A Toddler, a Tantrum and Trauma at the Sheikh Jarrah Checkpoint

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Israeli security forces stand guard to prevent Palestinians from passing through an Israeli Police checkpoint at the entrance of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem
Israeli security forces stand guard to prevent Palestinians from passing through an Israeli Police checkpoint at the entrance of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East JerusalemCredit: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

As a new grandfather I sometimes have the great pleasure of watching my two-year-old granddaughter Tia for a few hours. But as we know, all good things must come to an end. My daughter, Tia’s mother, was waiting at home for Grandpa to bring back the baby. I put the car seat in the car, strapped her in and drove from my home in Beit Safafa to Sheikh Jarrah where my daughter and her husband live.

At the entrance to the East Jerusalem neighborhood, I came to a checkpoint. I stopped and rolled down the window. A police officer approached us. As soon as he came up to the window, Tia started crying, “Grandpa, close the window." She screamed like a monster was approaching her. I talked with the policeman. I am sure he is like any other person, able to feel and identify the whole range of human emotions. I explained to him that I was returning my granddaughter to her mother. Tia kept begging me to close the window.

The policeman responded with the coldness and arrogance of someone who is used to controlling other people’s lives, and told me I had to turn back, that I was not permitted to enter the neighborhood, that he would not let me do so.

I tried to appeal to his humanity, but he would not budge. He turned his back and started talking on the phone. During the hour I waited there, Jewish settlers went in and out of the neighborhood without any problem. As soon as they came up to the checkpoint, it was opened for them. Only for them. Lords of the land and the neighborhood.

I waited in the car. There were several armed Border Police officers around. After the policeman finished his phone call, I repeated my request, but he kept insisting, in the same cold and arrogant tone, that I was not allowed to pass through. When I raised my voice, demanding my right to pass and to return the baby to her mother who was waiting for her at home, one of the policeman pointed his weapon at me. Everyone who was at the checkpoint, about eight police officers and Border Police personnel, men and women, looked like they were ready to pull me out of the car at any moment, to attack me and arrest me. And meanwhile, Tia’s fear and crying never stopped.

Tia wanted to hug her mother and asked for her mother, and I tried again to ask them to honor my right to pass through the checkpoint and bring her home. But the police officers warned, amid screams and threats, that if I didn’t leave, they would have to use force against me. At this point one of the policemen reminded me that I had a little girl with me, so I should move away from there. I thanked him for the surprising display of compassion and asked, if in the name of this same compassion, he might let Tia get back to her mother. It reminded me of the tale of the hunter who caught a pair of birds. As he was about to kill them, a speck of dust got into his eye and a tear trickled down his cheek. Then one bird said to the other: How noble he is, crying over us from the bottom of his heart. Crying as he sharpened the knife.

Out of concern for my granddaughter, I was forced to turn back. I felt all the anger in the world building up inside me. I felt smothered, it was hard to breathe. I felt the oppression and control that millions of people suffer every single day. I felt what it means to live under an apartheid regime – as right before my eyes, Jews kept entering the neighborhood, no questions asked. The gates opened for them, and only for them.

The Palestinians who live in Jerusalem live with this reality every day. They have to live their lives under occupation and under apartheid. They pay a high price for their resistance, but the price is low compared to surrendering to the daily official violence.

Many Israelis act like they don’t understand this, but there is no power in the world, regardless of the level of violence used, that can erase a people, make it forget its history or cease defending its existence.

My granddaughter is just learning to talk, but she understood the deeper meaning of the checkpoint, which prevented her from getting to her home. Tia received a lesson, and made her feelings known in the clearest possible way: She rejected having others control her future. Yes, they controlled her grandparents, and they still control her parents, but they won’t control her.

The writer is the director of field research at B’tselem and the organization’s Arabic-language spokesman.

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