by Ashraf, 7th November
Today at 9 in the morning, a group of 30 students from my university in Jenin left to attend a conference and an exhibit of Information Technology held in Ramallah. IT students were invited to visit a joint Palestinian market of different Palestinian computer and software companies.
The first checkpoint we reached came a few minutes after leaving the campus just outside the village of Zababdeh. Two Israeli army jeeps controlled the road, stopping cars traveling in one direction. It was not long till we were stopped at our second checkpoint outside Buckram. The army forced us to leave the bus and wait on the side of the street. Two soldiers went inside to check our bags, while anther two soldiers checked our IDs. After 10 minutes we were allowed back in the car. The driver stopped just few a meters ahead waiting for them to finish checking our IDs.
We finally got our IDs back after 30 minutes of waiting. The next checkpoint was Za’atara, one of the biggest in the West Bank. It separates the central and southern regions of the West Bank. A large white sign acted as a propaganda message at the checkpoint. It has the picture of a large red flower along with a greeting written in Arabic “Kol A’am Wa Antum Bi Khayer” – “wish you good health every year”. In this way Israel hope to polish and consolidate the checkpoints, hoping to legitimize their daily humiliation of Palestinians.
Our bus was stopped again for more ID checks. Some students got bored of waiting and got out for a cigarette. I sat at the back of the bus watching the traffic. Soldiers denied the passage of an old man with an x-ray, and two women with a baby. Welcome to the “Kol A’am Wa Inta Bikhayer” checkpoint.
I recognized one of the female Israeli soldiers from the Huwarra checkpoint, just a few kilometers to the north. She is notorious for her humiliating treatment of Palestinian passengers. She was obviously in charge here. Three soldiers approached the bus holding our IDs divided into two stacks. We were told to move our bags off the bus for checking and to stand in a line. One soldier started calling our names. We were forced to walk forward a few steps, lift up our shirts so as to prove that we were not wearing explosive belts around our waists, then wait on the side with our backs facing the soldiers. I was the third to be called. I was given my ID back and told to open my bag. The soldier ordered me to lift up my shirt, but I refused to submit to that and instead I tucked it in and walked away without waiting for the soldier’s order. One of the soldiers laughed and said in Hebrew to the female soldier that I hadn’t lifted up my shirt.
After 5 minutes, only the students who had been given their IDs back were allowed to pass. The rest -almost half of the group- were turned back. I walked towards the soldier who it seemed was in charge and asked in English “are you the one who is in charge here?”. She smiled and answered she was. I explained the reason for our trip and that we are all students from one group going to a conference in Ramallah, “why can’t they come with us?” I asked. She replied in slow broken English that: “they shouldn’t be here, they are not allowed”.
“Why? You have a computer here, check their IDs and let us all go. You know what you are doing, right?” I asked
“I can’t do that – I listen to what they tell me to do”.
“Listen to who?”.
“Them, my boss” she said, raising her hand up. I asked again: “but you know what you are doing, right? Don’t you think this is injustice?” She ended the exchange with the answer: “this is my job, it’s orders!”
Orders! What kind of order asks every Palestinian passing through a checkpoint to get close to soldiers and lift up their shirt for “security checks”? What if a Palestinian was really hiding something? Can’t the soldiers see how stupid these procedures and orders are? Or maybe these orders are not really meant for security.
We headed back into the bus arguing what we should do at this point. Some tried to talk to the soldiers again, but made no progress. As we were talking, a young Israeli soldier, apparently from a different army unit came over. He yelled at the crowd of students and grabbed one of us aggressively by his bag and led him to the other side of the street. I got out of the bus and asked the female soldier loudly: “why is he doing this? Where is he taking my friend?” she said in Hebrew “he is Magav” (the notoriously brutal Israeli border police). Was this one of the orders too?
The students who were denied entry then split into two new vehicles. They headed back towards Huwarra so as to try and find a road around the Za’atara checkpoint they had been turned back from. When they found a road, the first car was turned back at a flying checkpoint “for security reasons”, but the second one was allowed through. Maybe there was an order for them to only let one of the two cars pass. The denied car eventually found another road that they were allowed to pass through.
We waited in a small village after Za’atara for our colleagues to arrive. While we waited we all (even the bus driver) went olive picking with a Palestinian family near Assawiya village. It was a new atmosphere to change our mood. We swapped jokes at the end of the day after 7 hours of traveling about how we finally made it all together despite the dehumanizing checkpoints.