When passing through the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, a middle-aged man guided me a couple of steps to the left, ensuring that I entered the checkpoint as opposed to the taxi stand.
I was only a step behind as I followed him through the metal one person-deep maze that snaked its way into the checkpoint compound, all the while noticing the razor wire and watchtower in front, and the graffiti on the wall to the left.
The checkpoint compound itself was enclosed on either side by the Israeli "Separation Wall" which has been deemed illegal by the highest court in the world, the International Court of Justice. It is simultaneously a concrete manifestation and symbolic reminder of Israel's ongoing colonization of Palestine. Even as a Canadian who does not need to fear the Wall annexing my home, preventing me from attending school, or separating me from my community, I found it to be immensely intimidating.
After entering the checkpoint compound through an electronically-controlled turnstile, operated by armed teenage soldiers sitting in a booth barking orders through a loud speaker , I witnessed and took part in a scene that subtly told a powerful story of privilege, power, and discrimination. This gentleman, who likely must wait at checkpoints like this multiple times each day, took out his belongings, put them on a conveyer belt and walked through a metal detector. After it beeped, he went back, took off his belt and shoes, and repeated the process. He then showed his passport to the seemingly disinterested soldier sitting behind a glass booth before placing his hand on some sort of finger-print identification device.
Following after him, I walked through the metal detector, flashing my Canadian passport and thereby avoiding any hassle.
After showing my passport to another soldier behind another glass booth twenty meters away, passing through another electronically-controlled turnstile and leaving the checkpoint compound, I caught up with the man as we waited for the bus to ask him what the finger-print mechanism was.
"No, it’s only for Palestinians,” he responded. He then asked, in a deflated, distracted tone: “You know about Israel’s occupation of Palestine?”
His response was striking for its utter lack of irony…
In my short stay here, I have witnessed a great deal of absurdity: The settler roads that cut through the heart of illegally occupied Palestinian territory, which Palestinians are not allowed to drive on...The illegal wall that cuts through Palestinian villages, splitting families in two, separating child from classroom, community from hospital, farmer from land...The settlers who immigrate to Israel from countries around the world and colonize Palestinian land to create Jewish only ‘settlements’...
Nevertheless, despite all of this, I considered this gentleman's question, as to whether or not I knew about the occupation, to be the most absurd question of all.
Had we not just walked together past a concrete barbed-wired topped wall, through a military compound staffed by teenage soldiers from an occupying military? Did he think I didn't realize that as a Palestinian, native to his land, he was harassed, made to wait, and fingerprinted, while as a foreigner I could zip by?
But then I thought more about this; maybe it wasn't such an unusual comment. This man must be used to people working at checkpoints, constructing the wall, demolishing homes, driving on apartheid roads and defending this racist system in it entirety.
I guess in this 'conflict', where people around the world look without seeing, where Orwellian political discourse is the norm, and a racist ideology has become celebrated national narrative, this simple question – which was loaded with the assumption that I was incapable of seeing what was right in front of my eyes – wasn't so absurd after all.
For more dispatches, visit Ben Saifer's blog .
© 2008 Ben Saifer; licensee (Cult)ure Magazine.
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