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The alternate title for this post was going to be “Areas, Areas Everywhere.”

Why, you might ask? Because although my previous posts have speculated about the difficulties of living in the West Bank and traveling for the Palestinian people (and me, and other internationals), I have never actually laid out the official rules regarding the governance of the West Bank (because I figured since I know them, everyone does… which is not a fair thing to assume).

Under the Oslo Accords (which, the more I see them implemented on the ground, the more I think it was a mistake for both sides in many ways), the West Bank was split into three areas of political governance. Area A is land directly under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Area B is in some cases under Palestinian control, but usually has anywhere from partial to nearly-complete ruling based on the Israeli military. Area C is fully under the military occupation of the IDF, which runs a military judicial system in lieu of a civil one, and thus lets all sorts of settlers do whatever they please in the area.

The checkpoints one hears about in the news are well-fortified areas on main roads where the IDF mans cement fortified guard booths, with their M16s pointed at oncoming traffic while one of their compatriots stands aside and motions cars ahead one by one, to check papers, and sometimes trunks, and sometimes full body searches. Not so pleasant to go through, to say the very least.

For more details, I encourage you to go check out this report by the Israeli peace group Peace Now (so therefore more solid facts and less editorializing that a more biased group might put into this sort of report).

The reality of the West Bank (not even thinking of Gaza, which is fenced and walled in and surrounded by quite a few guns) – it is well and truly a military occupation for all of Area C, and a fair portion of both Area A and Area B. Israelis and supporters of Israel will be inclined to refute the preceding sentence, perhaps making claims that “it is necessary for security” or something similar. While they are welcome to their opinions, I would suggest two things. First of all, I have gone through the Calendia checkpoint into Jerusalem multiple times, and once near a group of Jewish American people. They were outraged that they had to wait in such a large press of people to get through, and couldn’t fathom why they wasn’t a quicker line for American people, since “we didn’t do anything wrong so why do we have to wait?” American impatience aside, perhaps they need to more carefully listen to what they themselves said; well golly gee, could it possibly be that maybe the majority of Palestinian are just as innocent and therefore are also highly inconvenienced and psychologically-hurt from constantly being treated like a probable criminal? Perhaps they too would like to have a “fast line” for the innocent – and I can guarantee you, the majority of them would pass through that line and be just as innocent when they came out as when they entered the queue.

Secondly, for those advocates of “security” via the checkpoint/military occupation method, I would challenge them to go through one of those checkpoints, just once. No need to go far out into the West Bank – just go out of Calendia and then join the line to come back in. Be prepared – it takes a very long time, sometimes several hours. Be prepared to enter what is essentially a prison (or far worse, depending on what one makes of what they see). You will come up to a warehouse, and then enter a queue to go through extremely narrow metal fences. Like, my shoulders are broad enough where I am almost forced to walk through at an angle. The huge metal bars of the fence are accompanied by metal fencing across the top of the vertical walls, thus caging a person in (think like a prison, or far, far worse). At the end of this narrow Alcatraz-style corridor is a turnstile with ratchets (to only allow people to go in), and with an electronic locking mechanism to only allow a certain number of people through at a time. I shudder when I think about the number of lives that would be lost in the event of a fire in that hellhole.

Passing through the first turnstile, the mood was set by a girl in the IDF screaming in the microphone (from within her tank-armored little building) at a pair of Palestinian mothers with twins trying to get her attention to let them through the handicapped with their stroller. The girl in the IDF was rudely calling for someone who spoke both Hebrew and Arabic to show themselves and assist the IDF with its business… because 1) why would they assign Arabic-speakers to a checkpoint used almost completely by Arabic people; and 2) why would politeness be a good idea when attempting to solicit help from the people around her? Anyways, with the cacophony of her shrill interrogative speech in the background, I cued up underneath a bank of 5 CCTV cameras, always watching everyone in the place. If the high metal fences, barbed wire, steel armor-plated command rooms, and low-sound quality police-style loudspeakers didn’t already make the character of the place clear, the fact that we were constantly being watched only added to the “fun” of the experience.

There was a man several people ahead of me who got through with two other Arab guys, as they only let 3 people through Security Turnstile #2 at a time. This poor man was late for some sort of important meeting, I gleaned from the people in the crowd around me. He had papers with him, and yet after politely explaining himself, and then more hurriedly pleading, then outright yelling, then begging to be let through, the soldiers would not let him pass. As a matter of fact, they told him that he would have to pass through the Huwarra checkpoint before getting into Jerusalem again. Well, “they” isn’t quite right – an IDF grunt came out of his armored room with full battle gear and weapon at the ready to “explain.” The individual who called himself a soldier added insult to injury – while telling the man what he needed to do, he refused to make eye contact with him even once. I cannot explain why – perhaps he is very racist and doesn’t like Arabs (which I have seen in soldiers here), but more likely he was uncomfortable that he was the one chosen to tell this poor man he had to go all the way to Huwarra. Huwarra, where the Arab guy just came from. Huwarra, which is an hour and 15 minutes drive to the north. The dejected man left and started to the north… again, because he had no choice when the “legitimized” force of the military compelled him to do so.

This would all be accompanied by photographs, but the IDF doesn’t take kindly to people recording the truth.

I suppose that there is only one way to end this post – I truly have to pose the following question, as many people seem to have never thought of it. At the end of the day, it is truly worth treating human beings like hardened criminals and animals, and forcing them to wait for long periods of time for a sort of Russian Roulette to get see if they’ll get through the gate this time? Besides the fact that this only causes hurt and doesn’t create too much in the way of “security,” consider the further implications. Do supporters of the military occupation as a method of achieving “security” REALLY believe that treating the innocent, both young and old, like prisoners is really going to incline them to want to like Israel, or coexist with Israel, or even acknowledge Israel as a country; as an equal?

Watchtower and High Fences

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