Opinion |

Renovated Checkpoints for Palestinians Are Nothing but Crumbs of Mercy

The right to freedom of movement applies to Jews only and is translated into a regime of prohibitions and permits, set up by Israel

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
A woman passes through the Qalandiyah checkpoint.
A woman passes through the Qalandiyah checkpoint. Credit: Emil Salman
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Haaretz editors remarked that my last story on upgraded border checkpoints lacked a tone of criticism. I partly plead guilty. When I started describing the improvements, I quickly realized that the thousand-odd words allotted wouldn’t suffice for analytical and critical remarks regarding the entire system of checkpoints.

Some would say this is a problem besetting any writer – the need to leave out details due to space restrictions. I would argue that the problem is mainly ours, the writers and reporters working outside the mainstream and the agenda dictated by the army. We need more words and reader attention to describe reality as it is, then to explain, analyze and conceptualize it.

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Readers are bombarded daily by official reports that distort reality, and by semiofficial news that leave out whatever doesn’t fit the official talking points or the comfortable picture most of the Jewish public would like to envisage. Even this somewhat apologetic introduction robs precious space from the main issue – a few critical perspectives on the upgraded checkpoints.

* These are checkpoints (the Hebrew term is more accurate: blocking points), not crossings, as the defense establishment likes to call them. They’re not neutral facilities through which every traveler between the occupied West Bank and Israel must pass, but constructions that block the passage of most Palestinians and don’t apply at all to Jews.

Palestinians pass through the renovated Checkpoint 3000, Bethlehem, May 23, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

* The checkpoints are one of the multiple physical expressions of a regime of geo-ethnic segregation applied by Israel on both sides of the Green Line. No upgrading will change the fact that between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there are two legal systems, one for Jews and one for Palestinians. The right to freedom of movement and its corollaries (freedom to find employment and choose a place of residence, freedom to choose a partner, freedom to hike and travel) apply to Jews only. This right is chopped and bestowed on Palestinians in small portions, to the point where one can define the different Palestinian groups according to the portion of chopped freedom of movement we have deigned to allot them.

* This clipped freedom of movement is translated into a regime of prohibitions and permits, set up by Israel. Behind every laborer, merchant or sick person crossing the upgraded checkpoint at Qalandiyah in seven minutes instead of one hour or three, there are many days when he or she waits for a reply to an application, wandering from one office to another, phoning an office without receiving a reply, begging, being asked to collaborate with the Shin Bet security service, being humiliated. Behind every person with a permit there are dozens who are turned down.

* Palestinians’ dependence on Israel for finding employment was created by Israel’s policy to sabotage the Palestinians’ potential for economic development.

* The checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel are part of a larger system that includes mobile checkpoints, barbed wire, ditches, the separation barrier and its usually closed agricultural gates, closed military firing zones (open to Jewish settlers), iron gates at the entrances to villages and towns, earth and stone barricades and security zones around each Jewish settlement. These were all built on the pretext of security considerations, but their aim is one: to cut Palestinian space into enclaves, to isolate them from one another and remove Palestinians from their land so that it can quickly become real estate for Jews only. This objective is achieved every minute of every day.

Palestinians pass through the renovated Checkpoint 3000, Bethlehem, May 23, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

* The checkpoints at Qalandiyah and Bethlehem give the impression of being a “border crossing” between two entities, even though only residents of the enclaves are meant to pass through, and even that is subject to conditions and restricted quotas. Military officials refer to them as “crossing points between the West Bank and Israel for the area’s population” (namely the ones under occupation, lacking basic civil rights). But these checkpoints aren’t on the Green Line. The Qalandiyah checkpoint is in an area that was illegally attached, as war booty, to the empire’s capital, Jerusalem. The Bethlehem checkpoint is located 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) south of the Green Line.

* We should visit all 13 checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel to see if the upgrading by the defense establishment was thorough and extensive, not only done at the two checkpoints most exposed to the eye of foreigners, cameras, Israeli organizations and the media.

* I was told that from the time these checkpoints were first constructed, military officials were aware that passing through them would mean hours of wasted time. Some officials realized over time how ugly and humiliating those cage-like facilities were.

So why were they built that way to begin with? One might say because of the urgency, at the end of the second intifada, when Israel’s streets were ruled by fear following the suicide bombings. But the architecture faithfully reflected, without any reservations, the contempt felt by the ruler to the ruled. Humiliation is a must in the arsenal of domination, because this way it’s easier to justify the master race’s incessant demands in its quest for more privileges.

This was at a time when the masters’ conduct could still be interpreted as a necessary but passing exception. Nowadays, when the imperious reality has become so entrenched – and the few people feeling discomfort with it are branded enemies of the people – another tool is at the ruler’s disposal: throwing crumbs of mercy to the local population.

* There’s one more aspect I planned to address, but space is limited.

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