“Okay, bye”. We didn’t really plan it, but an innocent question we asked transformed these two words into internet lore over the past week. A synopsis of the events: On Sunday, we posted a question (Hebrew) on Yair Lapid’s Facebook page. Lapid is a former television news anchor and a rising political star. We asked if he supported allowing four human rights and gender studies students to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, subject to individual security checks.
Lapid answered that he always supports the position of the security establishment. The comments that followed were full of fury. Lapid repeated his position and the debate continued until Lapid suddenly posted the words “Okay, bye”. The rest is internet history (Hebrew).
In Lapid’s defense, even if we do share the general feeling that his response to the question was bizarre, at least he took a position. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has yet to answer the question despite the fact that it was submitted as a parliamentary inquiry by Member of Knesset Doron Avital of Kadima on January 11, 2012. The deadline for his response expired three weeks ago.
In the meantime, four women from Gaza, all leading activists in civil society organizations in the Strip, are being denied a permit to travel to Birzeit to finish their studies in the gender, law and development program and the democracy and human rights program. These programs are not available in the Gaza Strip and the students’ applications for travel permits were not rejected for reasons of security, but simply because they are students and the security establishment has prohibited students from leaving Gaza to study in the West Bank since the year 2000. So, yes, we were surprised by Lapid’s position on this issue, but at least we know what it is. The defense minister remains silent on the issue.
Criticism of the closure policy is not a private obsession for the “leftist” organization, Gisha. As our new Facebook gallery of statements made by public figures shows, criticism of the closure is consensus. Over the next few weeks, we will post a new statement made by a security expert, senior pundit, politician and others. Heard together, their voices leave no room for doubt that the civilian closure of the Gaza Strip has caused Israel damage and that Gaza residents must be ensured the right to freedom of movement, including the right to engage in economic activity. Still sounds subversive? Listen to what the security establishment has been saying for the past year about its commitment to distinguish between Gaza’s civilian population and millitants in the Gaza Strip. Add to that the government’s announcement that the civilian closure has been lifted, and you’ll likely reach the conclusion that restrictions on movement, still imposed sweepingly on people and goods leaving Gaza, are worth reexamining at the very least. In our view, the four students are a good place to start.