This week I had my share of checkpoints, even more than usual. But the events that transpired at the Qalandiya and Bethlehem checkpoint made me look further than my usual “hurry up, I need to get home attitude”. This was a far more daunting wake-up call.
After a wonderful, fun-filled wedding in Bethlehem, my husband and I began the drive home. A non-stop direct drive from Bethlehem to the village of Bir Nabala, northwest of Jerusalem should take no more than half an hour. That was in the days of yore, obviously when Israeli checkpoints did not plague our entire lives. That night, we left the wedding hall and arrived at the infamous “Rachel’s Tomb” checkpoint about 10 minutes later. Even though it was after midnight, there were still at least 15 cars waiting to cross. Twenty minutes later, it was our turn. I confidently handed my and my husband’s ID cards to the Israeli soldier and waited for the nonchalant flick of his wrist, indicating that we could pass. I am a veteran checkpoint goer obviously, so I figured I know the ropes.
“You can’t cross in the car. You must walk through the checkpoint,” the soldier informed me. After I ranted and raged for a while explaining that I cross Qalandiya all the time in the car he simply said, “The rules are different here and the rule here is that you must get down.” I pushed him further as to the rationale behind making me get down when I was in the car with my husband, in the middle of the night with a valid residency permit to Jerusalem. “I didn’t make the rules, I just enforce them,” he said calmly and turned away. So, without further ado, I climbed out, walked the winding, empty checkpoint until I reached the bored Israeli soldier in the booth, took off all my “metal” and passed through, green West Bank ID and Israeli permit in hand.
Cut to last night and I was in the car again, with my father this time at the Qalandiya checkpoint. I know this checkpoint like the back of my hand, bane of my existence that it might be. Anyway, as we approached the Israeli soldiers, my heart dropped. The female soldier on our lane had the look of a hard criminal –” cold, stony, hateful. I knew we were in for a little wait. After my father handed her his US passport (with the word “Palestine” typed in the slot for “place of birth”) she began her interrogation of me. Where is your ID? Whose children are these? Where are their birth certificates? Open the trunk. Not once did she look me in the eye until she gave me the look of death when she realized she could do nothing more to stop me from passing. “Those are the rules” aren’t they? But when my father decided to give her a piece of his mind, asking her what kind of system would question a child, she glared at him and said one line. “If you don’t like it, don’t come to Israel.”
That’s the bottom line isn’t it? Israel’s system of checkpoints is not about the security of Israel as much as it is about solidifying its military occupation for one, and heightening the misery of the occupied people secondly. They are there to remind us, day in and day out that Israel’s occupation is alive, in control and wielding its ultimate power over our lives. If this were not the case, why then would a 10-year old child have to show her birth certificate just in order to get home? Why would men and women have to take off shoes, belts, watches, hairbands and anything else that “beeps” before going through a metal detector even when the soldiers know that these things are hardly threatening. “It’s your wedding band,” one soldier insisted when I beeped back and forth for the 10th time trying to get across Qalandiya. At first I tried to argue that gold does not “beep” but after her insistence I decided to go for the challenge. “So if it’s my wedding band, why did you make me take it off?” insinuating that this had nothing to do with Israel’s so-called security. “We have to do this, you know why,” she answered. When I played dumb, said no I didn’t actually understand these ridiculous measures she just replied, “Well, maybe you should go and find out.”
I don’t need to “find out.” Israel does not want Palestinians in Jerusalem, it is a plain as day. To that end, it cuts people out in one way or the other. We are the lucky ones, only slightly inconvenienced at checkpoints. Others have their IDs revoked, their homes demolished, their land confiscated and their sons and daughters imprisoned, all towards the same goal of emptying Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents. Making me (or others) get down and walk through a checkpoint is not about security, it is about making our lives that much more difficult so we might think twice about making Jerusalem our permanent home. And hopefully, according to the stone-faced soldier at Qalandiya, if we get fed up enough, we take her advice. “Don’t come back to Israel,” she told us. Little does she know that it will take more than that to deter us. We are not in Israel, I wanted to tell her. We are in Palestine; we are home.