They, with their pointed rifles, their menacing question, the clicking keyboard at their fingertips, issuing (or not) permits for grace or doom - here are some of the things they say about and to the people whose lives, health, fragile routine and even death they manage. Their musings, inarticulate comments, brutishness - all these come back to us as from a mirror directly reflecting our collective image.
We must level our gaze at it.
Some of them say outright, never hesitant or ill-at-ease, that the Palestinians are not human. For them they are like animals. Dogs or donkeys, mostly.
From the reports
...The Military Policewoman inspecting IDs does not cease to yell and swear at the Palestinians stepping up to her: "Don't worry, dance, dance. Wait till you get here"; "What a dog!". A soldier stands on the concrete ledge between the waiting lines, pointing his handgun at them. For the full report press here.
...The soldier slightly moves his index finger, signaling the driver to ‘move on', a gesture usually accompanied with text: "Go, go, go, go you jackass..."
"Go, go go go you son of a gun..."
For the full report press here.
Some don't even see them. Palestinians are transparent to their eyes, as if only they -the soldiers - exist and are stunned when one Palestinian or another think they're actually talking to them:
... (The Military Policewoman) responding to the Palestinian who thought she was speaking Hebrew to him and told her, in anguish - ‘But I don't understand Hebrew!' -
she snaps furiously: "I'm talking to you in Hebrew???! I'm telling you in Arabic, get baaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!!"
The other soldiers follow her example and ‘sort out' the waiting lines, for a change.
‘Whoooooooa!! You there, put out that cigarette, now!!!" For the full report press here.
...The soldier rolls his eyes rudely and hisses to his friend, What the hell is she talking to me now for? Let her go away already! For the full report, press here.
And there is the other version: the objectification, the Palestinian who is neither human nor animal, who exists simply to amuse the soldiers, help them pass the time:
5. ... A young man with a white hat. The soldiers taking his hat and play around with it, put it on their heads, then on their helmet. Laugh. Finally, give it back to him. For the full report press here.
... Many people crossing the checkpoint for this early morning hour. Two women-soldiers operate the checking posts. They never cease shrieking vulgarly, for example:
"There goes Yossi Bublil" (dubitable TV personality)
"Come on already!"
"Isn't he a Bublil look-alike?"
"Come, come over here".
"How do you say ‘tomato' in Arabic?
"You're a tomato-head"
"Get over here, you, come on."
And with full force, several times: "Yaniv, you want more?" For the full report press here.
... As if they have no ill intentions, after all what have we done? People will say in their defense. What is humiliation compared to detention, violence, wounding, even killing?
But the latter are a function of how the soldier perceives the Palestinians, and the blurring of their humanity brings on these acts and serves to justify those who send out enlisted men and women to carry them out. Men and women in uniform will not hesitate to carry out orders, and are usually not even aware of the nature of their deeds, just as they would not think twice about these orders before carrying them out:
..."What bullshit", the soldier retorts. ‘WE humiliate?!?" For the report press here.
... That's the order. I only carry out orders... For the full report press here.
The tone is annoyed, angrily disciplinarian:
... "Go on, guys! Move back!! Don't you want to get in today? What is this?! Close the gate, close the gate, I said!!" Occasionally they shriek: "Go!!!!" "What's this, you have no patience?" "Hey, what's that supposed to be!!!" For the full report press here.
As far as the soldiers are concerned, the Palestinians are to blame for their condition, their suffering, for the fact that they are detained at checkpoints, to blame for being punished and for disturbing the ‘security' forces who see themselves accountable for the defense of their people and land, and for enforcing public order.
At times it seems that the soldiers at the checkpoints feel they could operate the system at its best without any delays or problems if only Palestinians would not show up to disturb them, manipulate, cheat, try and bypass them...
Cars are inspected on one lane only, so that vehicles going into Nablus and exiting it are inspected in turns. Soldiers, visibly bored, carry out their demonstrably slow inspections, and at least five cars are waiting endlessly to be allowed in. A soldier mutters, intentionally audible to the Palestinians: "Enough! Stop coming already! Stop it, already!" For the full report press here.
From a casual talk with two security guards, we learned that: Gilad Shalit is still imprisoned. My uncle was killed in a terrorist attack. Last week Palestinians almost threw 2 blocks at me, right here at the checkpoint. Most of the people here at the checkpoint are terrorists. All the above means that the checkpoint should be run precisely as it is run.
Ronny asked A. why the procedure was not made briefer by preliminary checks of the paperwork relevant to an ambulance just arriving at the checkpoint, which would have spared much suffering and perhaps saved lives. The answer was that ‘They', the Palestinians, "are to blame for the unnecessary delays. They were not ready in time and did not notify the authorities in advance.' For the full report press here.
Intoxication with brute force combined with boredom and long, tedious shifts add to the negation of the other and the assurance that the people who face them only wish to deceive them - suspicion must be maintained at all times! The ‘others' are inherently deceitful and manipulative. All of this sometimes drives them (the soldiers) to a constant,
... Lieutenant I. appears and presents himself as the commander of the checkpoint soldiers. He ignores the instruction forbidding soldiers to detain people for punitive or ‘educational' purposes. "This is the only way they'll learn" he tells us, of the three detainees, whose ages range between his father's and his grandfather's. We ask him how they are supposed to know they are forbidden to use this road, if there is no warning sign. "They know", he repeats the mantra again and again. "They know and they do it on purpose". As if ‘they' were some obstinate little children. For the full report press here.
... A young man shows up with his two little brothers, ages six and seven. We don't hear what the DCO officer says to them while sending them back, but guess that he demands to see their parents' IDs. We ask him about this later, and he affirms. I insist, "Why is it, then, that the children must not join their brother, why do they need their parents' documents?" And he says: ‘Have you any idea how many children they steal?" For the full report press here.
... Two young men introduced themselves as lecturers from the university of Nablus, and told us that the shrieking MPwoman had just now taken their IDs, because - she said - they did not move fast enough, and then she took off. I looked for her with them, and as we approached her, and she saw us coming, she broke into a loud parody of a whining complaint: "My ID, my ID, yes, cry to her, cry to her, this won't help you, but go on, cry to her, my ID, my ID, go on, cry", she mocked and moved to another spot with their IDs in her hand. For the full report press here.
"A Palestinian stays a Palestinian" one soldier says to another as they inspect a 45-year old man with an American passport who wished to cross the checkpoint in order to reach the American Consulate. The man was not let through.
"No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it--this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity-- like yours--the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you--you so remote from the night of first ages--could comprehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable of anything--because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future."
Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness