Postcards from Abu Dis (11): Transcendental Questions, West Bank Edition

When you live in the West Bank, you get hyper-sensitive about license plates: yellow plates are Israeli, green plates are Palestinian; yellow plates can go anywhere in Israel or the West Bank (except, in theory, to parts of Area A); green plates are confined to designated parts of the West Bank (e.g., places reserved for the military or Israeli settlers).

I just saw a car on the main street of Eizariyah here in the West Bank (Area B) with Virginia license plates.

How is that possible? And for legal purposes, would it count as a yellow or a green plate?

I have no idea how to answer the first question, but here’s a guess at the second: if license plates follow passports, I’m guessing a Virginia license plate counts as yellow. As an American passport holder with a valid visa, I can go places in the West Bank that Palestinians can’t, including Israeli settlements and militarized zones designated off-limits to Palestinians (e.g., H2 in Hebron). If Virginia plates are treated as equivalent to an American passport (plus visa), the same would be true of them.

My speculation here rests, of course, on the debatable assumption that the presence of the car with the Virginia license plate is legal–an assumption confounded by the fact that the town of Eizariyah is effectively a Lockean State of Nature without laws or law enforcement of any discernible sort. The only “exception” to that rule is the presence of an Israeli military base on the outskirts of town, between Eizariyah and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. But it’s not really an exception at all: the Israeli military presence serves as militarized backdrop to life here; it isn’t here for purposes of everyday policing, much less to deal with traffic violations. It’s mostly here to intimidate Eizariyah and environs, and protect Ma’ale Adumim.

That said, unless someone bought a car here and just randomly stuck a Virginia license plate on it (odd but possible), to get it here, the owner would have to ship the car from Virginia to a border crossing controlled by the State of Israel. I can see why someone might want to do that; what I can’t see is why the State of Israel would allow it.

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That’s not the sort of Virginia plate I saw, but it does raise the question: if you can drive a car with Virginia plates in the West Bank, how about one with a plate like that? Granted, the State of Virginia has ordered that car owners with Stars and Bars license plates trade them in within about three months (120 days since the original ruling). But that still leaves time to ship one’s car here and drive it around for a few months as a test case. I’d love to see how that works, if only I could be around for it.

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