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Nine hours to get home

by Ash
August 20, 2005

UPDATE: Last night, five Palestinians were killed by the Israeil Occupation Forces in Tulkarem

On the way home yesterday, I was stopped 6 times at Israeli checkpoints traveling from Ramallah to Tulkarem. These were not pop-up checkpoints this time — a little different this week — but concrete at both ends with a cover for soldiers’ equipment.

Israeli checkpoints are symbolic of the daily humiliation we face. Not only do Israeli soldiers keep us waiting for long hours; the entire procedure is an attempt to make us lose our humanity, to degrade us so that we feel worthless and sub-human. Sometimes Israeli soldiers ask people to take off their clothes, sometimes people are forced under gunpoint to eat during the fast in Ramadan.

When I arrived at Jabra, just four km outside Tulkarem, a soldier told our bus driver that we were not authorized to go to Tulkarem through this checkpoint, so we had to turn around and try the only way left. We made our way to Innab roadblock, which consists of a metal bar that cuts off Tulkarem city from the nearby villages. A huge razor barrier, about 15 ft high, is built on the right side of the road equipped with an Israeli watch tower. We got out of the bus and passed the new metal bar which had been put in only a few days earlier.

More than 60 Palestinians were standing in two lines on both sides waiting for one Israeli soldier to come and check their IDs. The soldier checked IDs and luggage on either side of him while four other soldiers stood watching!!

People were frustrated and angry as they were made to wait for a long time and, of course, it is not in the soldiers’ mandate to speed up. One woman walked toward the soldier checking IDs and said “You stole our land, our water, our air. Why are you restricting our movement? What more do you want?” The soldier shouted, “Shut up!” then ordered everybody to move 20 feet back and headed away to drink water! He looked at us and smiled. Then after 10 minutes he walked lazily forward and said “Yallah! (Let’s go! in Arabic) One by one!”

After the soldier looked at my ID and checked my bag, I took a service (shared taxi) to Innab, then walked around the metal bar and took another service to Tulkarem.

On the way to my village of Saida, 16km to the south of Tulkarem, an armed military vehicle, parked on the side of the main street just 6 km outside of the city, was stopping dozens of vehicles from moving. While we were waiting, two Israeli soldiers stopped a bus on the other side of the street. All passengers got out and the two soldiers asked everyone to pull up their clothes while one soldier on the top of the armed vehicle was aiming his M-16 at them.

After 30 minutes, our moment of being humiliated came. Two soldiers walked toward our taxi. One got close to the window and asked the driver where he was going. The driver answered, “We are going to Saida village”. The soldier opened the door in the middle and asked one young Palestinian to step out; then he came to the front seat where I was sitting and punched me on the shoulder and said, “Get out!”. We were standing just five feet in front of the two soldiers. The same soldier again asked us to pull our clothes up and turn around. Then he took my ID and asked, “Where are you going?”. “Saida,” I answered. “Where do you live?”. “Saida,” I replied again. Then the soldier said, “Yalla”!

Two days ago when I was in Bil’in village, I went with an Israeli friend to Tel Aviv for the first time since I was 12 years old! My friend told me that it’s easy to get to Tel Aviv, but I was very concerned since I am a Palestinian, and it is illegal to travel there. It’s like another world for us. We took a taxi at around 9:30 pm to the nearby village, Dier Qaddis to the west of Bil’in and walked for three minutes to reach a settler road. I was breathless, and scared that I might be caught by Israeli border police.

We continued walking on that settler road until we reached Modo’een Elite settlement, which is built on Bil’in’s land. I was standing at the entrance that has a lighted stone arc, looking at the beautiful and fancy buildings they have – green trees and a fountain – wondering if the people who live there know that their government is stealing more land from the Palestinian farmers and families of Bili’n to build their houses!

After 20 minutes, a settler pulled over to give us a ride to a stop station, where we picked up a bus straight to Tel Aviv.

If Israeli checkpoints are for ‘security’, why don’t they set up checkpoints in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv? Why were there no soldiers to check my ID that night? Why did no one stop me from going inside Israel? Were the Israeli soldiers off duty in Tel Aviv?

All this makes me think that maybe it is the “Israeli democracy” that is trying to break our spirit and take our freedom under the big lie of security and peace.