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“Go in Peace”

Written by Hannah

(Photo: Machsom Watch)

I’ve been here for 4 days, and I’ve already been through 2 of the newly opened terminals” that have replaced the “checkpoints” at the entrances to Bethlehem and Ramallah. I don’t know what language to use for these. They seem more like prisons to me than anything else. I asked my host father in Dheisheh camp (Bethlehem) if he’s seen it and he said, “Get me a permit, then I’ll go see it.” Because of course, no matter how badly people are treated at these terminal-prisons, the people who are there are mostly the lucky ones who have permits to go through, or Jerusalem ID cards.

I know it’s clichéd to say that the Wall is turning Palestine into even more of a prison, but this was the first time I’d seen the Wall completely closed around the entrance to Bethlehem. There’s an enormous metal door that can be opened and closed at the whim of the Israeli army, with a huge sign next to it saying in English, Hebrew, and finally Arabic, “Go in peace.” Underneath is written “Israeli Ministry of Tourism.” This is in an area separating Palestinian area from Palestinian area. West Bank on both sides. Entirely controlled by Israel.

And it’s the same at Qalandiya. Palestinian areas on either side, entirely controlled by Israel. I don’t know which sign is more offensive, the Bethlehem one or the one at Qalandiya that says in three languages “The hope of us all.” Next to this is a drawing of a tree, with the word “security” written in Arabic on the trunk, and each of the branches saying (in Arabic) things like “education,” “culture,”and “prosperity.” “Israeli Ministry of Tourism” was missing from this one, probably because Ramallah does not receive as many tourists as Bethlehem, especially at this time of year.

Qalandiya Checkpoint. (Photo: Machsom Watch)

Passing back through Qalandiya from Ramallah to Jerusalem last night was one of the most disturbing checkpoint experiences I’ve had. It was certainly the worst I’ve ever been treated personally. From entering to exiting the “terminal,” you are enclosed between metal doors, turnstyles, and windows, so at each moment you are essentially trapped in a different part until a soldier decides to let you through. Everything is done electronically.

The soldiers sit behind bulletproof glass and bark orders through loudspeakers. No face to face human interaction anymore. The girl (and yes, these soldiers look like girls and boys) barking orders at people last night was particularly unkind, When it came time for me, I placed my things on the newly installed conveyor belt and walked through the metal detector, like I saw the people before me doing. I held up my passport and the soldier ignored me and started yelling at me in Arabic. I couldn’t understand everything she said and I told her that (or tried to, although there seemed to be no mechanism for people to speak to her, only the other way around), and finally she yelled in English, “Put all your things on the belt!” I did so, then walked through, held my passport up, picked up my stuff, and got ready to leave. She said nothing to me, but began to yell at a man in front of me who was holding a small baby. She yelled at him in Hebrew to come back, and then he called me over and said it was because I hadn’t given her my passport, which she hadn’t told me to do.

There are times when I ignore soldiers’ authority because I believe they should have none, but this was not one of those times. I had never been through this contraption before and did not want to hold up the people behind me, but I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do. She began screaming at me in Hebrew when I went back, I told her I didn’t understand, and then she said in Hebrew, “Fine, I’ll speak in English! Give me your passport!” I put the passport down in the tiny hole, she took it, and the man with the baby told me she was saying “Fuck you” and other nice things to me in Hebrew. I got my passport back and she began to bark orders at others again, pressing the magic button to open the next turnstyle for me to exit. I walked out disgusted, with the man and his family watching to make sure I was okay.

I wanted to throw up. Or any number of other things I shouldn’t write here. I don’t know why I keep being surprised. Or maybe that’s not quite it. Maybe it’s just completely disgusted. And angry. I’ve been working in Palestine for just over 2 years, and I’ve seen the street next to Qalandiya go from a street to the Wall to the terminal. I was here 5 months ago and it looked so different. And meanwhile I’m working for long-term change and leading groups around the West Bank for American Jewish people to learn about the situation and maybe change some of their understanding and maybe tell some others about that and… what about the here and now? As always, time is on Israel’s side. Palestinians cannot afford to wait. And yet what can they do? I watched all the young Palestinian men joking around inside the terminal as they waited to be yelled at in Hebrew and maybe let through, and I wondered, as I often do here, where all the anger goes.

I hope I never get so used to this that it doesn’t enrage me.

Happy new year to those for whom this is a new year – let’s hope it brings more justice than the last one.

For Pictures and more on Qalandiya terminal see Machsom Watch Roni Hammermann’s report