19 May 2017
Hate is easy to develop. I do not like to hate, but I am human and standing at 7:30 hours in the checkpoint from Ramallah – Palestinian Westbank – back to Israel, I can see how it works. Maybe even feel it. I am surrounded by mostly Palestinian men and women well in their 50ties or much older. It is Friday morning and they wish to go and pray in Jerusalem at the Al Aqsa mosque in the Old City.
I was not supposed to be there, between them, that morning, but the previous day there were protests at the checkpoint. There is a group of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, almost for over a month and their situation is getting precarious. They went on hunger strike, because most of them are held without any official charges and they want an overall improvement of their treatment in prison. My driver commented ‘maybe they [referring to Israeli authorities] will give them one or two things, but if they die they don’t care.’ Family members are protesting to get attention and while I was working with a colleague in Ramallah on Thursday they started to desperately block the checkpoint. Trying also to stop UN and other NGO vehicles to get international attention. Later I heard that colleagues who passed earlier already had to face stone throwing and had to drive over rocks. By the time I was supposed to go back to Jerusalem, the Palestinian authorities were shooting in the air in order to disperse the crowd, but clashes kept going on. After discussing with my colleague and security officer we decided it was better I would leave early next morning and would stay at my colleague’s apartment for the night. It was a generous offer, which even came with fresh pink underwear and a new snoopy pyjama and her giving up her bed and sharing her room with her two sisters. They thought that was more than normal to do, because that was how the situation is. Kindness in the middle of madness.
It is the next morning, and I have to get up early for my colleague to put me on the bus. The bus that will drive through the checkpoint however turns out to be cancelled – normally they leave foreigners on the bus and you can pass without much trouble. With the change of situation it means I can only go to the checkpoint by bus, have to pass it on foot and then get on the bus on the other side. My colleague makes sure some ladies on the bus will take care of me. On the bus to the checkpoint, I am strangely overcome by this ‘schooltrip’ feeling, the only difference is not the excitement over something fun, but feeling slightly anxious of the coming experience. A feeling of not knowing exactly what might happen, but more of not knowing exactly how I will or should react and with an echo of a story of the day before where a man apparently was shot in cold blood at another checkpoint. The video was going round quickly, but I could not bare to watch it.
Not long after, I arrive at the checkpoint, and quickly hurry after the people getting off the bus. None of them speak English, but I am pulled along over a parking lot and to the entry of the revolving gates that are in between barred gates and covered by barbed wire. A checkpoint is all about intimidation, and the truth of the matter is, it does. While standing and simply observing my surroundings a lady starts to talk to me in a heavy American accent. ‘This is a good experience for you, more people should know this. This wasn’t here when I left 39 years ago, but I now experience what my aunt and cousins experience every day.’ She is incredibly friendly and asks me where I am from and we start a conversation amidst all those waiting. Soon after the revolving gate starts to open and we cam go one step deeper into the checkpoint. Out of the corner of my eye I can see an already middle-aged man pleading with an Israeli soldier to let his clearly much older companion pass quickly, but there is no compassion. They have to wait, just like the rest. Again, we wait for a revolving gate, and I feel embarrassed. The ‘American lady’ starts to push me forward, ‘you can pass easily, you have a visa.’ Every time there is a beep, 2 or 3 people can pass through the revolving gate and will see the Israeli soldiers in the booth that will do the ID check. Although quite a few pass, it does not take long and a man that gets send back. He is clearly upset. The American lady comments again. ‘Every day the waiting, and they never know whether they can go, or whether they wait for nothing.’ If I already feel disempowered through the situation, how will this man feel?
A somewhat heated discussion between all my fellow waiting Palestinians starts, clearly all of them well above middle age waiting to go and pray in Jerusalem. Some are apparently in favour to let me go first, like the American lady, others are just eager to take their own place as fast as possible. Totally understandable, but probably one of the oldest man there, a near toothless round bellied man with a friendly smile and authority manages to calm people down and I am literally pushed to stand in front of the revolving gate. My turn is next.
The beep goes off, and the I pull out my passport. Two Israeli soldiers are at the gate, one sitting straight in front of the window, the other, a woman with waving hair, hanging on a chair to the side, with her feet on a desk. A pretence of either total indifference or simply not knowing how to deal with the situation. Either way, there is no smiles anymore and my passport causes some confusion. I stand there for 10 minutes or so and they keep on flipping through my passport. There are no real questions, and all I can think is I’m wasting even more time of the people who really need to wait here and then something stronger takes hold of me. After the anxiety, I can sense hate. The hate in me for this situation, the hate of a totally fucked up system, and the disappointment that it will most likely never improve. And especially the latter makes me hate it even more. I don’t want to feel it towards the person in front of me, but I do. How so many Palestinians manage not to act out on this day-in-day-out humiliation is for me a miracle. They probably already know for a long time, to hate or not to, that’s the only choice you have to keep your own real freedom.