Opinion |

Unlike Stolen Land, the Palestinians' Stolen Time Cannot Be Returned

Checkpoints are an intentional operation whose direct result is shortening the active lives of the Palestinians. The Israeli army's soft sadism

Amira Hass
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Israeli soldiers at the Qalandiya Checkpoint.
Israeli soldiers at the Qalandiya checkpoint.Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS
Amira Hass

The IDF trains its soldiers in soft and effective sadism too, not the physical type but the psychological. Every day the mission of dozens of 18- to 20-year-old soldiers is to steal the time of hundreds of Palestinians of all ages, to grind it into a batter of frayed nerves, missed meetings, uncertainty, canceled doctor’s appointments, being late for dinner with the children. This order is carried out through the use of internal checkpoints in the West Bank – those with a permanent infrastructure and those movable, flying checkpoints. (Theft of time at the exit checkpoints from the West Bank is sadism of a slightly different form.)

The checkpoints are an intentional, armed operation whose direct result is shortening the active, creative lives of the Palestinians by, say, half an hour or an hour every day. The stolen time is invisible. It is impossible to touch and it does not bleed. The lost time is not that of Jews in a traffic jam, so the stopping of life is not “news.” Even more so when it is a routine activity, the very opposite of new. After all, aside from blood, the press loves “exceptions” and anything that is out of the ordinary.

But writing about the ordinary is what this column is about. For example: On Tuesday, November 10, at 9:30 P.M., a very long line of cars waited behind the fixed military checkpoint at the northeastern exit of Ramallah – El Bireh. The tail of the line was in the City Inn square, on Nablus Road, its head was under the shed of the checkpoint, between its cement blocks, about 400 meters long. The lights of the cars froze in place. I was traveling in the direction of Ramallah. The entry lane through the checkpoint was clear. I saw from there in the exit lane one car being delayed, and two soldiers next to it. It didn’t move and all the cars behind it were stuck in place.

I didn’t stop on the side until the line of cars began to move. I didn’t get out of the car to ask the armed soldiers what was going on. This is a checkpoint that pedestrians are not allowed to pass through. I didn’t feel like laying my own body on the line to see whether the soldiers adhere to orders on stopping a suspect (by yelling “stop” and not immediately firing at the pedestrian). But even without inquiring, I knew from experience: Such a long line that is not advancing, at a time that is not rush hour – has been stuck like this for a long while. Not a single driver dared to honk and reveal their irritation. The quiet from the cars cried out a sort of compliance with the situation and apparent obedience. Underneath, there was molten lava.

Three days later, on Friday, November 13, at around 4:15 P.M., I drove on the Bir Zeit – Nabi Saleh road. At the entrance to the small village of Atara stood two lines of cars: One facing the exit and one facing into the village. Two armed soldiers stood in the middle. If there was a military jeep there – I didn’t notice it. The cars, wrapped in compliance, were not moving.

This time, too, I didn’t stop. I was in a hurry, and I also feared that the soldiers would take revenge on the Palestinian drivers and make the delay longer if I started asking questions. I continued to the west. At the entrance to the village of Nabi Saleh the same sight could be seen: Two lines of cars, two soldiers, and the cars waiting and waiting. That same day 16 flying checkpoints were set up in the West Bank. At one of them a person was detained, according to the report from the PLO’s negotiations department. On November 15, there were 18 flying checkpoints and two days later, 12. How much power to do harm is in the hands of two soldiers with rifles.

I sent the following questions to the IDF Spokesman: Concerning the permanent checkpoint – was this a specific car that was checked for a long time, and as a result the long line was formed, or was it a routine check of every single car? Was an arrest made at the scene? When was the jam “cleared”? Why, when a car is delayed at this checkpoint, for any reason whatsoever, is it not placed on the side (for example, like at the Hizma checkpoint where settlers and other Israelis pass through), so dozens of other drivers won’t suffer from the same delay?

As for the two flying checkpoints, I asked: “Are these routine checkpoints in this area, on Friday? If not, was there a special reason for placing them in these two villages on Friday, and what was it? Since when and until when were those checkpoints placed that day? Were any arrests made?”

And this is the IDF Spokesman’s Office’s reply–non-reply to my questions: “IDF forces carry out a range of operational activities for the purpose of protecting the security of the residents [read, the settlers – A.H.] in the Judea and Samaria region. As part of these activities, the forces place mobile checkpoints on the road from time to time, and carry out checks according to the relevant situation assessments and intelligence information. This is an effective operation tool and often suspects and weapons are caught as a result of these operational activities. It should be emphasized that alongside the operational necessity of these activities, IDF forces make all possible effort to preserve the normal routine of those traveling on the roads.”

The normal routine of a foreign and forced military regime also involves psychological abuse of the subjects and their humiliation. The control over the time of the subjects complements control over their land, only that time cannot be regained.

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