14th February 2017 | International Solidarity Movement, al-Khalil team | Hebron, occupied Palestine
Israeli forces, again, or rather still, are using their impunity as occupiers to humiliate, harass and intimidate Palestinians and internationals crossing Shuhada checkpoint in occupied al-Khalil (Hebron).
The Israeli forces at this checkpoint sit behind bullet proof glass in a closed checkpoint-box, that nobody can see into. Anyone attempting to pass rings a bell to alert the soldiers inside, then waits for the soldiers to release the turnstile, which leads into the closed box. There you can see soldiers playing on their phones, gossiping, or even sleeping. When you enter the box, you have to put all your belongings, shopping, handbags, phones, change, and anything from your pockets on the table, before passing through the metal detector.
Then, depending on the soldiers’ mood and whim, you might be allowed simply to leave and go on your way, or you could be asked to unpack all your bags, pass through the metal detector again (even if you didn’t set it off). You might be asked to show your ID or passport, or asked for your resident’s number (all Palestinian residents of Tel Rumeida have been registered and assigned numbers since the declaration of the area as a closed military zone since 1st November 2015).
Some soldiers are entirely uninterested in the whole process and allow people to pass without further ado, but many seem to enjoy the almost infinite power bestowed upon them with their Israeli army uniform. This stretches from making Palestinians wait in the rain and ignoring the bell they need to ring to come through, to asking people to go back again and again through the metal detector for no reason, put babys on the ground in freezing temperatures, or denying them passage completely even after finding their resident’s number on the list. Palestinian school students and teachers attempting to reach their school are not exempted from this treatment.
But it goes even beyond that.
Soldiers often act without any clear rationale except disruption. For example, last week a soldier yelled at a woman to take off her shoes, as they set off the metal detector. She goes through every day and the soldiers know that the shoes are what sets off the alarm, which she points out to him. But today he starts yelling and tells her to shut up. She refuses to take off her shoes and the soldier comes into the checkpoint box, uncomfortably close to her, yelling that he thinks she might have something else on her body. This alone can be considered a threat, as Israeli soldiers have shot a number of Palestinians at checkpoints here in the last year on the suspicion of ‘having a knife’, not necessarily attacking with it or even having it in their hand. It is impossible to get new kitchen knives home from the shops for just this reason.
In the end, the soldier, meticulously and with a grin on his face, goes through the woman’s bag, ignoring the plastic-bag of groceries right next to the handbag on the table. The purpose is to harass, humiliate and intimidate, to make life difficult and hateful for the Palestinians who need to pass through several times daily. Meanwhile growing numbers of Palestinians gather outside waiting to get through and home, hoping that it is not their turn to be humiliated by this occupying army.
Being yelled at, insulted, humiliated and harassed is rather the norm than the exception. It’s a calculated norm intended to make Palestinians’ life so unbearable that they will leave the area easing the way for more settlement expansion in the centre of the city. This, under international law is called creating a ‘coercive environment’ for ethnic cleansing, a war crime.