Where Hatred and Despair Are Fomented

All of the Israel Defense Forces checkpoints in the occupied territories are immoral and illegitimate. Therefore, they must be removed unconditionally. There is no place to discuss their security value.

All of the Israel Defense Forces checkpoints in the occupied territories are immoral and illegitimate. Therefore, they must be removed unconditionally. There is no place to discuss their security value. Even if someone were to succeed in proving that a connection exists between locking residents in their villages and preventing terrorist attacks in Israel - which is highly doubtful - that would make no difference one way or the other. A law-abiding state does not adopt immoral and illegitimate measures, whatever their value.

Equally irrelevant is the discussion about the physical conditions that exist at the checkpoints. Disgraceful as they are, improving them will add nothing to their legitimacy. The only question is why checkpoints exist deep in occupied territory? By what right? Only to satisfy the settlers and abuse the Palestinians? The question of whether the orders that IDF soldiers receive at the checkpoints are legal is also irrelevant. Is the soldier who let an injured boy go through the checkpoint at Beit Iba last week, but prevented the passage of a man who had a slipped disc moral? The answer is unimportant. The very fact that he is posted there, and the authority he is given to routinely deprive people of their basic right to move about freely in their country and in their village is immoral. So the IDF initiative to post Arabic-speaking soldiers at checkpoints is ludicrous. Depriving someone of his rights in Arabic is hardly any more just.

A state that defines itself as a democracy and law-abiding country does not imprison three-and-a-half million people in their villages and towns, slice up their country into strips, and declare roads for the use of Jews only. In Israel, though, the illegitimacy of the checkpoints is not enough to get them removed. The only discussion one occasionally hears has to do solely with their usefulness to security and the need to improve the soldiers' behavior.

A special committee that was established not long ago by the government coordinator of activities in the territories is examining the actions at four different IDF checkpoints. There is no need for a committee; all that has to be done is to dismantle them. Another initiative by Meretz MK Roman Bronfman, who last week convened a group of MKs that will visit IDF checkpoints and monitor events there, is praiseworthy. Like the article in Haaretz by former Tel Aviv mayor and retired major general Shlomo Lahat, who described what he saw at checkpoints, this new parliamentary initiative will be able to generate interest over what happens there. The MKs will see with their own eyes and will report to the public about the soldiers' behavior, the women in labor who are made to wait endlessly, the women who are forced to tell soldiers that they are bleeding so their hearts will soften, and the boy who tries to persuade a soldier to let him pass so he can visit his grandfather. But this welcome initiative must not focus on improving the conditions at the checkpoints; it must focus on getting them removed altogether.

Since the dawn of the occupation, the Palestinians have not been subjected to a harsher decree than the one that deprives them freedom of movement. The dozens of internal checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been augmented by hundreds of other obstacles: concrete blocks, earth ramparts, locked iron gates, fences, walls, surprise roadblocks, trenches and pits - a whole array of imprisonment methods. There is no other nation in the world today that is as incarcerated as the Palestinians have been, by us, for years. However, the majority of Israelis don't have a clue about the scale of the incarceration. The confusion that exists between the checkpoints on the 1967 Green Line, which are legitimate because they are the gates of entry into the country, and the internal checkpoints, which make up the majority and have no other purpose than to make life miserable for the population, helps blur the dimensions of the wickedness. Far from the eye, at checkpoints deep inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip an entire people is being subjected to humiliation as a matter of routine. This has nothing to do with security - or perhaps it does: the checkpoints are the great hothouse of terrorism. It is there that the hatred and the despair are fomented. "Humanitarian officers at the checkpoints?" That is a phrase that is as much an unacceptable internal contradiction as "enlightened occupation."

It's hard to imagine what it means to go through a checkpoint day in and day out - between Ramat Hasharon and Tel Aviv, say - with a foreign soldier who humiliates you, a huge line, and a good chance of being shamefully expelled back to where you came. In this spectacle, even the most humanitarian soldier plays a distinctly inhuman role. One day we will yet have to answer the questions that are not even on the public agenda now: Who gave us the right to control the fate of another people? By what right have we imprisoned millions of people for years? When that happens, the question of whether the soldier allowed the woman in labor to pass, or whether he knew Arabic, will become secondary, as it should be.