We know that Palestine is full of Israeli check points, watch towers, army trucks and night raids. We sympathise as these tools are synonymous with human rights abuses. But unless you have lived with these things, lived under occupation, I don’t think you can really know what they mean.
There are watch towers at the entrance to many of the quiet villages in the West Bank. I have often stood at village gates, trying to catch a ride. I mistakenly thought for my first six weeks that these towers were empty. I would still be nervous sometimes. You must stand well away from the settler bus stops, avoid waving down settler cars and keep an eye open for military trucks which may stop to quiz you re your presence in Palestine.
I don’t pretend to have experienced more than a fraction of what it is like to be a Palestinian living in these intimidating conditions, but wanted to write a little about what it is like to go through even the easiest checkpoints, on a normal day.
In order to move from Ramallah into Jerusalem, international volunteers must make a three hour (instead of 20 minute) journey via Bethlehem to avoid the passport scanners and risk of detention at Qalandia checkpoint.
I have travelled three times now through this Bethlehem checkpoint. Before boarding the bus I make sure that my camera and laptop are clean of West Bank photos, that I have nothing on me suggesting interest in Palestine – no gifts, notes or phone numbers. I consider what I am wearing so that I don’t look like I may be an ‘activist’.
The journey is tense as I rehearse silently what I have been doing for the past few weeks in case I am asked. Palestinians sit patiently with far greater concerns. Many are trying to get to work and will lose pay if denied access. I am ashamed to remove and hide my keffiyeh as we approach the road block.
Half of the Palestinians must automatically get off the bus to show their identity cards and sometimes be searched. Soldiers gruffly board the bus, their guns knocking against the seats as they walk down the aisle. The rest of us are asked to show our passports. Some of the Palestinians who got off the bus get back on again, some aren’t allowed.
The unnecessarily long journey, the uncertainty of making it to your destination, the stress of being ordered about by soldiers who do not have the right to maintain this occupation takes its toll. I am always left feeling shaken and violated. And yet this is daily life for the Palestinians here. It doesn’t sound so bad to have to constantly present ID to soldiers. But why the hell should they? It is humiliating. It is frightening. It is horrible. And it is their land.
On the Breaking the Silence tour last month, I was told by a former Israeli soldier that the primary role of the military in the West bank is to ensure that the 3 million plus citizens feel scared, because this is how you control such a large population. One of the ways to maintain this fear is to create the sensation that everyone is being watched all the time. I hate how good the Israeli military is at this.
A friend directed me to this interesting film, No Way Through which recently won the Cntrl Alt Shift film competition.