For a while I dealt with this conflict as if it was far away...as if it was a series of events that touched other people and not me. I would get depressed when I feel its impact on me: when I drive down one road which I might not be able to drive through again; or, when a roadblock stops me from getting home. Through all of that, I thought my personal safety was always protected. I thought that the peaceful little town I live in will shield off all those stories I read so frequently. It is not that I did not sympathise with the characters in these stories, or that I felt unattached to them. I just never felt their feelings. I never knew the uncertainty that overcomes them about their most basic right: their right to live. Well, living in Palestine, you won’t be able to escape for long. That is what I have just learnt recently.
Last Saturday, we thought that we had enough of working non-stop and the daily routine of Ramallah, so we decided to go down to Jericho for BBQ. We found a friend who was willing to let us use their house, and so we went to enjoy our time. Coming back, we were stopped at the main checkpoint out of Jericho. Just because a friend had “Gaza” as the place of residence on his ID, we were not allowed to use that road. We were told to take a back road.
At mid-night we arrived at another checkpoint in the middle of the desert. When confronted with the opportunity to make an event of their long night, the ten or so teenage-age soldiers who manned the checkpoint rushed to our car. “ID’s and get out of the car!” they demanded in a tone that gave a good idea of what was to come. They started searching the car so violently as if it was an old box left in someone’s attic. When they found a bat in the booth, they saw it as an opportunity to make a fuss, and search everything else. The two knives we had to work on our BBQ were then treated as a murder weapon. Suddenly, their crowd turned violent for nothing other than amusement. We tried to reason with them, but with their astounding lack of ability to speak any other language other than Hebrew (except for one Druze soldier), all we got back were their kicks. For a while, and as the girls with us were frightened and crying, I thought that there are no limits to what we could expect that night. A game of chance between the Heavens and the devil, and our lives could be at stake. Each of them started playing his part of the game, and if his friends liked what he was doing they would join him, if not, they’d leave him alone.
It is not easy for someone to have to go through this. All the emotions that you could ever feel play with like a tape: Anger, sadness, humiliation, oppression, dispossession, fear, strength, worrying. Then you stop controlling these feelings and you start a series of incoherent actions: shouting, accepting their violence, hitting back, silence, defending yourself, obeying order and then disobeying them... all of this while you try to know where this will ever lead.
And you never know, even as they ask you to put your stuff back in the car and park on the side of the road. Or when you wait in the car and see them, done with you, trying to find amusement through fighting each other. You never can know until you leave with a limp that will last for few days and the cold desert wind blows into your car as you try to calm down your fears.