November 15, 2009
In The Israel-Palestine Conflict
The last Sunday of October 2009 it took me and a friend who was accompanying me more than three hours because of a dramatic incident that is going to change one girl’s life forever.
After getting out of the bus, we arrived at the checkpoint’s entrance and went through a narrow, barred passageway that could be the entrance to hell. Then we passed through the first turnstile under the watch of a bored looking Israeli security guard and several sophisticated video cameras, and entered the heart of the checkpoint, it’s security area—where you are trapped until the Israeli soldiers allow you to exit.
To do so, you have to proceed through several steps. The first is going through one of the six lanes, where you have to pass through a second turnstile before arriving at the lane’s “checking area”. There you have to put all your belongings through an x-ray machine, walk through a metal detector, present an identity document to a teenage Israeli soldier sitting in the lane’s control room behind bullet-proof glass.
Of course, you can only pass if you have a foreign passport with a valid Israeli visa, an Israeli passport, a “Blue ID card” (for Palestinians who live inside the current borders of Israel but not in East-Jerusalem) or a “Jerusalem ID card” (for Palestinians who live in East-Jerusalem). This means that the vast majority of Palestinians living in the West Bank, who hold a “Green ID”, are not allowed to cross the checkpoint and go to Jerusalem. However, even if you have all the needed documents and everything goes right until that point, you are still at the whim of whichever young, generally female, soldier who is present in the control room that day. If she denies you because she just had a fight with her boyfriend on the phone or for any other arbitrary reason, you must turn around and do the “walk of shame” through the turnstile that you just came from. The time it will take only depends on the mood of the security guard who has to unlock the turnstile so that you can take it in the opposite direction—I’ve seen people waiting there for more than ten minutes while the security guard was having a snack or playing a game on his mobile phone. After this, you’ll end back where you came from, i.e. on the Palestinian side of the separation wall. On the other hand, if you are allowed to pass the “checking area”, you still need to go through two more turnstiles before finally reaching the exit of the checkpoint.
My friend and I had made it to the step where we had to wait in the lane that should have brought us, with a bit of patience, to the other side. That day, as is the case most of the time, only two out of six lanes were open—that of course makes the waiting time even longer. We had been waiting there for a few minutes when a Palestinian girl (Sumud Karajeh, 21 year old, from the Saffa village and student at the Al-Quds Open University) put her shoulder bag through the x-ray machine and showed the soldier her identity card.
The soldier said something in Hebrew, which the girl couldn’t speak, over the loud speaker, in a shrill, irritating and robotic voice. The girl, confused, answered something in Arabic, which the soldier couldn’t speak either. After what seemed like five minutes of this improbable dialog they somehow managed to communicate and the girl understood that the soldier wanted her to put the shoulder bag through the x-ray machine again. So she did it two more times while being continuously verbally affronted by the soldier over the loud speaker. After that, the soldier started yelling at the girl, who still couldn’t understand Hebrew. So not knowing what she was supposed to do she started to get really uncomfortable and nervous.
At this point, a Palestinian man who had just arrived at the lane said that he also spoke Hebrew and that he could translate. The soldier let him through the second turnstile, they talked for a minute and he said to the girl that she had to put her bag through the x-ray machine one more time. After another passage of the bag through the x-ray machine, the soldier ordered the girl to empty it out in front of the window so that she could check what was inside. So, the girl, irritated and stressed, took out each object she had in her bag, including several school books and notebooks, showed them to the soldier and put them on the ground. The soldier still wasn’t satisfied and asked the girl to take out the lining of her purse. The man who was translating did it and found something that looked like a swiss knife stuck in the bottom of the lining. That was it, the reason why all this had happened was a simple swiss army knife—similar to ones that can be bought in hundreds of shops across Jerusalem. At that point the Palestinian girl became really angry because of this young soldier humiliating her for more than fifteen minutes in front of all the people waiting in the lane just for having a swiss knife in her bag. And then, three strong, intimidating looking Israeli soldiers wearing bulletproof vests and carrying assault rifles entered the security area and surrounded the girl. Now she looked really scared. One soldier x-rayed the bag again and started going through it, item by item, while another passed the swiss-knife through the x-ray machine.
The few foreigners waiting in the line with all the Palestinians couldn’t believe what they were seeing. A German man and I said that we almost always carry a swiss knife on us and that it had never been a problem at a checkpoint so far, while the Palestinians weren’t surprised and said that such things happened to them all the time.
Suddenly, and to us without apparent reason, the soldiers tackled the girl, threw her on the ground, beat her and put handcuffs around her wrists while she was screaming “Allahu Akbar!”—a phrase that is sometimes used by suicide bombers before blowing themselves up. We had no idea what happened, but in response to this phrase everybody in the lane, except for a man and his child, panicked thinking she might have a bomb on her and ran as far away as they could. This wasn’t as far as most people would have felt comfortable with because everybody was trapped in the security area of the checkpoint. More soldiers arrived and one started violently pushing, almost beating, the man who had remained with his child in the lane—for no reason, he was just standing there with his back against the wall and arms around his child’s shoulders. The soldiers then said that the checkpoint was closed and that we had to go back to the Palestinian side of the separation wall through the turnstiles we came from. They also told people not to take photos and tried to grab every digital camera they could see—I fortunately managed to exit the checkpoint before they were able to take mine.
Later in the day we discovered that, according to the Israeli army, the girl had stabbed one of the soldiers in the abdomen, moderately wounding him. When looking on my laptop at the photos I took during the incident I noticed that, in some of them, one of the three soldiers that surrounded the girl was laying on the ground and something that looks like an opened swiss knife was at the feet of the Palestinian girl… it seems to confirm the official version.
This dramatic incident could have been avoided very easily because the Palestinian girl, a normal university student and unlikely a terrorist—as she was called by some Israeli media in their articles, had no plan to stab an Israeli soldier when she arrived at the checkpoint. But everything she went through during those thirty minutes in the security area; the confusion, the humiliation, the anger and finally the fear, made her lose her mind and do something horrible that she will now regret and pay for for the rest of her life…
This is just one example of what the Israeli occupation means for the Palestinians and how it affects their everyday lives. Of course that the girl did something crazy and wrong, but how can you expect people to act in a normal way when you continually put them in abnormal situations and treat them like savage animals?