With Small Shifts, Israel Eases Restrictions On Some Palestinians : Parallels Older Palestinians can enter Israel without prior authorization; 100 Palestinian doctors are now permitted to drive to work. An Israeli officer describes these modest policy changes as an experiment.
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With Small Shifts, Israel Eases Restrictions On Some Palestinians

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With Small Shifts, Israel Eases Restrictions On Some Palestinians

With Small Shifts, Israel Eases Restrictions On Some Palestinians

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's talk of crossing boundaries in the Middle East. Israel has made it easier for some Palestinians to come and go. It's one of several changes intended to improve daily life for Palestinians under Israeli rule. For 15 years, Palestinian residents of the West Bank have not been able to drive their cars into Israel. A Palestinian license plate gets the car stopped at a checkpoint. NPR's Emily Harris reports on the very limited change to that rule.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Only Palestinian doctors already allowed to work in Israel can get the permits to drive their own cars to their jobs, and only 100 of them. So rheumatologist Anas Muhana counts himself lucky.

ANAS MUHANA: Good morning. You're so active.

HARRIS: How are you?

MUHANA: Good.

HARRIS: I met him early one morning to ride with him from his home in the West Bank about 10 miles to the Jerusalem hospital where he works. First decision - which Israeli military checkpoint to go through.

What would you normally do?

MUHANA: Well, this is my second time, so there is no normal yet.

HARRIS: The first time Muhana drove a few days earlier, he took everything out of the car that Israeli soldiers might interpret as a weapon, like a screwdriver. But they just looked at his documents and let him through. Still, he stayed alert all the way to work.

MUHANA: I was looking around, lots of police cars, and I was imagining at any time that I will be stopped. But luckily, nobody stopped me. It was an easy and smooth ride to Jerusalem.

HARRIS: Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel drive their own cars between Israel and the West Bank all the time. But with Israeli plates and Israeli ID, they don't need extra permission. Muhana does. Over the past 15 years, he has waited hours at walk-through checkpoints and paid for plenty of cabs. He says driving himself is better.

MUHANA: If you want to carry sandwiches, you have to carry a bag. I mean, with your car, you could put anything you need. You could - if you are a bit late, you could go to a - you could just start your car and go there. It's dignity and hassle.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Shalom.

MUHANA: Shalom.

HARRIS: This day, he shows a checkpoint soldier two permits in Hebrew, one for the car and one for him to drive it. Once again, it's an easy crossing. Muhana says he's not sure what Israel is trying to accomplish.

MUHANA: It makes some difference to a very tiny portion of the Palestinian population, but how much difference is this? Very little.

HARRIS: Lieutenant Colonel Kobi Gertswolf is with the Israeli military agency in charge of Palestinian civil affairs. He says this is an experiment, trying to improve everyday life for Palestinians without sacrificing Israeli security.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL KOBI GERTSWOLF: The goal of us is, first of all, to improve their economic situation and their civil life for the residents. We believe that good economic will give the good security, but the opposite is also the right. Good security can give the opportunity to take some other steps.

HARRIS: Another step already taken allows more Palestinians to apply for work permits in Israel. The Israeli military also re-opened several West Bank roads that had been closed to Palestinian cars. Older Palestinians can now enter Israel with no prior authorization. This alone could affect 400,000 people.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: Crowds are already increasing at the Qalandiya checkpoint on Fridays when Muslims want to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. They walk through, lining up in narrow caged corridors, waiting for turnstiles to unlock, showing ID, giving a fingerprint, going through a metal detector and putting bags through an X-ray. Sixty-four-year-old Ilham Salami is happy she no longer has to get a permit before all that, but she wants more.

ILHAM SALAMI: (Through interpreter) We are thrilled to go to Al-Aqsa because one prayer there is worth 500 somewhere else, but I would like to just get on the bus, stay on the bus and get to Al-Aqsa. Our children would also like to join us, but they are not allowed.

HARRIS: Salami disappears through a turnstile and into the next line. Nobody knows how long these changes will last. One night recently, a rocket shot from Gaza landed inside Israel. Israel immediately canceled permits for 200 Gazans who had been scheduled to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque the next day. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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