Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Easy Leaving, Not So Easy Returning

One of the realities Palestinians have become accustomed to is the ease with which they can leave Jerusalem (or anywhere else in Israel) and the difficulty they experience in returning. It's a little complicated for those of us with US passports, but nothing like what the Palestinian must put up with day after day.

On Sunday I shared a cab to Ramallah with friends to participate in the hundredth anniversary of the Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse and International Center (more about that later). On the way north we buzzed right through the Khalandia checkpoint (which looks very much like a national border facility). On the way home, though, I boarded an Arab bus that regularly goes from Ramallah to Jerusalem. When we got to Khalandia, everyone piled out of the bus and walked toward the facility housing equipment similar to that used in US airports to scan for weapons and explosives. After these scans everyone moves through turnstiles where identification papers and permits are inspected. As I moved to leave the bus an older man and the bus driver called me back, saying that people over 60 did not have to deboard and walk through the check point. That's what I call "geezer identification".

Our bus slowly approached the auto checkpoint and stopped, waiting for the car ahead to be inspected. As the soldiers opened the car's trunk and ordered the passengers out for inspection, I took out my rather large camera and began shooting. Big mistake. A woman soldier saw me and signaled her displeasure. When we pulled into the checkpoint, they boarded the bus, demanding to see my passport and the pictures I took. I heard the word "delete" several times. To my good fortune I had also taken pictures of cabbages for sale on the street in Ramallah (beautiful vegetables!) and the soldier got to those after seeing the shots of them inspecting the car. At the cabbage shots the male soldier mellowed a bit and said "ok" ... much to the disapproval of the female who turned out to be Russian (Tatyana). No smiles from Tatyana. We pulled through the check point, drove to the parking area on the other side to wait for those who were slowly coming out of the facility.

Two days later I visited a remarkable man, Daoud Nasser, who has developed a place called "The Tent of Nations", south of Bethlehem on the way to Hebron (more about Daoud and the T of N later). I rode a bus from Jerusalem and, as to Ramallah, we buzzed through the check point leaving Israel. In mid afternoon I got dropped back at the Bethlehem checkpoint to return to St. George's in Jerusalem. I got in the long line waiting to move through the checkpoint and welcomed a Palestinian who needed to get to work in an hour to enter the line in front of me. He kindly reminded me of the routine. He would have to empty everything on him in trays to be x-rayed and then move to the turnstiles where a device read his handprint and he showed his permit to enter Jerusalem. I could simply put my backpack through the x ray but did not need to empty my pockets and take off my belt. "Just show them your US passport". Even when the electronic monitor I walked through picked up my metallic hips, I was waved on. So simple for me. So tiring and humiliating for my Palestinian acquaintance. But he is used to it; he makes this passage twice daily.

As my Palestinian friend and I left the turnstiles, the sign on the wall read, "Welcome to Jerusalem. Have a nice day".

1 comment:

bar_kochba132 said...

Rev Cotton-did it ever occur to you to find out WHY these stringent security measures were instituted? They weren't there during the "bad days" of the Israeli occupation before the Oslo Fiasco was foisted on both the Jews and the Arabs of the country by cynical politicians like Peres, Arafat and Bill Clinton. The "peace process" brought unprecendented violence. Arafat and his brother Palestinians started a bloody suicide bomber war that killed or wounded thousands of Israelis (including not a few Israeli Arabs). These attacks had the enthusiastic support of the Palestinian population. That is why the wall and checkpoints were put up. Not to simply 'harass' the Palestinians as so many people seem to think. Now they are paying the price for their violence.

If they don't like the checkpoints , the security wall and the Jewish settlements in Judea/Samaria, they can get rid of them at the stroke of a pen...all they have to do is sign a peace agreeement along the lines offered to them by Barak in 2001 and Olmert in 2008. The Palestinians rejected these offers which gave them almost all of their territorial demands. Why did they reject them? Because they refuse to make peace with Israel on ANY terms. Rev Cotton, I suggest you ask your Palestinian friends why their leadership repeatedly refuses to make peace with Israel.