WEST BANK: Day at the beach…

When the weather starts to warm up in the West Bank, everyone heads to the public pools or the Dead Sea. Although the Dead Sea is technically inside the West Bank, it is still occupied by the Israelis—so when Palestinians want to go to the only beaches available to them it can be more difficult that you would imagine.

Despite the fact that all the beaches on the southern half of the Dead Sea are in sovereign Israeli territory, Israel is still trying to claim the entire Western shore for their own use—by barring Palestinian access to their own areas.

They do this by setting up checkpoints ahead of the public beaches. On holidays or weekends it is nearly impossible for a Palestinian to pass through these checkpoints—“for security reasons.” However, the real reason is that the Israeli-run beaches and concession stands do not want Palestinians at their beaches.

Recently, some Palestinian friends of mine invited me to go with them to the Dead Sea. We had our swimsuits, towels, and bbq—and we were all ready to relax at the beach and forget about our problems. Everyone was happy and excited for this small escape—there are few places inside the West Bank Palestinians (who are, in most cases, prohibited from leaving the territory) can go and feel like they are on vacation—and this is one of them.

We went on a Thursday to avoid unnecessary checkpoint problems—on weekends and holidays it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to reach the beaches because those days are basically Israeli-only days. We took two cars; in the front car were my friends’ uncles and we were in the second car.

When we reached the checkpoint before all of the public beaches, we waited to see if the soldiers would let the first car through. They did not. Somehow, three Palestinian men all ready to relax on the beach was a “security concern” for Israel and we were not allowed through—inside Palestinian territory—to go to the beaches.

“Luckily”, there was a make-shift beach down the hill from the checkpoint, commonly known to be the beach for the Palestinians who cannot get through the checkpoint. From the top of the hill, it looked like a decent beach, and we decided to stay.

As we walked down the steep, rocky, and slippery hill to the shore below, I began thinking to myself how unfair this situation was. This was about the millionth time I have had that thought since I arrived here four months ago—so I let it go.

However, half-way down the hill I saw a sign with a warning on it—“Danger of infection with West Nile Virus: Do not remain on site at dusk or after dark!”

If not getting through the checkpoint was a slap in the face, this was off the scale of injustice and Israeli insults. Israelis get the nice beaches, with showers and concession stands and bathrooms. Palestinians get the “beaches” that smell like sewage, take a half an hour to hike down to, and are infected with West Nile Virus! Not to mention the fact that the entire time you are trying to relax in this ghetto beach, the 18 year-old soldiers who would not let you through the checkpoint are watching you from their towers with M-16’s.

Another time, some friends of mine rented a bus to take them to the Dead Sea beaches to swim and have a BBQ—they were half internationals and half Palestinians. They decided to go on a Friday despite the risks, and told the international girls to sit on all the window seats so the Israelis would be more likely to let them through.

Since it was so early, there was no one at the checkpoint and they made it to the nice, public beaches. However, when they tried to enter the most popular beach, they were turned away by a soldier who told them this beach was “for Jews only.”

So, they turned around and went to the next beach. Since it was Friday it was very packed, and the international girls who were wearing bikinis were getting too much male attention so the group decided to go to yet another beach. On the way out, they attempted to get a refund of the 50 shekels they each paid to get in—telling the Israeli woman in charge of the beach what had happened and that they had only been there for 15 minutes.

She responded by saying, “What do you expect, these are Palestinians. Of course they’re going to act like that. You think you’re special because you’re from Ramallah, but you’re not. You’re still Palestinian.”

So they left, insulted and without a refund, for the next beach. Unfortunately, the same woman had called ahead, apparently to all the beaches, saying that there was a bus full of “trouble-makers” and not to let them in. The group was forced to return to Jericho and have their BBQ there instead of on the beach.

Acri (Association of Civil Rights), an Israeli organization, filed a petition last year to the Israeli Supreme Court challenging this discriminatory and racist policy. They say that the Israeli military is using the Beit Ha’arava checkpoint specifically to bar Palestinians from reaching the nicer, public beaches. Acri says that it is not security that is prompting this policy, but economic gain—as the Israelis who own the public beaches fear losing customers if there are “too many Arabs.”

Senior Acri Lawyer, Limor Yehuda, says: “We are dealing here with travel bans and entry prohibitions to public places in occupied territory which are tainted with discrimination and characteristic of colonial regimes. We have here prohibitions preventing the protected population of the occupied territory from using its own resources, while the very same resources are put at the disposal and enjoyment of the citizens of the occupying power.”

The real intentions of the checkpoints came to light after two Israeli army reservists said that they were told that the purpose of the checkpoint was to “prevent Palestinians coming from the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea beaches.”

One of them, Doron Karbel, also testified that the Jordan Valley Brigade Commander, Colonel Yigal Slovik, said the reason for the checkpoint was that “when Jews and Palestinian vacationers were sitting on the beaches side by side it hurt the business of the surrounding yishuvim [Jewish communities].”

Karbel added, “In a conversation I later had with the Brigade Commander, he told me that he could come up with or find a security justification if he needed to.”

The ‘security justification’ they use now is that the checkpoints are in response to events that happened during the Second Intifada. It has been years since then, without any kind of organized violent resistance from the West Bank—making that justification particularly weak.

The northern half of the western shores of the Dead Sea is Palestinian territory, and all Palestinians should have access to these beaches. It is the only open water accessible to Palestinians while Israelis have beaches on the Mediterranean Sea on the entire western coast of their country which begs the question: Why do they need to control all of the beaches on the Dead Sea as well?

The barring of Palestinians from beaches in their own territory is a clearly racist policy which must be stopped. This and the many other restrictions on Palestinians under the guise of “security concerns” must end. The world will not believe Israel’s feeble excuses for discriminating against Palestinians forever.
Follow-up of the site’s activity

Ref: Palestine monitor

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