June 24, 2014 Travelling while Occupied

Blogging retrospectively is a challenge, I am reporting from the ground and the ground is in constant seismic shift mode.

Let me acknowledge that the deaths of the three kidnapped Israeli youths, Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, provided the Israeli leadership with the opportunity to unleash a horrific barrage of military might, home incursions, arrests, and killings that had little to do with a careful investigation of the crime and the capture of the perpetrators. Collective punishment is still all the rage, and at this point I would just call it official policy. Even the Israeli generals are trying to tone down the “let’s destroy Hamas” rhetoric coming out of our dear prime minister’s mouth. The abduction, killing, and burning of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, on the other hand, is being approached in a totally different manner; there is the police statement that they are not sure if the murder was “nationalistic,” I.e., done by an Israeli, or “criminal,” I.e., done by a Palestinian. Then there was the false rumor put out by the police that Mohammed was gay and that this was some kind of revenge killing by the homophobic family (not). To the Palestinians in Shuafat, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, this is clearly a revenge killing, and to my eye, given the explosion of Arab hatred, the attempt two days earlier to kidnap a ten-year-old called Mousa Zalum (his parents called the police, no one responded), and the gangs of right-wing Jewish teenagers roaming the streets of Jerusalem chanting “Death to the Arabs!” I vote with the Palestinians. Maybe we should just go demolish a few Israeli homes and arrest a bunch of teenagers, probably start with the lovelies in Hebron and Kiryat Arba; oh, but we don’t do that to Jews. As East Jerusalem explodes, the police use live fire on the inhabitants in the neighborhood (East Jerusalem ID carriers and Israeli citizens, also read: not Jews).

To give this a little context, according to official statistics, since September 2000, more than fourteen hundred Palestinian children have been killed by the Israeli military, which is equivalent to one child killed every three days, and some six thousand injured in the past thirteen or so years. I think a year of national mourning is in order, but this is a military occupation and well, what can I say about who counts and who doesn’t. Which brings us to some other realities of daily life.

I was hoping to tell you more about the realities of occupation, in particular, travelling while occupied. I (and every Palestinian I know) dreads Qalandia checkpoint, the major checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It is a chaotic, traffic-plagued military terminal with guard towers and concrete walls and grimy garbage and narrow turnstiles, and people waiting, waiting, waiting. Faces range from utter resignation and defeat to outright indignation and rage. I vary.

There is a sign on entry that says in English and Arabic: “Please keep terminal clean,” but the Hebrew reads: “Please keep order and cleanliness.” Can’t trust those frisky Arabs to stay in line. People queue in narrow chutes, two to three feet wide, with vertical, floorto- ceiling bars and an excruciatingly narrow turnstile that makes passage with luggage, shopping bags, or small children a humiliating joke. The turnstile is controlled by the Israeli security and I note that even the green light does not necessarily mean the bars will turn. Once in the maze, bags are x-rayed and I walk through the metal detector. Sometimes in protest I do not take off my watch and the metal detector buzzes and no one cares, sometimes they do.

I then approach a bulletproof window where I press my passport up against the glass and sometimes get the attention of a twenty-something in uniform on the other side. Sometimes not. There is always a cup of coffee or a phone call or? Communication is challenging.

Two members of our delegation were pulled aside for extra security investigation and were asked questions like: “Do you love Israel?” “Are you afraid of us?” “Are you sure you are not an Israeli citizen?” “Do you love Palestinians?” (Really). Then there are more turnstiles of the humiliation you-are-a-rat-in-a-cage and-we-really-controlyou- in-case-you-did-not-already-get-the-message variety and then you are free to fight for a taxi or a bus or a service with the license plate appropriate for whichever side you are on now. On the “other side” I note a sign in Arabic that says “Judea and Samaria,” in case you are not clear on the concept. My recollection is that there is a sign in English that says, “Have a good day!” or some such thing.

So I was thinking, if I were bent on revenge or strapped in a suicide vest (this is all about security right?) would I really hazard a visit through Qalandia? I think not. So what is this massive, time-consuming, demoralizing daily exercise about? Control and humiliation comes to mind. Also, it might just be easier to stay home and skip that visit to Al Aqsa this year, if one were lucky enough to get a permit in the first place.