I need to write down some of the weird stuff that happens here with the mail or postal service. One of the envelopes from our regular mailings in the Public Relations Office at Birzeit University was returned today in the post, three weeks after it was sent.
The two newsletters in the envelope had been sent to the address of an institute in East Jerusalem with Palestinian Authority stamps on the envelope (see left).
Was the address invalid? No. The problem is that Israel has recently decided not to recognise Palestinian stamps, a classic example of the goodwill offered to the Palestinians in this peace process. Indeed when the stamps first came out, the legend "Palestinian National Authority" had to be hastily altered to "Palestinian Authority" as it smacked too much of an independent state for the Israelis to handle.
This particular envelope also came back shredded, a normal and regular occurance for incoming mail to Palestinian areas if it has passed through the hands of the Israeli Postal Authority and their censors.
In fact, one side had been ripped every two inches to see what was inside and one of the ends completely removed. The label (right), holding the whole mess together, reads - in English, Arabic, Hebrew, and Russian:
"SECURITY WARNING !!!
BE CAREFUL !!!
Dear Citizen: Check this parcel BEFORE OPENING: ensure you're expecting a parcel from this source. If in any doubt, seek police aid through the Postal Clerk."
So how had this letter worried Israeli security? This "parcel" was an A4 envelope less than 5 mm thick and two newsletters feel pretty much like...two newsletters.
The issue here is not even Israeli paranoia. In my mind it was a political point and I would bet that the stamps were the sole issue. And they probably opened it to see if there was anything less generic and more interesting than a printed publication.
We don't get letters sent from Israel with the same warnings, despite the university being as much of a target as anything else in this country (see here, here, here or here for a few quick examples from the rather large archive).
The conclusion? This is a rather pathetic little issue but one that provides a convenient example of the Israeli approach to Oslo. There is no real reconcilliation in this peace process, no real respect or dignity being afforded to the Palestinian people. At the root of the anally-retentive specificity of an Oslo accord that defines car permitted colours of Palestinian license plates is basic distrust, xenephobia and racism.
Israel is redefining the meaning of the word 'peace' to a whole generation of young Palestinians, a policy which - as inevitably as night follows day - will lead us all somewhere that we don't want to go.