Checkpoints and abuse

Last summer, I took my family on a trip to my homeland of Palestine. After a few days in the Jerusalem area, we headed to Ramallah to visit my wife’s family and my children’s grand parents. After much hassle and confusion at the Qalandia checkpoint, we finally arrived in Ramallah to a teary welcome by my wife’s’ family, which helped take the sting out of what I had just witnessed. We spent the entire day and well into the night talking and catching up on last eight years since the last time my wife and kids had been in Palestine.  

The next morning we were informed that the Israeli army had decided to close the Qalandia check point and therefore we would be spending an extra night in Ramallah. This did not make my wife and kids the slightest bit bothered as they had wanted to spend more time there anyway. I guess the same could not be said for people that were trapped on either side of the checkpoint and would have to wait another day to get to where they had to be.  

On Saturday morning we got up, had breakfast with the family and decided that we should head back to Beit Hanina where my mom and brother lived. We said our good byes and headed for the Qalandia checkpoint. As we got closer to the checkpoint the sound of automatic gun fire could be heard. My youngest son, who had seen too much of the Israeli destruction and oppression during the April invasion, was beginning to get unnerved by the sound of the gunfire. I calmed him down and told him that it was nothing to worry about. My wife’s sister was also with us in the car as she was accompanying her daughter, who had a 1 month old baby girl with her. She had come to Ramallah to see us and also ended up getting trapped there and was now wanting to get back home. The day was turning out to be a scorcher. It was very hot and soon the afternoon sun would make it much hotter.  

We arrived at the check point only to find out that it had just been closed a few minutes beforehand. There were hundreds of people waiting to cross in the oppressive sun and heat without any form of shelter or shade. I walked up to the young Israeli soldier and tried to talk to him into at least letting my sister in-law, her daughter, and the baby pass, but to no avail. I then reached for my American passport thinking that it might help. To my astonishment, the soldier took one look at it and said that ‘Even George Bush would not pass through’ in a perfect Brooklyn accent. My sister in law pushed me away and spent the next hour pleading with any soldier that she saw to let her and the infant pass. They eventually let her pass with the baby who was now crying from the heat and probably very thirsty. We saw them cross as we waited with the rest of the people in the sweltering heat and dust. There were many men leading their elderly parents by the hand. I even saw a man carrying his mother on his back as he attempted to cross her through to no avail. There were also many people that had doctor’s appointments and kept waiving their papers under the noses of indifferent soldiers who seemed to care little of what these people’s circumstances were. If there was any humanity left in these young Israelis soldiers, I could not see it. After a couple of hours in the sun, the crowd only got bigger and tempers began to run short. One elderly man yelled at the soldiers, ‘This is what you and Abu Mazen agreed on?’ I also heard Palestinian women ask the Israeli soldiers if they had any mothers, sisters, and grandparents. And if so, would they approve of seeing them treated in this way?  

The Israeli soldiers began wading into the crowd and pushing people down with the butts of the rifles. They heaped verbal and physical abuse at the people that had been waiting for hours in the hot sun. I witnessed a young man who had his back turned to us and was sitting on the concrete barricade waiting, get hit in the lower back with the butt end of the American made rifle. The young man was obviously hurt, but nonetheless went after the soldier and had to be restrained. In another instance, the cruelest of the Israeli soldiers, a young man of about 24, red faced, bearded, and balding, pushed a slightly built Palestinian father to the ground, spilling the 2 bags of vegetables he was carrying to the ground. The man got up and attempted to go after the soldier, but I grabbed him from behind, and along with others, pulled him away from the soldiers who were now starting to gather in force. I knew fairly well that they would have no problem beating this man or even killing him. His wife, who was holding the hands of their 2 small children, was crying in the background.  

After I had managed to get the man as far away as possible from the soldiers, I then noticed the look on my 15 year old son’s face. His face was red and I could see that tears were welling up in his eyes. Also my daughter and youngest son were starting to cry. They had been born and lived in the US and had never experienced such abuse before in their lives. They were, thanks to the Israelis, being introduced to a whole new world of inhumanity and oppression. I had to restrain my son and even struck him in the face to keep him from going after the Israeli soldiers. I kept telling him to stand there and shut his mouth. I feared that if the soldiers had heard him yelling at them, they might harm him. This went against everything that I had taught my son. I had taught him not to stand silently in the face of oppression. To speak out against any wrongs that he witnessed. To help others and to do something, yet here I was striking him because he was doing what I had been telling him all his life in the US. I knew very well that these soldiers could very well hurt or even kill any of the Palestinian young men that were there and that NOTHING would happen to them. This was the brutal reality of life under occupation where the value of a Palestinian life, does not in anyway, carry the same value of that of a Jew.  

After nearly 3 hours in the hot sun, we finally started making our way through the long lines. Once we got to the front of the line, we were approached by an Israeli soldier who demanded our identity cards. While he was checking our documents, I noticed my 11 year son shaking. I looked at him and noticed that the barrel of the soldier’s machine gun was almost touching his forehead. I asked the soldier to please point the gun away from my son. He laughed and told me that ‘he is Palestinian’ and ‘should get used to it’…That my 11 year old son should get used to having the barrel of an American made M-16 pointed at his head…NO child should ever have to get used to such abuse and total disregard for fellow human beings…