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Checkpoints, checkpoints, checkpoints...

By Shaqooq fil Jidar - Posted on 29 July 2015


I haven’t written in a while because being here is so intense and there are so many things to process  but I am on a mission to tell stories and I have so many in my head and I need to get them on paper.  I guess I can start with the other night. I made friends with a Jerusalemite. He is an Arab and lives in Jerusalem.  So the other night I was in Bethlehem and we wanted to go to Ramallah.  From Jerusalem, Ramallah is only a half hour away.  And from Bethlehem it is technically only a half hour away but it takes forever to get there because there is no direct highway to get there.  The road twirls around and around through the dark hills of the West Bank.  If people were able to cross into Israel, it would be much shorter to get from Bethlehem to Ramallah but because they can’t they have to go around.  For me to go from Bethlehem to Ramallah, it makes more sense to go from Jerusalem.  So I walked a half hour to the checkpoint in Bethlehem and I walked across the prison like border and met my friend on the other side.. the Jerusalem side. 


When I say prison like border.  I mean just that.  The wall is huge and daunting, with graffiti art.  The checkpoint itself is divided into different sections.  You can’t get to the next section until you have gone through the section before it.  The first section is a choice of three tunnels with barb wire on the top. At the end of the tunnel, you walk through a circle gate which only spins in one directions.  There is a solider sitting in a booth next to this metal gate.  Once you cross the metal gate, you have to walk across a parking lot and then walk down a ramp that twirls around with metal fencing until you enter a warehouse.  Once you are in the warehouse, you have to walk through more metal fencing and weave through these metal bars where you have to go through another metal circle gate and then you stand in line to put your bag in a metal detector.    There are more soldiers sitting in another booth at the metal detectors.  After your bag is detected, you walk through another metal circle gate and get in line for the soldiers to check your id.  Then you go through another metal gate and are able to walk out of the warehouse.  When you exit the warehouse, you walk down another ramp that leads to the road.  When you reach the road, you can see the daunting, overbearing wall to the left…I always look at the wall when I leave because it reminds me of who and what I am leaving behind.  If you look in the opposite direction of the wall, it is the road that leads to Jerusalem.  This road used to be one continuous road before they built the wall in the middle of it.  I saw my friend’s car and hopped in started heading towards Jerusalem.    


Every time I enter Jerusalem, I always notice how modern, clean and lite up it is compared to the West Bank.  You almost can’t even compare the two because it is so different.  But it saddens me that the people who are forced to stay and live behind the wall aren’t able to have the same standard of living as the people living on the other side of the wall.  We drove through Jerusalem and about 15 minutes later we arrived at the next checkpoint (Kalandia) in order to cross back into the West Bank.  This is the checkpoint that heads into Ramallah.  When we arrived, we had to sit in line for a half an hour while the soldiers checked each car, the people in each car and their ids.  They check the ids when people go into the West Bank to make sure no one who is crossing is wanted.  People could be “wanted” for no real reason so as I sat in the car with two Palestinians, I hoped there would be no trouble.  I typically cross the checkpoints by myself so I can always play the British tourist, friendly with the soldiers and loving Israel.  But when I am with Palestinians, unfortunately it somehow lowers me on the apartheid food chain.  I hate saying that because I have so many Palestinian friends and I love Palestine but it is true.  I can’t just play the dumb, British, Israel loving tourist because now I am seen as someone who hangs out with Arabs.  In my mind, there is no difference.  I have Israeli friends, just like I have Palestinian friends, but to the soldiers this does matter. 


When we got up to the gate, two soldiers came to the car door and took our ids.  Each soldier, as always, was carrying an automatic weapon and was in full fatigue gear.  As they hold my British passport, they ask if I am from the the UK and I answer yes…stating the obvious.  And then they ask me if I know where we are going.  I said we are going to Ramallah.  As I answer this question, I hope I am answering correctly because I never know the right answer.  But I am also wondering why they are asking me why I know where I am going.  Of course, I know where I am going.  What do they think?  That I have been taken, kidnapped?  No, I just want to go get dinner in Ramallah with my friends.  I don’t say this of course, I just answer with a smile that we are going to Ramallah. They gave my passport back and then they took the two Palestinian’s ids and walk away from the car.  They went back to their booth and checked the ids in their computer and about five minutes later they came back to the window with the two ids and let us pass. Thank God.  Neither of my friends are wanted.  Relief fills my mind as we drive back into the West Bank. 


When we re-enter the West Bank I immediately notice how dark it is.  It’s hard to explain but it like going from a modern country into a third world country.  Jerusalem is all lite up. It has street lights and modern highways.  The road to Ramallah is like a backroad that has no street lights and lots of speed bumps and pot holes.  It is noticeable that even though we are technically in the same country, it is not treated the same way.  The infrastructure is not developed in the West Bank like it is in Israel, although it could be and it’s the same land.  This crossing wasn’t as interesting or intense as other crossings that I have done but it does show how unfair the reality is here for people and how hard it is to get from one place to another in this land.


I have friend who told me a story about one time when he crossed a checkpoint.  He wasn’t even going from the West Bank to Israel.  He was just crossing a checkpoint in the West Bank.  (There are checkpoints all over the place.) Any time you drive around the West Bank, you have to have your id on you because you will be stopped by Israeli soldiers.  So when he arrived at the checkpoint, the soldier came up to the window and pointed a gun at my friends head and started yelling at him and asking him what he was doing, where he was going and wanted to see  his id.  This was being yelled in between cuss words in Hebrew.  Now imagine.  My friend was just driving around trying to get back to his house and was stopped and a gun was put to his head.  He was not a threat or doing anything threatening.  Just being  a Palestinian from the West Bank, I guess is the threat.  Maybe the soldier was showing his masculinity and power, showing off to his other soldier friends,  or maybe he was trying to scare my friend or trying to get my friend to react to him so he would have an excuse to attack my friend.  My friend doesn’t really know why the soldier was being so harsh with him because they had no interaction that lead to his behavior.  The behavior from the soldier was the beginning of the encounter.  Luckily my friend can speak Hebrew because before the wall was built, his family owned a souvenir shop in Jerusalem so he had grown up around Israelis.  Of course, after the wall was built, his family wasn’t allowed to continue the business or cross to Jerusalem anymore so he is stuck in the West Bank with no business.  (The Israelis had given his family three days to shut down the business and go to the West Bank.)  So as my friend was sitting there with the gun pointed as his head, he said a quick prayer and decided to react calmly and said something nice to the Israeli soldier In Hebrew so he was able to lower the adrenaline in the soldier a little bit and quell the situation.  It makes me wonder if he wasn’t able to speak Hebrew what would have happened?  Or if he was not able to react nicely or calmly what would have happened?  The soldier could have shot him or beat him or really done whatever he wanted to him.


 Another time this same friend came to a checkpoint and the soldiers made him get out of the car and in the middle of the checkpoint and made him undress.  He had to undress completely.  Many times Palestinians are stripped searched at the checkpoints and I had previously heard about this.  But this time my friend wasn’t taken to a hidden back room and made to undress, he was made to get naked right there in front of the people he was with and everyone else at the checkpoint.  As my friend, undressed himself in the street, the soldier held a gun to his head and when my friend was completely naked, he made my friend put his hands behind his head and kneel on the ground completely naked.  This is unbelievably, dehumanizing and humiliating.  I don’t even know if humiliating is the right word…its worse than that.  It is beyond.  The soldiers treat Palestinians like animals sometimes.  To be forced at gun point to remove all of your clothes in public is beyond anything I can imagine. 


These dehumanizing stories are happening every day in the West Bank.  As I sit in a lovely Jerusalem café, enjoying my tea with the breeze blowing in my face,  there are people in the West Bank being questioned, treated like dogs, threatened, possibly striped searched at gunpoint in public.  It makes me wonder how many people on this side of the wall know what is going on over there.  Do they know the dehumanization that goes on just a few miles away? If they do know what’s going on, do they want something different?  And if so how many people would be willing to actually do something about it?  


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