The other day as we were travelling through Zatara checkpoint between Ramallah and Nablus, I witnessed a particularly disgusting display of power by the Israeli army. An extremely public humiliation of a woman, who was taken out of a shared taxi and had her ID and phone removed. She was fighting back the tears, trying to retain her dignity, but was clearly distressed. Everything about the soldiers interaction exuded contempt for her. One in particular was clearly getting something from “punishing” her. We were prevented from speaking to her, which made our ability to intervene somewhat limited. What we were able to do was remain present until she was released. Most of the time I do not feel very effective; the most I can do is be present.
Apparently her ID did not “allow” her to travel to another part of the West Bank. Apart from being extremely punitive, excessively controlling and frankly wrong by any book, it is also arbitary. The rules of the game change. I have been in shared taxis with people who have been turned back…. ‘last week’ they could make that journey, ‘yesterday’ they could make that journey, ‘next week’ they ‘may’ be able to make it, but today “NO”. After a while I feel like I can never hear the word “LO” again (Hebrew for “no”), it is barked and shouted countless times a day, controlling so much of day to day life for Palestinians.
After an hour, on this bitterly cold day, the soldier returned the woman’s ID. He simply took it out of his pocket and gave it to her. Clearly she was not a “security threat”. Detaining her, frightening her, and publically humiliating her, were blatantly intended to make sure she would not attempt this journey again. I was enraged. The soldiers are boys with guns and egos. They have so much power in a situation that is impossible for them to understand with their conditioning and youth.
At this same checkpoint, in this same period of time, another situation was unfolding. It was hidden away and not for public view. I became suspicious and approached a soldier and border policeman; it was then that I saw a boy of around 15 years, sat hunched behind a concrete bollard, hidden from view, his face wet with tears. He looked petrified. He has good reason to be.
Every single person in Palestine will know someone who has been arrested or detained. Ill treatment is commonplace, and torture is far from being eradicated. I have no idea how long the boy had been held for. He was in tears as the soldiers were speaking to him, but fortunately he was “allowed” to go.
Recently I was travelling through Nablus to a nearby village, the taxi driver pointed out a street where, just half an hour before, the army shot dead a man. Apparently a targetted assasination. Five other people were injured, one seriously. “Normal life” (whatever ‘that’ is living under
Occupation) continues just a few streets away.
My time here is coming to a close, I am in a quiet, reflective mood. From all the conversations I have had, with countless people, two things are screaming out for attention. One is the overriding sense that things are getting worse. And worse. And worse. I was not here during the bloody years of the Intifada, but I think it is absolutely vital to understand that although the bloodshed and violence is less, the situation is worse. The oppressive control, which works on every level, mental and physical, is steadily going to new levels. One of the women I am working with grew up under Apartheid in South Africa. Along with several other South African activists who are here in the West Bank, she says that Apartheid here is ‘even worse’ than it was in South Africa. This has not been said lightly. The other thing I am forever requested, “tell people what is happening”.