When A was forbidden
to return home
The soldiers don't see their faces.
If they saw them as persons, their humanity, their names
differentiated and uniquely individual not as the general principle
'man', if they would not view them through a racist prism that situates
the Palestinian at a greater distance from 'the human', as a reduction
of the traits of his or her so-called race they would not comply,
would not keep silent, they would not choose not to know.
Because then they couldn't.
It was a Wednesday, at Qalandiya Checkpoint, when A., too, was
prevented from going home.
Qalandiya Checkpoint, like most checkpoints in the Occupied West Bank,
is situated in the heart of Palestinian territory and fragments the
lives of the local residents most of whom are not entitled to move
freely in their living space but for a mere few, and by criteria that
keep changing and are not fixed, as a system.
A. has not lived here for the past few years, and it is evident.
He ventured out of his hometown Hebron to travel to Ramallah, another
town in his homeland Palestine, and not for lack of choice.
He is not dying or needy of hospitalization in Ramallah, nor is his
mother hospitalized, nor does he work or study there.
He went for reasons that have no criterion in the kingdom of occupation
and oppression. They do not exist in the language. He went just so,
because Ramallah is a city in his homeland and contains extended chunks
of his own life. He went because he wanted to go. Reasons, which for the
residents of Occupied Palestine are considered luxury that hardly anyone
would venture forth on their behalf - just to be humiliated at the
checkpoint, with slight chances of being let through, and had he been
let through it would be because he pleaded, or because the soldier had
decided that every third person does not cross, and every tenth does,
and he was tenth. To go and visit another town is not something anyone
would take a risk for if they don't necessarily have to.
But he, the outsider, 'infected' with the habits of freedom, did go and
on his way back home was stopped to his amazement, scolded, pushed,
yelled atin Hebrew which he doesn't understand, and under threat of
pointed weapons and pushes, ordered in ways he did understand to turn
back. Surprised, amazed, he clung to a rock with all his might, and did
He held on to the rock against all sanity, as he might have lost his
life or health to that 'malignant' ease with which soldiers fire or
But he clung to the rock with all his might, against all odds and
reason, defying the soldier who ordered him to leave and go away, turn
his back to home and reason, merely because these are the diabolical
orders he received, merely because the soldier could give them.
And this was not because A. is particularly courageous or political, or
as a subversive act that says 'I do not accept your laws, they have no
moral validity, do whatever you want with me, I refuse to be refused'.
He simply wasn't able conceptually to comprehend that a young man
perhaps two years his junior, who looks like him, a human, not a robot
so he thought stands there with a rifle and a unfathomed authority and
prevents him from doing the simple and obvious thing which is to go
Why should he not get home?
We were there, privileged women, we saw him clinging to the rock, we saw
the pointed rifle, and hurried to create a buffer between the young man
and his young oppressor who for all the wrong, racist reasons and as
another symptom of the same malady, since we were 'his own' people with
the 'right' face and identity - for once, stopped cold, did not cross
the line we created with our bodies, and only continued to scold and
threaten and say in Hebrew 'No, the man must turn back' and point
towards a vague direction which he called Surda.
In other words, to cross the checkpoint, the soldier demanded of this
young man the equivalent of driving from Tel Aviv through Haifa on his
way to Jerusalem.
And if security claims are the pretext to forbid this young man to tread
between the walls of his life and be victim to that adolescent
power-monger in uniform, and if one even accepts conditions allowing
cruelty towards people a-priori merely because of their identity, how
could it be that the very same soldier who forbids him by the book
to cross the checkpoint, recommends he travel via Surda to reach the
other side of that very checkpoint, twenty meters away from where they
stand, but after a journey of hours, and much money spent, which we
assume he does not even have.
We tried to help him this way and that, to use and implement our
visibility, our validity, all in vain of course, for such needs as the
desire to visit Ramallah are life ideas that have no word or space or
They are outside the sea of possibilities of 'judgment' or
'humanitarian cases' acceptable by Israeli society (and merely as a fig
leaf to maintenance evil). Such a need has no criteria... It is outside
the language... And the soldier has no conceptual system that can
identify this need just as he has no system of concepts that would
attribute this young man facing him a name and identity as tangible as
For if that young man and others of his people would seem to the soldier
to be humans, with blood as red as his own, who ache no less than he
does, he probably would not be able to stand there and exercise a policy
of abuse not matter for what cause.
I learned that A. is a third-year law student, in Palestine to visit his
family, and intends to seek his fortune in Canada upon graduating. In
bashful wonder he told me that in Morocco, where he studies, he goes out
for coffee with a Jewish friend. 'Who is Jewish', he adds
I noticed he kept looking at his watch the whole time.
This all took place during some Jewish holiday, naturally meaning that
the right to life for Palestinians is even more narrowly exercised than
usual, and I was worried that perhaps under such circumstances he will
not be able to make it home even by taking roundabout trails through the
hills and hiding from the soldiers' trigger-happy hands. Perhaps the
fact that I was trying to help him do what was obviously doomed to
fail,, that I was only holding him up or jeopardizing him somehow, and
he had better go back and travel via Surda, as absurd and maddening as
that is. And he was evidently worried and concerned... Finally I
couldn't help myself and asked him why he kept checking his watch.
There's a basketball game at five thirty, Maccabi Tel Aviv versus
Munich, and he's dying to get home in time to watch it, he explained.
I have no idea whether he made it in time. Probably not. He said that if
I ever get to Morocco I'm most welcome, and left his phone number.
Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran.