Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My (New) Favorite Checkpoint

I've had several favorites - Jalameh (near Jenin, Zababdeh), where I was "detained" for 2 hours, used to be my favorite; then the one near Ariel where every piece of luggage as well as my replacement metal hips were of interest to the soldiers. Now it's Qalandia, the massive checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Financed, I understand, by the US government.

Jean Zaru - wise, hospitable and faithful
I hadn't planned to go to Ramallah yesterday, but that was the only day Jean Zaru (Quaker Palestinian, author of Occupied with Nonviolence) was available to see me (more about that conversation later). So I left my hotel about noon, got the #18 to Ramallah (standing room only) and found my way via the Quaker Meeting House to Jean's home. I left Jean about 4, got back to the bus depot and headed for Jerusalem (seated this time). Israel is not interested when you enter the West Bank; it's just when you want to return that their interest is aroused. A new routine since I was here last. #18 stops at one section of the checkpoint, everyone exits the bus and groups up at a turnstile, electronically managed from inside the hermetically sealed IDF control room to allow only a few passengers to enter at a time and, just as in US airports, empty everything (save your identity papers) on the revolving belt for x ray that will cause the metal detector to sing as you walk through. I was maybe the 15th or so to be admitted. Everything off and out - belt, phone, backpack (of course), change purse ... whatever. 4 - 5 times through and still the voice from inside, "remove everything; go back through".  Finally, it dawned on me. Metal hips! I explained and, as ordered, held up my open passport to the glass window. He's on the phone, obviously calling for instructions from higher up. "You see that door (one of several)? Go through it. (It's now electronically unlocked.) When I get in there, it says "Inspection Room".  So I stand and wait to be inspected. Minutes past. Nothing. I go back to the window. Angrily, "You saw the other door - go through it". Yep, I saw it ... but by now, I'm just following directions. He had only told me one door. So through both doors I go. Again, from inside his hermetically sealed office, "Let me see". Now, somehow I'm enjoying this. There's a bit of exhibitionism in me. Unbutton, unzip, down with the shorts ... and there's my hip. No bombs attached. Through the glass, his face said ok. "Get your stuff and get out". Gladly.

The point in all this is not me. My American passport is my security (for some, I know, it's not). I'm frustrated, inconvenienced, but it all amounts to a good story. But not for my fellow Palestinian passengers. For the 10-15 minutes I was being scanned, no one else could get through. And they waited patiently outside the turnstile. That's in part what bothered me. It was all normal for them. Palestinian workers who enter Jerusalem every morning must add several hours to their trip to arrive at work on time. You never know when some stupid American with metal hips will tie things up.

This has been written of thousands of times. The sense of total domination, control exercised over an occupied people is dehumanizing. The tonal implication of the soldier as he angrily instructed me to go through the second door, not just the first, didn't really bother me. But it is intended to humiliate, degrade. Palestinians defend themselves by displaying no feeling at these encounters. But it all does damage. The comment Rabbi Brian Walt made, when we went through Qalandia together several years ago, echoes. Standing in what for all the world felt like a cattle chute, tears appeared in his eyes, "My God, this is what the Nazis did to us!" Indeed.

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