'Atara, Qalandiya, Sun 3.7.11, Afternoon
Translating: Ruth Fleishman
Please make it known, please tell the world about the children of Qalandiya who are arrested day by day!
This child has a face and a name. He has a father and a mother who worry, who don't know where Mahmud had been taken to and on what grounds. They probably wonder where he spends his days, and worse- his nights, whether he had been bitten so badly that he had become disabled (as had happened to many unlucky others), maybe he is bleeding, maybe he hurts, he might be crying, he might be asking for his mother, calling for his father, maybe he is silent, maybe it is a smothered and restrained cry as there is no one to hear and comfort him.
Indeed, It happens every day, every year, all around the West Bank, but when I went over to give thirteen year old Mahmud the photo of him that I took the last time we met, and he was not among the children who hang around the checkpoint, among the peddlers and unemployed, where he spends each day, under all types of weather, trying to earn some Shekels by selling bottles of water to the drivers. As I turned my head left and right, thinking I might see him between the long lines of vehicles at the front of the checkpoint, children and adults came to me from all directions and said: "Mahmud had been arrested… Mahmud had been arrested…" It was as though a great dark and horrendous hole had cracked open inside me.
My acquaintance with him turned the violent disappearance of the child, and that of all the other children of Qalandiya, into my personal matter.
"Two, or maybe three days ago" they said, soldiers came out of the checkpoint area, they caught Mahmud and they took him, they handcuffed him, then they dragged and beat him: "They hit him too hard" (said one man).
In an instant, this child, who, it is important to repeat, is but thirteen and is called Mahmud, he comes from a near by town, Ar-Ram, and up to three days earlier had been a child peddler, is now, god knows where, a prisoner in the name of state security.
Being used to finding these children, where they are expected to be, at the place that the fate and their parents had destined for them, knowing their names and recognizing their faces and gestures, as had happened when I couldn't find Mahmud that day, when I saw the boy Ibrahim imprisoned at Ofer jail, sitting handcuffed before the honorable judge Sharon Rivlin, when we witnessed the boy Nabil being handcuffed and his eyes covered – the pain and horror become personal.
Knowing that Mahmud, Ibrahim and Nabil are no exception, that Qalandiya is no exception, one can find no comfort. The mundane reality of the imprisonment and disappearance of these children from our sight is both a direct and indirect threat. Each and every day it threatens them, but it also threatens those attempting to come near, to be fond of and even try to bring some tenderness, a glimpse of a smile and a bit of satisfaction to the rough lives of those lost and hopeless souls. It is a kind of friendship that manifests itself every week at the same day on the same hour. Even if it is for only a few minutes, this friendship comes with responsibilities, in the spirit of the words of the fox, the Little Prince's friend (A. de Saint-Exupéry), seeds of fear and pain are embedded in the pleasantness of friendship.
Atara Bir Zait checkpoint:
There had been an attempt to improve the site: the thorny field that surrounded the tower had been ploughed and small tuff stones were scattered. Tens of bullet cases and gas grenades were scattered about, indicating that this checkpoint is now and then activated and fire is shot.
Those inside the watch tower –a soldier and officer (first lieutenant) came down and gave us the same old lecture: "you mustn't be here… you mustn't take photos… this is a military zone…" once this didn't help and we stayed and took pictures, they added: "this is a closed military zone!".
We tried to make them understand their mistake, by telling them that it wasn't a military zone and it certainly wasn't a "closed military zone", but that didn't work. Even the IDF Spokesperson Unit document that grants us permission to visit checkpoints and take photos, with the specific request of the person signed on it, to avoid any confrontation with human rights organizations, didn't make an impression and the first deputy called for back-up. Apparently an entire unit is needed when attempting to surrender three women. A military vehicle with a new commander (captain) who took over, arrived rather quickly. He walked towards us with his rifle was aiming at the center of my body. Only once I asked him repeatedly not to point his barrel at me –did he put it down and with a thundering voice gave us his speech: "you've got five minutes to get out of here!- don't test me! –it's already been half a minute! –I am the sovereign here… I make the decisions and you have to obey!..."
We couldn't get a word in, he kept on making threats, saying that he would use his force against us, that he would handcuff us, bind us down…
He was most convincing, violent and brutal, he meant every word. It was the idea that our cameras might be confiscated that worried us, and not the fear of getting arrested.
Pressing out cameras to our bodies so as to keep them in our possession, and just before our five minutes had ended, we headed back with our tails between our legs.