+972 Mag | Staring into the eyes of the occupation
This is one of those occasional articles that strike a chord with me; mostly because it speaks to a place that still weighs heavily on my conscience.
I passed through this checkpoint about twice a week for a summer, often it was crowded, the cage-like apparatus was humiliating and sometimes they would sing to us over the intercom while we were pushed back and caged in due to slowdowns in permit examination.
The thing that rattled me is how it made me feel twice a week for a single summer. The tension, fear, humiliation and rage it instilled in me is like little I have felt before. The idea of life constantly under occupation; either through a daily commute from Bethlehem into Jerusalem or the complete denial of a work permit still stuns and evades me.
I saw more of it than most can say they have, and I still can’t grasp it. I can’t grasp the daily toll it takes on all of the people I left behind. The weight of summer in a place where I left only friends, acquaintances and colleagues will affect me forever. Yet those people weren’t my family, my childhood friends and lovers. It wasn’t homeland I was barred from or a prison I couldn’t I leave. Its a place with its own emotions.
Leehee Rothschild | June 24, 2013
We went to Bethlehem yesterday for a direct action where a group comprised mostly of Palestinians, along with several Israelis and internationals, tried to walk across the Bethlehem checkpoint and visit Jerusalem. The Israeli army stopped us as we reached the checkpoint and prevented us from continuing on our way. Some of the soldiers engaged in some form of dialogue with us, while shoving the Palestinian activists away from the checkpoint. Most of them kept repeating that they were “just following orders.”
One female soldier asked her commander if she could use “reasonable force” against us, adding, “look at them, they look like animals.” She also stood there mockingly chanting “El el, Israel,” at the Palestinians, and became extremely agitated as I started to videotape her.
The soldiers quickly called for reinforcements, and eventually we found ourselves surrounded by dozens of soldiers and cops who looked like they were preparing to make arrests. At that point, three Palestinian activists declared that since they were not allowed to go pray in Al Aqsa (Jerusalem), they would pray right then and there at the checkpoint. They started praying, with Palestinian flags serving as their prayer rugs.
The soldiers, who assumed that the rest of the people present were journalists and foreigners, decided to refrain from arrests, since “it wouldn’t look good.” They did, however, follow us back to our cars to make sure we were really leaving. We did, but the Palestinian protestors voiced a promise: “Next time, we will pray in Jerusalem.”
It was an opportunity to see the reality of checkpoints and permits that reign over Palestinian lives under occupation, determining who can go where and when, separating Palestinians living in the West Bank from those in East Jerusalem, severing family ties and friendships, controlling movement and dictating professional and academic choices. It was also an opportunity to see apartheid in action, as settler cars drove by us throughout the entire encounter; the soldiers allowed them to pass through the checkpoint with hardly a second thought. At times, they complained about the inconvenience the Palestinian protestors caused them by blocking their road, while the protesters were demanding the right to travel on it. It was also one more opportunity to challenge the checkpoint regime, to expose its abnormality, cruelty and arbitrariness.