Muhammad had been at the checkpoint for a long time. The bus dispatcher said he saw him being taken off the bus two hours ago. But Muhammad hadn’t understood why. Anyone can see he’s handicapped, so why don’t they allow him to remain on the bus like the others?
There were many things Muhammad didn’t understand. He’s not accustomed to being here – for that reason, and also because he was confused, he didn’t know what lane to enter and what he’s supposed to do when he enters the place where the soldier is sitting, what to take out, what to leave, what to show, what doesn’t have to be shown, and the metal detector kept beeping when Muhammad passed through it, so he went back, came through again, and it beeped again, and people yelled instructions to him, saying: “Remove your shoes…it’s your belt; take off your belt…do you have coins in your pocket?...put everything in the plastic, no not your documents, hold your ID in your hand, also the crossing permit, show him, show it to the soldier…maybe your glasses are making it beep…there, put your finger there…”
But it was hard for Muhammad to do all that with one hand, remove his belt and also his shoes and then put them back on, and how can he buckle his belt with one hand, the healthy hand that’s holding his phone and the coins? Because his other hand is in a cast that’s resting in a sling – he’s lucky it’s made of plastic and doesn’t beep because if it wasn’t made of plastic, well…
Muhammad, who lives in Bethlehem, was returning from Ramallah where he’d obtained a commitment from the Palestinian authority to cover the cost of three operations at Hadassah Hospital to rehabilitate his hand and its nerves after being injured by a saw at the carpentry shop where he worked.
Muhammad says the doctors hope it will be ok. But nothing was ok for Muhammad at the checkpoint, and the sunglasses he removed and placed on the plastic also disappeared, and he returned to go through inspection again and searched for them, and they helped him look, and the soldier in the booth said: “Look around, maybe they fell down,” but they hadn’t, the sunglasses had disappeared. “Maybe someone accidentally took them,” said Muhammad.
Ibrahim, from Beit Iksa, was also there; the police had told him to come to the Qalandiya checkpoint to get his two children.
They hadn’t told him why the children, who’d left for school in the village that morning, were being held by the police. They just told him to come, and he came.
Even now, after everything was over, it wasn’t clear what had happened, only that there were two children, brothers, seven and nine years old, who’d reached central Jerusalem. “They were caught vandalizing” said the policeman who’d brought them in the squad car, “They threw stones and broke car windows, but because they’re so little we’re not doing anything to them, just returning them to their parents.”
The children stood next to each other silently. They made no sound, didn’t answer questions, didn’t smile, didn’t cry. Nothing. Stood mutely. Even when Ibrahim phoned his wife to tell her the children had been found and she wanted to hear their voices and Ibrahim put the phone to the older boy’s ear, he said nothing.
The policeman couldn’t explain how a seven and a nine year old boy could have made the long trip, who could have helped them get there, and the boys’ silence provided no answers.
But instead of asking how they got there and why they did what they did, it’s more important to ask what will happen to them and others like them, born into occupation and growing up under occupation and bringing children into a world ruled by an occupation regime and dying under occupation.