By Tamar Fleishman
While attending a march of support of the establishment a Palestinian state, a reporter from the Canadian television interviewed me. He asked whether I thought the Palestinians should take a non-violent approach in order to achieve their goals. I replied that the Palestinians must be masters of their own fate and that I am not in a position to advise them on that.
The question regarding non-violent resistance in relations to the upcoming “September”; “September” as a metaphor, reminded me of an event I had witnessed one evening at Bir-Zait checkpoint, an event that to me is a model and sign of true spirit.
I bring forth the documentation of the events I had witnessed that evening, as a symbol of hope towards the upcoming September:
One afternoon at Bir Zait checkpoint:
“This isn’t a checkpoint, it’s an inspection post”- said the soldier that was trying to get rid of us.
We reminded him that the Minister of Defense announced that there was to be no checkpoints on that road, and he replied: “Did the Minister of Defense also tell you that yesterday there were two armed men around here?”
No, the minister didn’t tell me about that. But I myself was sure that at that moment I could see not two, but seven armed men hanging around there. Israeli soldiers.
“Make sure you detain a flock,” one soldier yelled to his colleagues.
When we arrived the first “flock” (six men) were being inspected: Their IDs were placed on the ground, from fear of making physical contact, their shirts were pulled up, their legs were exposed and the entire content of the vehicle was examined, their entire luggage were emptied and shaken. Then the soldiers picked up the IDs and their details were given to some sort of a mysterious center. Only once the members of that “flock” were found “clean” were they released.
In the mean time the others waited in their vehicles with hesitation, an expression of deep despise on their faces. They wouldn’t dare to drive on until seeing the soldier signaling them out with his finger and rudely urging them: “move your ass son of a bitch…”
A new “flock” was then taken in: a bus of Palestinians, full of men, women and children.
The men were the first to be taken out. The whole ritual started all over again. The young men, and especially Yusef, the driver, appeared to be not as succumbed as the soldiers would expect, and while following orders the young Palestinians exhibited their ridicule towards the soldiers. The writing was on the wall- a macho game kicked off with a metallic sound of the weapons being cocked, the two groups got clustered, the soldiers gripped their gas and shock grenades and the atmosphere became highly charged. The commander rushed in and ordered his soldiers to disengage. Once everything settled down, an angry and bitter soldier, apparently unsatisfied with the result, approached Yusef and made a promise: “I’m not through with you yet”.
Time grew longer and the hours passed. The answer from the secret services regarding the clearance of those people was delayed. Abdullah, a young and agitated man, wandered around the place as though he owned it, and was rebuked. Abdullah didn’t take notice of this reproach and kept on doing as he did, he was then sent to a nearby thorny field as a punishment: “sit over there”. He was also directed as to the specific posture he must take- his back was turned to his friends and he was looking at the distant horizon, while the whole time a soldier’s rifle was pointed at his back to make sure he stayed in that very position even when his legs hurt and his bones stiffened.
An hour and a half after this event started, the commander ordered the women and children to load off the bus.
They now arranged another line up. They were ordered to place their IDs on the ground and to empty their bags.
At that point the soldiers realized that they hadn’t yet preformed a physical inspection on the men- each and every one of them was now inspected: shirts, shoes, belts, pockets…
What else? The uniformed men had a brainstorm and came up with the idea that Yusef (the driver) should perform the “Neighbor Procedure” (an action forbidden by international and Israeli law). He was told to unload all the language, the shopping bags, and all students back packs- anything that was inside the bus. He was told to open, to shack, to brows: new clothes , personal belongings, books, note books, new shoe boxes … it was a real and endless fest of violation of privacy, and it was all done in the name of security.
Since no bombs were found in their belongings and as the belts on their waists were just that and nothing more, they were all sent back to the vehicle and their IDs were handed back. All of them, apart from Yusef. After all they gave him their word… Yusef was taken away to the other side of the wall that surrounds the pillbox, and the gate was locked behind him.
The whole group sat silently inside the bus. They sat and waited. Then racket from inside the restricted area was heard: bashing, gun cocking and loud shouting. As though on signal, the men burst out from the bus’s door, they ran on towards the soldiers who were pointing their rifles at them, and yelled: “Kill us! Kill us! We want to die now! Bring our driver back”.
Chest to chest they stood – two groups of men, unequal in armament and yet equal.
The spokesman for the Palestinians, an elder gray haired man preached to the bullet-proof vested soldiers who were still pointing their rifles at the group, he listed aloud all the crimes and wrongs they have done.
Like an explosion of a volcano, an abscess that had been forming in the depth of these peoples’ bodies, during the long years of occupation, the mutiny burst and flooded the place with blinding lava that lit that god forsaken place from the darkness of night, right in front of the overwhelmed soldiers and before us, who were dazzled by the event.
There was no fear in their eyes or hearts.
Once the fear from the rifle had diminished, the upper hand of the armed side faded as well.
The weak became powerful, and there was nothing but that moment. An essential moment. It was the essence of years of occupation and oppression, preventions, humiliations and dehumanization.
(To watch a video documentation of the event, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/machsomwatchvid#p/u/15/5bcOX3ipa80.)
(Translated by Ruth Fleishman.)
As a member of Machsomwatch, once a week Tamar Fleishman heads out to document the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This documentation (reports, photos and videos) can be found on the organization’s site: www.machsomwatch.org. She is also a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.