The patients on their way home to Gaza were already seated in their designated transport, waiting to get on their way.
I boarded among them, feeling it was important for me to spend even a short while with them. This contact is important for me, especially with the children, lasting at times mere minutes, or even seconds. A look, a touch, a smile.
Trying to upend the constant equation of any contact with Israeli meaning a threat, any Israeli in uniform and armed…
While inside the vehicle I witnessed a reversal of roles.
What happened was that two Civil Administration uniformed officials showed up and summoned the Gazan manager, but he, deep inside the vehicle, did not hear them. They were standing on the steps, their eyes expressing either embarrassment or fear, not daring to actually enter the vehicle, and yelling instead. It was strange to see the threateners feeling threatened for once.
Over the years I have witnessed soldiers afraid of an angry crowd, of young demonstrators, or protesting women. But soldiers afraid of weakened, ill patients? Never before.
True, one needs a visa to enter the US, and true, Americans need a visa to enter Israel, but there is a different between needing a visa to enter Israel, here, and enter Palestine, not here. It's like the difference between holders of a blue (Israeli) identity card and holders of a green (Palestinian) identity card. While a blue ID holder is permitted to move freely inside Israel as well as the West Bank, a green ID holder is limited to the Palestinian territories. Same with the visas.
I never really thought about this until I met Amjad, a Chicago-born American visiting Ramallah who came to Qalandiya Checkpoint – as a Muslim seeking to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque – and was blocked. Amjad holds an entry visa to the West Bank, not to Israel "proper", and Al Aqsa, as is well-known, is "ours" (Israeli). The soldier blocking him suggested he go to the DCO and request a special permit for this special purpose. The time was minutes past 4 p.m. and the offices were already locked and deserted. Perhaps he'll return tomorrow. Or maybe not.
What is this like? Like a Jewish tourist from the US who has entered Israel and wishes to pray at the Cave of the Fathers in Hebron, and goes there. Would he be stopped mid-way, have his tourist visa to Israel checked, and be prevented from reaching Hebron and praying there? Never…