like a ticking clock
We went there on Saturday. We heard and saw and words were given to us
to tell. And it is so hard to speak out that which is exactly the thing
that exceeds the sum of its events.
What its means, the Occupation.
Of course there are the more commonly, publicly celebrated horrors. With
their explicit names. Like shooting at children and demolishing houses
while their inhabitants are still inside, and preventing a dying man
from reaching the hospital. And there are the checkpoints, and the
blacklisting, and the slow and rapid land grab, and the taking over of
And there is this.
The most routine of all. Like the ticking of a clock. Like a pulse. And
the soldiers in the Occupationís service who lose their human image.
Perhaps it is their image, I think. Perhaps this is humanity. That flat,
sweeping, herd-like obedience to the prevailing spirit of the times.
This is how soldiers Ė amazingly normal Ė harass and murder and rob and
injure Palestinians, because it is the norm and the custom, as if it
were the nature of things.
Then, and now.
Another day of routine harassment at Qalandiya Checkpoint.
Congratulations, I told Fatso: last week the children told me his sister
had given birth. And he smiled.
What happened to you? We asked. For he held his face unnaturally, and we
realized something hurt him.
Itís from the soldier, he said. They beat up Ibrahim.
And they told us. It was evening time. The previous day. Soldiers on
patrol, he thinks they came from the checkpoint. Saw the small campfire
the little beggars light up every night in order to get warm, and
immediately came to put it out.
The routine patrol, with routine cruelty, put out the little campfire.
Very simple. Because those children are not human in their eyes. And
because this is what the soldiers have been taught to do. To torture and
harass and rob and murder Palestinians, and because it is allowed. So
whatís a campfire? Nothing. Just as a cold Palestinian child is nothing.
Because a Palestinian child is not a child. He is a Palestinian. He does
not resemble them, the soldiers. Heís not like the kid next door, who Ė
were he freezing tonight Ė they would do anything for him. This is not a
campfire to warm human beings. It is merely a Palestinian campfire, it
is all Palestinian-ness. It is destined to be quenched. And that they
did. And they gripped little Ibrahimís arm and shook it fiercely, and
him, for warming himself.
A serious charge.
And Fatso, that nice boy, said to one of the soldier about Ibrahim, heís
little, who are you harassing, a little guy? And the soldier slapped
Fatso so hard that ever since, his tooth hurts.
And why should he not slap him?
All in the service of the fatherland.
The remains of the childrenís little campfire, touches the heart in its
innocent miserable presence at our feet.
Then I saw a familiar boy standing not far from us, leaning against a
low concrete ledge, looking at me. His face alight. At first I couldnít
recall where I knew him from, I only realized he was familiar. I walked
over to him, and he smiled and said, Aya. And still
I was unsure who he was.
Itís me, Mahdi, he said.
Yes, I said. Because I recognized him right, then. Only he had grown so
much. The last time I saw him he still looked like a child.
I havenít seen you for ages, I said.
I was in jail, he explained.
Yes, he said. Got out two and a half weeks ago.
Mahdi sat in an Israeli prison for two and a half years. From the age of
sixteen to eighteen and a half, for having thrown stones.
He threw stones at soldiers who occupy the land of his people and block
the rights of his family and his nation to life and health, who defend
the right of one people over his own, and who Ėfor years Ė have been
shooting the children of Qalandiya like rabbits at a hunt.
He threw stones at them.
Ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Jews throw stones in Jerusalem because someone,
in their opinion, has not observed the sanctity of the Sabbath. Do they
sit in jail for two and a half years for throwing stones?
Settlers stone cars, do they go to jail for two and a half years? One
Pardon. How could I get so confused! Mahdi is Palestinian. Mahdiís
stone-throwing is Palestinian. No doubt a sixteen-year old boy deserves
to sit in jail for two and a half years for committing this terrible
crime, if he is Palestinian.
I was shocked although I have heard this so many times over.
Two and a half years, I thought. Amazing.
After I was caught in Jersualem, Mahdi says, I was taken to the
Jerusalem Police HQ. Then three photos were produced showing me throwing
It really was I.
One of my friends was caught and he told on all of us. Thatís how they
got me. Twelve people from Qalandiya were picked up.
Were you together?
No. Each was held at a different jail. I saw only three, four. Two were
held in Hadarim prison, another two in Ramla. Except for four, all of us
are out. The four still have another trial for hitting soldiers. They
are still in jail.
I wanted so much to go to their trial, he said. The trial is in Israel.
And he pointed far away, beyond the walls and the checkpoint.
Donít go there, Mahdi, we told him. Itís not worth getting caught for
entering Israel and being sent to prison.
Yes, he said.
You look good, Mahdi, I said. Handsome. And he blushed.
I was a child when I went, he said. I came back a man. Thank God, I came
out a man.
Now I understand what life is. I didnít know all this about life. In
jail with the men I understood what life is.
All of life.
We asked, and he told us, that his parents managed to obtain a permit to
visit him about once a month, no other relatives did.
How long is the visit, I asked.
A quarter of an hour, half an hour, he said.
It takes place in a room? With a lot of others? Can you touch each
No, no touching. You speak through this microphone on two sides of this
And as he says this, a strong streak of pain flashes his very lovely,
young face, and his sallow complexion, after years with no sunlight,
suddenly stands out.
What do you do there, I asked. What do people do all day.
Talk with friends, read newspapers, read a little Hebrew. Someone older
translates and I learned from them, in jail.
I came out of jail a man, he repeats with a slight smile. A man-guy.
He really did grow up, and well, I thought. And his Hebrew is amazing.
Compared to my Arabic which has not advanced even one bit since I last
saw him. And we kept silent for a little while. And we did what he
Was it hard? I asked.
They take you to sit alone for two weeks, or three. If you make trouble,
for a whole month alone, in a little room. Three weeks he was held in
isolation, he says.
Why? I asked, although I knew there does not have to be a reason.
A soldier came to our room and said, everyone out. I said something not
nice to the soldier. Swore at him.
Thatís why they put me in solitary confinement for three weeks. I sat in
a little room. A room you canít stand up in. With a tiny door. Bad
smell. You wait to go to the toilet, you knock so they can hear you,
only after three hours they come to take you. So you will suffer.
Sometimes they donít take you, even when you knock. Only in the room. An
d he pointed to his body, and it was obvious from his gesture that
sometimes he had no choice but to urinate or defecate over himself.
And when he said that, he lowered his face. For a moment.
And did anyone know about this? we asked, that this is how you were
They said about me that I swear, that I donít want them to check the
room, he muttered. Thatís how it is there.
And he smiled again. And we smiled. And we all looked around. The
soldiersí hollering was heard in the background. And the noise of
automobiles. And this dust everywhere, inside our nostrils, our hair.
I got out, he said. And nodded. Strange, strange Aya. The checkpoint
didnít use to be like this.
And we both looked at the checkpoint that keeps changing its shape and
not its essence.
Looking for work, he said. I donít know. Then I noticed again how pale
heíd become. But blooming. A bloom of graceful youth and hope.
And I thought, heíll be okay. And we exchanged phone numbers.
Good to see you, Mahdi, I said to him.
The line grows long. So does the waiting. What will happen if an
ambulance comes along, I wondered. How will it get through? What will
people do? Will they be able to move aside? And I see Ahmad Shawamra who
happily told me just last week that heíd been issued a one-day permit to
reach Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem for an abdominal examination after
heíd been wounded by a soldier who gave him a blow with his rifle butt.
Well, did you get to the hospital? I asked.
No, he said. They didnít let me. I came to the checkpoint and they said
How did it happen, this blow with the rifle butt, I asked. What
happened? Because I didnít know the details.
And he told us how three months ago an army jeep with soldiers passed by
the checkpoint and took him to Atarot base.
Why was he taken there?
Perhaps the soldier bet his friend that theyíll arrest any handsome guy
they see that day, and Ahmad is really handsome. A handsome
seventeen-year old, with long dark eyelashes, and deep, soft eyes.
And why not?
Perhaps they came looking for someone else whom they didnít find, so
they picked up Ahmad, because after all a Palestinian is a Palestinian,
what difference does it make Ďwhoí he is? Everyone is Ďwhatí, anyway.
Maybe they suspected him for some reason, who knows.
I donít know why, Ahmad says.
Itís so routine that itís hard to know.
They arrest because they are allowed to, itís accepted, itís possible.
Because they are the kings at large. Because Occupation corrupts.
At Atarot base, some soldiers beat him. One with a rifle butt in the
belly, others gave him blows and slaps.
He doesnít know.
They didnít say anything. They didnít explain. They hit.
After they were through hitting him, they drove him in a jeep to
Qalandiya Checkpoint and threw him on the ground. On the ĎJerusalemí
side. Meaning the other side of the checkpoint, where Ahmad is not
supposed to be according to them. Unless he had been taken to the
hospital he might have been caught as an illegal and sent to jail.
After he was thrown out of the jeep, he remembers them driving away and
then he no longer saw any more, because he passed out, and came to at
Luckily someone was there who knows his family, and holds a Jerusalem
ID, he was right there when it all happened, and as soon as the soldiers
drove off he approached Ahmad who was unconscious, picked him up and
took him in his car to the Hadassah Hospital emergency room. There he
was examined and x-rayed and treated and charged a lot of money which
the Jerusalemite friend paid, and he was released that same day. He
spent several days at home in A-Ram, in pain, he says, and slowly things
got better. Now heís alright, quite alright.
He was lucky.
We stayed there longer. And the sun set. A jeep passed by fast, not
stopping. And we decided to go, and entered the checkpoint, stood in
And in spite of our privileges as non-Palestinians, still the heart
stops. And not just out of empathy for those whose rights are trampled,
but just like that. Because this violence that is inherent at the
checkpoint reaches us as well. Withheld violence that could burst at any
moment. The unexpected lurks. And non-existent laws. Godless land.
Ruthless. Something there grips us, fills us with wordless anxiety.
We reached the head of the line, crossed the turnstiles, placed our bags
in the x-ray machines. Crossed the checking line. Picked up our worthy
IDs facing the window behind which the soldiers sit. They okayed. Our
We came through.
Our hearts plead with those regular soldiers, executors of the regime
and its ends and means, with parents who raise children to want this
horridness and are proud of them, to teachers and principals, to
everyone. To say no. To refuse this.
We boarded a van bound for the Damascus Gate. From there we took a cab
to the center of West Jerusalem, that Ďsafeí, criminal part of the city,
and breathed free.
Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran.