Jerusalem – Twenty-five year old Freeda attempts to leave her hometown of Tul Karm to go to work as a nurse in Jerusalem. She approaches the exposed 500-meter checkpoint with raised hands and holding a small identification card in her right hand for the soldier to see 500 meters away. The IDF soldier yells at her, “Leach habaiyt” (Go home). Freeda continues to walk towards the solder ignoring the demand with the risk of being shot and the knowledge that all eyes are watching only her as she approaches the exposed area. She has permission to leave the area and work in Jerusalem by the Israeli Government. She is shaking inside hoping that they do not shoot her, the risk is high because there is not another soul around. Tanks preventing any movement from the local residents continue to surround Tul Karm. Like Bethlehem, Tul Karm was under curfew for 40 days.
Freeda has heard of people getting shot for the same thing, but she knew that the soldier could not see what type of permission she had in her hand and he needed to look at it. Freeda describes the scene, “I was walking then a tank decided to follow behind me, all I could think of is that they don’t shoot me from the backéif someone is going to shoot me I want it to be from the fronté” When she approached the lookout shack another soldier came out and asked her what she was doing. She replied, “I have permission to go to work in Jerusalem and I need to leave.” The IDF soldier said, “Didn’t you hear the soldier telling you to go back? He had orders to shoot you if you didn’t stop. Why didn’t you stop?” She told him that she wanted to show them the permission and they couldn’t see it from so far away. He asked, “Weren’t you scared to get shot?” She said, “Of course, but what do I have to loose?” The soldier informed her that he was scared for her too, that the soldier would have shot her. He took her ID, looked at it and told her that she could go ahead.
Freeda continued to walk through the open thoroughfare and was approached by soldiers in a jeep. They told her to go back that she wasn’t allowed to go out. She informed the soldiers that she has permission by the government to go to work in Jerusalem and the soldier back there said I could go, “And I’m going, if you have any questions ask him.” Freda continued to walk as the jeep drove next to her, the soldier yelled at her to go back. She replied, “No, go and talk to the soldier back there.” They kept driving next to her asking her what her name was and how old she was. She refused to reply and referred them to the soldier back at the checkpoint. After some time the soldiers decided to go away. She continued to walk when approached by another jeep asking her all of the same questions. Finally, she crossed the open area and was picked up by some Israeli Arab friends that were giving her a ride to Jerusalem. The entire process to get out of Tul Karem took Freeda most of her day.
Freeda was lucky, most Palestinians never get across even with Israeli permission or some wait for up to 12 hours to get across a single checkpoint only to have to stop at anther one with the chance of having to go back or having their permission and their ID taken away. There are five checkpoints between Ramallah and Jerusalem, a drive that should take no more than 20 minutes. Qalandia, one of the checkpoints is very dangerous with random shooting, from the IDF along with shock grenades and tear gas shot towards the crowd. At Qalandia, there are ques for the residents to stand in line and they can only approach the solder one at a time. There are times when the soldiers stop to eat and have some coffee for up to one hour before calling the next person in line. There is not any protective covering from the elements of the weather or any benches for them to sit on while they wait.
When entering into Bethlehem during a light rain I noticed about 20-30 civilians men, women and children standing in a row with their backs against a wall exposed to the rain. For some reason, the residents were located near the automobile entrance/exit into Bethlehem. There is a separate walking secession that the residents have to walk through around the back from view of the automobiles or anyone else for that matter. The walk is about 1/2 of a kilometer. The men have to lift up their shirts when approaching the area to assure the soldiers that they do not have bombs strapped to their bodies. They divide the men from the women in the line and they go through separate, breaking up the families and making them wait for one another to continue with their journey. They carry a light load because the distance and waiting time is very tedious.
Yesterday, I crossed 6 checkpoints in my automobile from Jerusalem to Nablus and then came across a trenched asphalt road only to have to turn around and go back taking me another 2 hours for a normal 1-hour drive to enter into Nablus. I was lucky; I am a foreigner with an automobile. The soldiers knew that the road was trenched but they let me go ahead anyway only to smile when I came back through.
During my venture to the North from Jerusalem I discovered that some of the checkpoints have two lines, one for the yellow plates, “Israeli color” and one with “green plates” or Palestinian plates. If you have a car with yellow or white plates (diplomatic) you can drive through usually without having to stop at all. There are a lot of settlements in the North West Bank area; this arrangement maintains “freedom of movement” for the Israeli settlers with an easy flow and they are not inconvenienced with the complications of the checkpoints.
If you are driving a car that has green plates, you have to stop in the line and wait. I approached a checkpoint and pulled up behind the one and only one Palestinian automobile at the front of the line to wait my turn. I waited and I waited, the soldiers did not wave the Palestinian to enter into the vulnerable open area to get permission to continue. I waited for 45 minutes. The driver was sitting on the trunk of his car talking on the cellular phone and smoking a cigarette, he wouldn’t dare approach the area without being asked to enter. I would get out look around at the beige camouflaged observation tent located in the center of the open area hoping to find a human figure and catch his eyes. I knew that they could see me, but I couldn’t see them.
I waited 30 minutes before anyone decided to walk out of the camouflaged tent you are not supposed to see but see very clearly. The soldier waves for me to approach him with my car thus bypassing the Palestinian’s turn. Who knows how long he has been sitting there before I arrived to the humiliating scene? If I didn’t have an appointment, I would have stayed and waited my turn but it was hot and I was thirsty and already late. I start up my car and approach the soldier, feeling guilty by having the “privilege” to continue and not really have to be affected by the restrain of movement for the local population. The soldier asked me why I didn’t come up a long time ago so I could go? I told him I wanted to see how long it would be before he waved the Palestinian to come through. He asked me why I cared. I told him that the man is a human being and he probably wouldn’t be attempting to go through unless he already had permission from the government. The soldier just chuckles and waves me through. I drive away leaving the Palestinian behind.
Freeda could have been shot; and she didn’t really care if she was shot because if she couldn’t get through then she would not have a life anyway. We all have heard the stories of Palestinians and as of late, Israeli Arabs getting shot at checkpoints. The story goes something like this: Palestinian terrorist shot by the IDF. The IDF stopped yet another terrorist attack against Israel today while spotting a suspicious person trying to enter into Israel. The suspect was shot at blaugh blaugh blaugh checkpoint attempting to enter into Israel to detonate a bomb. The killings are not followed by any investigations the name of the victim is not mentioned and the Israeli government forgets the person. People go on with their lives feeling secure that the soldiers are doing their work, but it is a false security the suicide bombers will continue to enter into crowded areas in hopes to become heroes and make statements about their plight as Palestinians.
I ask, why would a suicide bomber attempt to “sneak” through a checkpoint? There are many ways to get around checkpoints if the person is determined enough to do so and would want to accomplish his/her mission. Suicide bombers will go through a checkpoint in order to kill soldiers and usually the bomber is the only one to die in the process. The checkpoints are a form of harassment terrorizing the Palestinians in attempt to cage them like animals while hoping to bring them into submission. To force the Palestinians to accept what Israel wants to continue and will continue to do which is the building and expansion of settlements, taking water, occupying homes, relinquishing land, stripping the economy and destroying their government without questioning or standing up for their own basic human rights.
Susan Brannon (a.k.a Amanda White) is an American Freelance Photojournalist and MMN’s correspondent in Jerusalem.