Checkpoints or legalized torture

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I had to witness first hand what Palestinians traveling in the occupied areas go through to really understand what this conflict is about and our role in it. On October 8th we were going to leave from the West Bank town of Beit Sahour to get to the bridge connecting Jordan with the Israeli occupied West Bank.The normal driving distance for such a trip would normally be less than an hour. It took more than 10 hours and it had nothing to do with security. We started at 4 AM and at the first checkpoint, cars were being turned back. We lucked out and the soldiers decided to randomly let our taxi through to the section of East Jerusalem annexed illegally by Israel. No search of either our car or our documents was done. Hence this random selection of cars to pass or not to pass had little to do with security. We arrived at the checkpoint between the Israeli controlled area of the West Bank and Jericho (a city under nominal Palestinian control) at 5:00 AM. We had to wait until 5:30 AM when the soldiers arrived. In the interim, a huge Israeli Merkava tank approached. The tank revved its engines, rotated its gun turret and pointed it at various groups of taxis, busses and people on foot lined up at the checkpoint. The tank came closer and repeated this maneuver twice. To most people in the lines, this was so routine in the occupied areas and they patiently waited. To me it was a horrifying experience.

Cars were called one at a time and one at a time were told they could not pass and had to turn around. None passed. When our turn finally came, our taxi driver tried valiantly to explain to the soldiers in Hebrew that he needed to get his passengers to the borders, that we had all the required papers and permits, and that even some of his passengers where Americans. He was at first lied to by being told that the border wa closed. He explained that he was in cell phone contact with a colleague who delivered a load of people from the north and that the bridge to Jordan was open. But he was abruptly told that this checkpoint it is closed and he cannot pass. We had to turn back. We went back and tried an "alternate route" through the desert (no roads). Again this shows it has nothing to do with security since the checkpoint was guarding an entrance to a Palestinian area and searches could be easily done. It has everything to do with making life so miserable and unpredictable for people that they decide to abandon their native land. Already thousands of Palestinians indeed emigrated but millions remain trapped. Usually, those who manage to leave are the well to do, pragmatic, modern, and connected Palestinians. These are precisely the moderates needed to make peace.

There were many other checkpoints where we lined up like cattle not knowing our fate. Meanwhile, we could all see the "other" roads where settlers and soldiers could travel freely on highways unobstructed by checkpoint or walls or fences. These were the roads off limit to Palestinian Christians and Muslims and open to cars carrying the Israeli yellow license plates. It was a poignant and living example of the increasingly violent apartheid system being implemented in the colonized areas. Everyone who visits and sees where these checkpoints and now the apartheid wall are built are and how they function knows they are not for security. Zionists themselves admit in their newspapers that denial of basic human rights are intended to achieve capitulation to classic Zionist objectives: to drive what remains of the Palestinians out of their homelands or restrict them to a unconnected bantustans ala South African apartheid models. As early as 1974, the Allon plan set up this scenario of limited "autonomy" for the Palestinians on minimal areas of Palestine while Israel retains the fat of the land for the ever expanding Jewish colonization project. All human rights organizations have condemned these colonization practices and now this so called "security barrier."

The "barrier" is a system of walls, fences, ditches and fortifications built not at the borders of the cease-fire lines of 1949 but is snaking deep inside the Palestinian territories Israel occupied in 1967. International law considers occupation illegal, it considers settlements and colonies as illegal, and it considers the actions of preventing people from travel within their own country (going to school, work and even hospitals) to be war crimes. This we are all clear on. As Bishop Desmond Tutu pointed out, it is not clear why we allow a foreign lobby to pressure our congress to give unrestricted funding to racism, war crimes, and grave breaches of basic human rights. What will it take for more Americans to wake up to what is being done in our name and using our tax money?

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