Qalandiya, Fri 11.9.09, Morning
Third Friday of the Ramadan month
This was the day of the women
We are like sardines, not human beings" - A woman said.
"We cannot let the people with permits through because of the crowding. Many who are not eligible by the official criteria have come here and are forcing their way forward. I've been here since seven and I cannot get the old women through" - an officer said.
This report is about some of the proud women, a few of the many who stood upright, unvanquished by rifles, the scathing sun nor the frailty of their own bodies, women who ventured out early in the morning, heading for their holy shrine, wishing to offer prayers to their maker and practice their faith.
These are women whose world view is not anchored in either feminism or Marxism, who are not political, nor versed in human rights. Most of them live in a submissive, conservative religious reality. Their upbringing has not led them to break shackles but rather to bear the burden, accept daily toil and trouble and the sorrow of their heart with acquiescence.
But there comes a moment in the life of a society when the collective rises above the individual's conventions, when the general becomes the particular. This is a moment at which a point of support grows into a tremendous fulcrum in a magnificent show of pride and determination.
Perhaps these women, unfortunates arriving from distant parts, not speaking the language of the sovereign, perhaps they shall raise the torch of protest in the way we witnessed today - in non-violent protest, facing the gun-barrels proud and determined.
This is the story of thousands (or tens-of-thousands or hundreds-of-thousands) of women, those who did answer to the criteria of age, and those who have not yet aged enough, and even when the hope to reach their goal was quenched they did not surrender and go back home, but rather knelt (like men) and prayed. Some of them in a second row to the men, facing the front of the checkpoint that welcomes all who enter it with the festive "kul ‘aam wa antum bekheir" holiday greeting, and the others who could not even make it to the checkpoint and offered their prayers upon the filthy soil in front of the refugee camp.
And when their prayers were over they clung to each other in a crowd and sang the songs of their homeland and cried out to the occupier (and to us) - in their fury and rage for the injustice dealt them.
And they remained standing there even as the ‘humanitarian' officer came out and asked them to go home, for the crossing is closed and no one gets through. When they did not oblige, the request turned into a demand and a scolding.
And time passed and the women persisted. And an hour went by, and another half-an-hour.
‘This is the real Sumud' said my friend Tammi, as precise and as right as she always is.
"Calling all heads" (= commanders, in army jargon), the cry rang out and the officers gathered to brain-storm. Suddenly the gates were opened. The uniformed men magically disappeared, and as if some barricades were torn down, the crowd of women broke like a tidal wave towards the checkpoint building.
This was not relief nor surrender. It was a base, filthy manipulation on the part of the mighty, the subduer, the proven upper hand who wished to relieve its men.
The crowds of women filled the waiting shed, the cages, pressed against the fences. Not an army stood there to stop them, only the metal of fences and bars.
And they - still reluctant to surrender to insult and deception, refuse to turn back. Even after time went by, as thousands were already on their way back from the Friday prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque, they still stood there as if waiting for a miracle that had tarried on this day.
And we, watching across the way, are here to tell the praises of the old woman who dared rebel against the kingdom, who fell to the ground at the feet of the soldiers and refused to budge. Even when a rosy colored Arabic-speaking officer was summoned to her and tried to show authority, she wouldn't relent and clung to the ground while reaching her hands out to him and mumbling one single phrase.
"She doesn't want a man to help. You help her" he told us. Vivi knelt at her side and heard the woman's demand: she remains on the ground until her daughter is brought to her from the other side of the ring of soldiers! "This woman doesn't understand Arabic" said the rosy soldier, pointing to Vivi, while it was obvious to all present that Vivi not only knows Arabic but understands the old woman's frame of mind much better than he does. He then made another lame effort: "They're so manipulative! Every time they tell a different story..."
We shall tell of the woman who tripped and fell in between the barbed wire coils and Border Patrolmen pushing the mobile metal barriers against her body as she shrieked in pain and fear, and they, merely following their commander's orders, continued to push the barriers against the body sprawled on the ground amidst the thorns and metal barbs.
We shall hail the paramedics, who - they testify - have never known such a terrible day, as they gave care and treated dozens of people, and when the pressure outside the fences mounted, one of them climbed the wall, over two meters high, and ‘fished' children in distress to pass them over to a roomier spot.
Beside the praises, we shall tell of the army's ‘humanitarian gestures' bequeathed unto the Palestinians on this day:
- - humanitarian horses mounted by humanitarian horsemen to fix the humanitarian waiting line as a neat single file so that order should reign supreme and the instruction "Get back!" enforced;
- - a humanitarian officer gently lifting a girl who lost her way into the tight soldier line and returning her to the other side of the barrier, the blocked side;
- - the same humanitarian officer, in a further gesture, gave an exhausted woman a drink of Israeli army water in view of the media cameras;
- - a humanitarian tent was installed close to the men's line - where the soldiers ate and drank so as not to add to the fasting crowd's distress;
- - even the ever-locked latrines were opened for a limited period of time and then locked again as the time of humanitarian gestures ran out'
Qalandiya as it imprinted itself on our mind this day is our Qalandiya. It is the essence of the Occupation. Our Qalandiya is not that of the righteous, the improvers of checkpoint and Occupation conditions, those insisting on morality and relief.
Qalandiya Checkpoint with all that it conceals and reveals, explicit and implicit, is not a necessary evil. Qalandiya Checkpoint is a superfluous evil.
The women we saw in front of us, beside us - they did not see us as their sisters but as women who belong to the ranks of rifle-holders.
Can we possibly deny it and claim we are not a part of the same shame?
Some of them burst out laughing as they read our tags "La lalhawajez" (= against the checkpoints)...
Indeed, what a pitiful joke we - and the likes of us - are.