Point: A slanted perspective
Recently, an exhibit titled “Endless Checkpoints” opened on the 100-level of Frist Campus Center. The exhibit purports to display the way in which Palestinians suffer due to Israeli military checkpoints. The exhibit accuses Israel of “apartheid” and of preventing the formation of a Palestinian state. The pictures, however, tell only part of the story, and the captions are rife with inaccuracies.
Firstly, the exhibit claims that Israel tries to “hide from outside observers the abuse of human rights” taking place at checkpoints. But the very fact that a civilian group — Machsom Watch — is able to photograph checkpoints attests to the openness of Israeli society. In no other country in the region could photographers take — much less publish — such photos.
Second, the application of the term “apartheid,” a state policy of racial or religious discrimination, is unwarranted. Israel has over one million Arab citizens who are granted exactly the same rights as all other citizens, while Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza are full citizens of the Palestinian Authority. While Israeli Arabs are often discriminated against by private citizens, this unfortunate fact is true of minorities in many countries. The government of Israel has no discriminatory policies, so the use of the term “apartheid” is a terrible calumny.
The exhibit neglects to mention that the checkpoints and security fence were mostly instituted during the Second Intifada to stop terrorists. In the first three years of the Intifada, there were 73 terrorist attacks; in three years following the completion of the first section of the fence, “only” 12. The exhibit also claims that Israeli policies “slice the West Bank into cantons, thus preventing territorial continuity for a future Palestinian state.” In fact, the West Bank is contiguous within the security fence, and the checkpoints can be easily removed when the Israeli army believes they are no longer necessary to keep Israeli citizens safe.
Many photos have captions that are clearly inaccurate. For example, one claims that a little girl is crying because a soldier is aiming a rifle at her father. Anyone who has fired a gun knows that someone leaning on his elbow with his gun held across his chest is not aiming at anything. The soldier is holding the rifle to protect against the frequent terrorist attacks at checkpoints. Many photos lack proper context, showing pictures of arrested Palestinians who may well have been a legitimate threat to security. Abuses occur, which Israeli courts punish, but surely any nation has a right to prevent attacks against its citizens.
This is not to say that what the Palestinian people must go through at the checkpoints is fine. Certainly, the searches and long waits to which they must submit should be ended — as soon as they are no longer vital to Israeli security. But to present such an incomplete portrayal as the one offered by this exhibit is unacceptable.
Counterpoint: A frozen life
The most shocking thing about the photo exhibition “Endless Checkpoints” is the realization it provokes: that the violence, humiliation and despair captured in these candid snapshots are completely normal. For Palestinians living in the West Bank, standing in line in a military checkpoint for hours on the way from one Palestinian village to another is an everyday reality. Being humiliated by young, frustrated soldiers is often a part of the drill. Even dying in an ambulance held at a checkpoint on its way to the hospital is not unusual.
The Israeli women working for the volunteer organization “Machsom Watch” do not aim to show that Palestinians are good and Israelis are evil; their photos demonstrate what happens when one people tries to dominate the life of another through the control and obstruction of movement.
In fact, checkpoints began in the early ’90s in connection with the Oslo Agreements and before the Second Intifada. They arose largely as part of a new policy of separating Israelis and Palestinians in preparation for eventual Palestinian independence. The Second Intifada precipitated a new security regime, instituting hundreds of checkpoints between Palestinians and Palestinians. It created a permanent state of what the Israeli army calls “closure.”
The closure regime allows the army to control the pace of Palestinian life in the Occupied Territories. It provides the army with a magic button. Press it, and life goes by in slow motion so that soldiers can scrutinize each individual. Press it again, and you achieve a state of “frozen life” — an expression actually used by the Israeli army.
The price, however, is insufferable to anyone who believes in the equal worth and dignity of human beings. Millions of Palestinians, including those who are yet to be born, are sentenced, without trial, to live in a state of permanent captivity. They are prisoners in their own homes and villages.
In the Occupied Territories, the rights of human beings are determined by their religion and ethnicity. Both law and policy prioritize the security and welfare of illegal Israeli settlers. This includes roads exclusively for the use of settlers, and unequal distribution of drinking water and other resources. Whether this systematic and institutionalized discrimination should be called “apartheid,” we leave to the reader.
The pictures in “Endless Checkpoints” were taken by Israelis, not only because some of us care about the human rights of Palestinians, but also because some of us worry about the effect of occupation and oppression on our own society. Control mechanisms and human rights violations do not stop at the border. They seep into the dominating society, undermining democracy and corrupting humanity. Our only way to survive is to find a sustainable solution to the conflict. The reign of fear does not increase our security; it causes us to drift away from it, one humiliation at a time.