Postcards from Abu Dis (9): Checking Out the Checkpoints

I had my first run-in at an Israeli checkpoint yesterday, only the second pedestrian checkpoint I’ve gone through in the last six weeks.

Prior to this, most of the checkpoints I’d gone through were vehicular, and little of note had happened at them. I was held for two hours at the airport, which was an improvement on my last visit here, when I was held for five. I encountered one “flying checkpoint” on my first night here on the road between Ma’ale Adumim and Al Eizariyah, but after a ten minute wait, we were waved through. My seatmate on the 263 bus to Jerusalem was detained one morning at the Ma’ale Adumim checkpoint, but hey, I wasn’t, so the trip was basically uneventful. I was briefly accosted and questioned by a security guard for standing too long in front of the Jerusalem District Courthouse (where the Abu Khdeir trial is taking place), but after convincing him that I was harmless, he walked away, whereupon I decided to confirm his opinion by walking away myself. In an irritating sequence of events, I was falsely told one night by a police officer in the Old City that a certain walkway was closed when it wasn’t; he forced me to take a left turn that I didn’t want to take, after which I managed to get lost. But on reflection, I decided he’d done me a favor, because the hour was late, and I didn’t need to be in the Old City at that hour anyway.

And that was it. All was well even if it hadn’t quite ended well.

Yesterday, I finally had occasion to go through the Har Hazeitim checkpoint I mentioned a few weeks ago. Honestly, the only way to describe my experience there is to say that the people staffing that checkpoint around 7:30 pm on Sunday night were the most consummate assholes I’ve dealt with in a long timeand by far the biggest assholes I’ve met in Israel or Palestine in the last six weeks. If Palestinians routinely get treated at these checkpoints the way I was treated last night at Har Hazeitim, it really is no wonder that they lash out as often as they do. Anybody would, especially if they got the sense that the mistreatment would persist into the indefinite future, and that it seemed to be getting progressively worse. I’m morbidly curious what happens to one’s psyche if one goes through checkpoints like that on a regular basis, so in a spirit of inductive inquiry modeled on Mill’s Methods, I’ve decided to go through that checkpoint as often as I can over the next few weeks that I’m here, just to see what happens to me. I’ll be sure to tell you.

For now, I guess I’d describe the experience as roughly what would happen if you put a bunch of college-aged kids safely behind bomb-proof glass, then gave them the power to run a version of the Milgram Experiment every day, thousands of times a day, and then crossed the Milgram Experiment with a game of Donkey Kong in which instead of Donkey Kong, the protagonist of the game was a human being, typically a Palestinian. A real barrel of laughs. I guess it was for them, because they spent the duration of my visit to the checkpoint laughing at me.

I’ve noticed that Israeli Border Police have a certain hand gesture that I think of as the “mosquito gesture.” When they don’t want to deal with you, they wave you away with this contemptuous wave of the hand–what you or I would do to swat away a mosquito. The sign language says: “go away,” or more expansively, “go away, you piece of shit.” The next time I get that gesture, I intend to do it back. If questioned, I intend to describe it as an act of assimilation into Israeli society: I’ve seen the gesture so often that I thought I’d blend in and imitate it. Judging from the frequency with which it’s used, it must mean something like “mazel tov.” What could be nicer?

Seriously, I’m curious to see what happens. Stay tuned.

Postscript, July 16, 2015: I just discovered this great website and organization, Women Against the Occupation and for Human Rights, with individualized reports on each of the checkpoints. So many checkpoints, so little time!

Here’s the report on the Mount of Olives checkpoint described in the post above.

Here’s Anata/Shu’afat checkpoint; the report includes a few others, like Az-Zaim, which I’ve gone through about a dozen times on this trip. It looks different nowadays than it does in the photos here.*

Here’s Abu Dis, where I’m currently living; unfortunately, the photos of the place are somewhat dated. Perhaps I should donate some of my own? I’m a little baffled by the references to Cliff Hotel from this website; I’ve heard it mentioned by locals as well.

It’s always painful to see this gem of Jerusalem architecture in its present state — smashed windows, broken walls, filth everywhere, and now surrounded by a fence.  Nobody came to stop us when we crossed the gate into the settlement area.  There was someone in the booth, but he didn’t bother.  The signs proclaimed “forbidden, forbidden” — and “dangerous”.

I’ve lived here for six weeks, and despite looking for it, I can’t find it. The report above is from February 2014; is the hotel gone?

This report from Bethlehem took place about an hour before I happened to visit the same exact checkpoint (I visited July 10 around 9:30 am). Things were hectic but not violent while I was there, but I was only there for about fifteen or twenty minutes. I was also farther away from the checkpoint itself than those writing the report. I don’t know how they managed to get as close as they did.

Here’s reporting from Hebron, a hell-hole I’ll describe in a forthcoming post, having recently visited there (I’ve uploaded some photos of Hebron to the header).

Container Checkpoint at Wadi Nar is fast becoming my favorite checkpoint in the whole Occupied Territories. I was going to try walking through (it’s walking distance from where I live) but a friend told me that doing so was a good way to get shot, so I decided against it. It’s also a good way to get bitten, as the soldiers at that checkpoint have befriended some aggressive stray dogs, feeding them, but taking no responsibility for their (the dogs’) behavior –a good deterrent against overly curious American tourists out for a stroll. WOHR describes Container Checkpoint as “a god-forsaken checkpoint rarely visited by our shifts.” Yes and no: it’s actually about 200 yards from the rather pleasant village of Sawahirya, so it’s not that out of the way. As for “rarely visited,” it’s a hell of a walk from where I live, but I don’t mind making the trip.

*Correction, July 18, 2015: I corrected a mistake in the original version of this sentence: having now gone through the (various) Shufaat/Anata and Az Zaim checkpoints, I now realize that there are at least three different checkpoints involved here. By “Az Zaim” checkpoint,” I mean the one on Route 1 directly after Ma’ale Adumim and before the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University.

3 thoughts on “Postcards from Abu Dis (9): Checking Out the Checkpoints

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