Checkpoints, Stun Grenades, and Pedagogical Lessons in Terror


During the Cold War, one favorite “hot-spot” for tourists interested in seeing for themselves the great chasm between East and West was Checkpoint Charlie in divided Berlin. Western tourists shot perhaps millions of photos of the American soldiers and their East German and Soviet counterparts across the dividing line between the “Free World” and the “Iron Curtain.” Today, Checkpoint Charlie is but a memory, a museum relic of a world long since eclipsed by the collapse of Soviet-style Communism and the triumph of a dreadful, Disney World version of American corporate democracy. Western Europe has witnessed the collapse of other walls, as free movement of people and goods and services has become routine under the European Economic Union. However, the world of military checkpoints did not disappear with the demise of the East-West conflict. Nowhere are military checkpoints more evident and responsible for so much human and material losses than in Occupied Palestine.

In 1991, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began establishing a network of military checkpoints throughout Occupied Palestine and the key entry points into Israel-proper. These checkpoints, which today dot the landscape like the Germanic princes’ Medieval forts once did along the Rhine River as a means to collect taxes and tolls, serve four primary objectives:

They control the free movement of Palestinians in violation of Article 17 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (August 12, 1949) “that affirms ‘the inviolability of rights’ granted to the civilian population that can in no circumstances be suspended or evaded” (Richard Falk, “International Law and the Al-Aqsa Intifada,” Middle East Report 217, Winter 2000).

The IDF checkpoints impose an enormous economic burden as millions of hours are lost in massive traffic jams and bottlenecks that lead to hours-long delays for hundreds-of-thousands of Palestinian workers (See “Traffic Apartheid,” Miftah Perspectives, December 16, 2000 /

The checkpoints separate Palestinian cities, towns, and villages from each other, thus creating a noncontiguous territory of isolated Palestinian enclaves that eerily resemble the former Apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans.

They impose a physical as well as psychological burden that is intended to make basic daily routines so unbearable that those Palestinians with the necessary resources and or families abroad will inevitably leave the territories altogether for more hospitable environs.

The human cost, especially needless loss of life stands out as the starkest consequence of these IDF checkpoints. Also, it is the one thing that people who know little about Palestinian suffering é which amounts to approximately seventy percent of the American public é can relate to on a humanistic level. Since 1995, more than a score of Palestinians have needlessly lost their lives at IDF checkpoints because Red Crescent ambulances or other emergency vehicles (sometimes private cars) have been delayed, at times for hours, from passing through promptly (See “People And The Land” P.B.S. documentary produced by Tom Hayes. A copy can be obtained from Independent Television Service, 190 Fifth Street East, Ste. 200, Saint Paul, MN 55101, Tel. 612-225-9035 / Fax: 612-225-9102). These Palestinians who have lost their lives included women in labor, children born stillbirth, and diabetic and heart attack patients (A 1996 study by Human Rights Watch reported nine deaths in one year related to detained Red Crescent ambulances at IDF checkpoints). As of March 19, 2001, and dating back to September 29, 2000, the number of needless Palestinians deaths at the IDF checkpoints stands at ten. Let us look beyond the numbers for a moment, after all we wish to stress the humanistic side of suffering.

At 6:00 AM, Tuesday, March 13, 2001, Na’eem Bani Jame’, 39, a farmer and father of five from the village of Aqraba in Nablus, died of a heart attack after a forty-minute delay at the IDF checkpoint at Huwara. Israeli soldiers complicated matters by compelling Bani Jame’s brothers, Hassan and Ahmad, to drive their stricken sibling via a long, unpaved alternate route that cost more critical minutes to reach the hospital by 6:00 AM. By then, Bani Jame’, whose heart attack began at 4:35 AM, was dead on arrival. Normally the commute would take fifteen minutes (“Man And Woman Die At Israeli Checkpoints; LAW Refutes Israeli Claims Of Lightening The Siege,” LAWsociety, March 15, 2001).

Amira Abu Seif, 48, a resident of Faqu’a village in Jenin, suffered a dangerous upsurge in her blood sugar level. A diabetic, this health crisis required immediate medical attention. However, Amira’s family was up against more than time; they were met by the IDF checkpoint at Al-Jalma (east Jenin) at 4:30 AM. They were delayed for three-and-a-half hours. Adding insult to injury, the IDF forced Amira’s “family members to carry her 50m to the Palestinian ambulance stationed on the other side of the checkpoint” (LAWsociety, March 15, 2001). The Jenin hospital’s emergency room personnel pronounced Amira Abu Seif dead at 8:15 AM. It would be overindulgent of me to add personal commentary on top of the accounts of these tragic and utterly unconscionable deaths. Instead, let us return to Checkpoint Charlie for a moment. That was a catchy name for a military crossing point; however, no one single, outstanding name exists for the scores, perhaps hundreds of IDF checkpoints. So allow me to sum them up under one all-encompassing name: Checkpoint Cruelty.

Speaking of cruelty, the IDF recently added a new chapter to the ever-expanding pedagogical literature in primary and secondary education. The Palestinian primary school children of Hebron’s Ibrahimi Basic School became the unwitting participants of an IDF pedagogical lesson in terror. “The army sees the removal of children from the circle of violence as extremely important,” an IDF statement said (Deborah Sontag, “Palestinian Driver Says Killing Of Israelis At Bus Stop Was Deliberate,” Miami Herald, March 16, 2001, 8Aé ). George Orwell would have had a field day with the above quote. And just how did the IDF “[remove] children from the circle of violence?” By lobbing a stun grenade into the schoolyard of the Ibrahimi Basic School. Witnesses claim the elementary-aged children had hurled stones at the ever-obnoxious Hebron Jewish settlers who drove by in their vehicles. Of course, not mentioned was the previous day’s IDF closure at the settlers’ request of the Palestinian Farmers’ Market. Perhaps the children were reacting to this form of settler abuse; nevertheless, elementary-aged students usually lack the arm-strength to do serious damage with stones (unless the stones are dropped from considerable heights, which was not the case here). Now either Palestinian kids possess incredible arm-strength, in which case Major League Baseball recruitersé can forget about the Dominican Republic as well as leave Cuba’s national team alone, or the rumors of snot-nosed high velocity stone-throwers are just that. Or perhaps this is yet another IDF lesson in terror.

In all, six children suffered “light impact injuries from the grenade,” according to the IDF (Sontag, Herald). Oh but of course! Imagine a comparable statement: “Robert E. Lee Elementary School officials today tried to allay parental and community concerns over yesterday’s stun grenade explosion that occurred in the cafeteria after ten-year-old John Doe, upset at being served Spinach again, threw the explosive device at rival Sixth-graders. ‘The injuries were light,’ said Principal Jonathan U. R. Clueless.” Back to reality: The six injured Palestinian elementary school children were:

Ahmed Nasser Sulemi, a Third-grader, with injuries to the back.

Bilal Muhammed Abu Mayali, also a Third-grader, with an injury to the head.

Mohammed Rabah Abu Sbeih, another Third-grader; he suffered a severe earache.

Tareq Khyari Salhab, a Fourth-grader, also suffered a severe earache.

Hazem Mararan Asher, a Fifth-grader, an injured left hand.

Mohammed Tayseer Wazwaz, Fifth-grader, also an injured left hand (Facts courtesy of Defence for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI/PS), “DCI/PS Strongly Condemns the Attack by Israeli Military Forces Against Students of the Ibrahimi Basic School in Hebron,” March 17, 2001. DCI/PS website is:

This IDF lesson in terror is part of the larger picture of a cruel war of attrition that deliberately targets Palestinian children, and then feeds the Israeli propaganda and public relations grist with the racist accusation that Palestinian adults send their children to die or use them as “human shields.” DCI/PS has documented forty-nine cases of Palestinian schools damaged by IDF and settler gunfire in the year 2000. This figure constitutes 2.7 percent of the 1,832 Palestinian primary and secondary schools. Let us consider this in terms that American parents will understand: 2.7 percent of Palestinian schools attacked, often while classes are in session, is equal to 3,100 U.S. elementary and secondary schools coming under gunfire. The figure of 3,100 U.S. school shootings would equal to seventeen per day taking into account that the average U.S. school year is 185 days. And you thought the recent wave of school shootings was bad?

The IDF and settler assaults against Palestinian elementary and secondary schools (universities are not factored in here) violate Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1958 United Nations Declarations on the Rights of the Child; Articles 2, 4, 28, and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and Article 50 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (August 12, 1949). More importantly, these actions have the unsettling pedagogical effect of teaching lessons in violence that the oppressed quickly learn to adopt. We turn to Nelson Mandela for instruction.

During his opening defense on April 20, 1964, Nelson Mandela delivered before the Pretoria Supreme Court what became one of the most eloquent, passionate, and reasonable defenses ever spoken. His defense was titled “I Am Prepared To Die” (See Susan McLeod, et al., Writing About The World, Second Edition, (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995), 282-299. The book is out-of-print; however, you can find copies of it at a public library. The ISBN: 0-15-501314-9). Mandela explained how and why the African National Congress, founded in 1912 moved from a strategy of constitutional struggle from 1912 to 1949, to a more proactive form of civil disobedience, and eventually, armed struggle against Apartheid. At one point, Nelson Mandela lists a number of Apartheid-related massacres of South African Blacks:

South African police massacres of non-violent Black South African protesters at Zeerust, Sekhukhuniland, Warmbaths, Cato Manor, and Pondoland killed hundreds.

The most notorious massacre occurred in Sharpeville in 1960. Sixty-nine Black South Africans lost their lives, and another 178 were wounded é most shot in the back (the poet Dennis Brutus wrote a poem titled “Bullet in the Back Day”). They had been protesting the Afrikaner regime’s “pass laws.”

Mandela assessed the results of these massacres: “Each disturbance pointed clearly to the inevitable growth among Africans of the belief that violence was the only way out é it showed that a Government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it” (McLeod, Writing About The World, 287). It was a lesson bitterly learned and put into practice by Black South Africans faced with Apartheid’s unrelenting evil. Today, Israel risks imparting this most elementary of pedagogical lessons, even Palestinian elementary school children are more than capable of absorbing the IDF pedagogical lessons in terror. What the IDF has not taken into account is that the lessons learned are not exactly the ones intended. If the Israeli Army were subjected to a professional instructional evaluation, it would receive a failing grade.

Mr. Michael Lopez-Calderon taught High School Social Studies in Miami, Florida for seven years until March 2, 2001, when he was asked to leave the Jewish Day school where he had taught for the past five years. Michael was asked to leave for having posted pro-Palestinian comments on Palestine Media Watch’s subscriber-only e-mail. He remains an activist in the Miami area.