the town of Bani Na’im was, too. The war on terrorism permits everything, including collective punishment and imposing a terror-siege. The settlers’ desire for revenge and punishment must be satisfied; they pressure the army to close off, besiege, and lock down as much as possible – and to kill, too, if possible. Besides which, it’s really easier to search for a wanted man in a besieged city, so why not?
Sa’ir will recover; its people are well-trained and strong. But it’s not hard to imagine what sort of pent-up feelings are being reinforced by the lockdown of this southern West Bank town. There’s no need for “incitement” for Sa’ir to hate. It doesn’t need any sermons or propaganda videos. It has all the reasons it needs. How can it not hate those who abuse it? How can it not seethe at the intolerable ease with which a siege is imposed on it for the occupier’s convenience?
Look at Sa’ir, and think of Shoham.