was nineteen then, and had just begun work in the Palestinian police
force, and was terribly proud. And I wondered why guys just love
uniforms and guns so much, and was also a bit saddened because I wanted
at least the victims - even just because they are victims of gun-bearing
uniform-wearers - to be different, but I was also glad for him that he
finally had a job and congratulated him, and meant it.
At that time Qalandiya Checkpoint was filthier than it is now, and less
built-up, and there were no loudspeakers or clearly demarcated tracks or
fences and green and red lights that go on and off intermittently, and
the Israeli soldiers were not behind reinforced glass windows. And
although, just as they do now, orders were arbitrary and kept changing
as a rule so that one would not be able to get used to anything, even to
things getting worse, still one could say in hindsight that as they
were, they were better back then even though at the time it didn’t seem
things could get any worse than they were. Perhaps because there was
more laughter and because the improvised and neglected nature of the
checkpoint held some illusion that it was not meant to stay there
And first and foremost, of course, because back then Palestinians could
at least theoretically sometimes get across the checkpoint, even at the
price of being humiliated, and not just the Jerusalemites among them.
Differently from the present, now that no one except Jerusalem residents
can get through, except those whose “right” the Security Services have
cleared and approved. And even they are treated by the soldiers like
cattle, screamed at and scolded while this or the other track is closed
so that the victims can scurry from to and fro like animals in a cage,
because for the various Occupation forces a Palestinian is after all a
Palestinian, regardless of the color of his ID, of his identity.
Because it just could not be any different. Because all of these
soldiers have already crossed a moral line by the mere fact that they
are standing there at the checkpoint, obeying and maintaining and
carrying out racist apartheid laws, and all the rest of their harassment
is just an extension of the inherent. Otherwise, they would simply not
I used to go to Qalandiya Checkpoint back then, just as I go there
nowadays, with the ease of those who are over-privileged there and
anywhere else between the (Jordan) river and the (Mediterranean) sea,
namely anyone not Palestinian, be their origin what it may.
I like going there also because of the people I have gotten to know over
the years and am happy to meet.
As well as to see and know and then tell about it outside. Tell about it
– also – to people who do not want to know and to hear.
Because of my inherent over-privilege I have an obligation, or so I feel
Anyway, back then, in those days when it seemed that nothing could be
I met him, R.
R.’s house was in A-Ram where he lived with his parents and younger
brothers and sisters, but his work in the Palestinian police was in
Ramallah and he had to cross the checkpoint on his way home. A
checkpoint located between one part of his life and the other. And there
was that day when he was waiting in line and we were chatting and
laughing, because the line was long and he was young and optimistic and
without hate, only wondering why they were like that, those soldiers his
age, with whom he so very much wanted to make friends, and whom he
forgave, and again and again he recoiled from their tough faces, yelling
‘get back!’ or ‘go away!’, or some other checkpoint words which were the
only words they could utter in Arabic, except - of course – for ‘hand
over your ID’ and ‘the checkpoint is closed!’, words they were taught, I
think, just as they were taught to fire a rifle, and all the other
things that soldiers are taught.
Anyway, at some point I must have walked elsewhere, while he was still
standing in line, and didn’t notice what was going on with him. And then
I suddenly saw him walking back, away from the checkpoint, his face
fallen, and he said: “I wasn’t allowed through”. I asked, “Why not?” Not
because there is any reason, no way is there a reason with any measure
of justice or logic, for there is no logical or just reason to cut
people’s lives in half and condition their passage from one part to
And also because the lack of reason – even in the sense of the
Occupation – is an end in itself, just as the words on the plaque at the
headquarters of the former head of the civil administration, Ilan Paz,
said it, the motto for his soldiers: “The Palestinians must be held in a
state of constant uncertainty”.
So, not that I thought there was any reason in the world that could
justify why R. is not allowed to go home to the other side of the
checkpoint at the end of a workday. But I asked, in order to say
something, In order to hear what they had chosen to tell him.
“The soldier said that only people working in the Palestinian police are
allowed to pass, and I told him I am in the Palestinian police, and he
didn’t believe me”, he said, disappointed. And I didn’t say anything,
for there is nothing to say, and after a few moments more we parted
ways. And he didn’t look too depressed. Because this was so usual. And
had happened so many times. And I knew that he would proceed through the
quarry. Or at least try. Because he had to get back home somehow, after
And the wall was not yet built back then, and although it was dangerous,
it was rather easy to try and get through, and I was hoping that he’d be
lucky and no soldiers would be there waiting to catch the dozens of
rejects who the soldiers knew would try to get through there, because
they had no choice, because their home was on the other side of the
And so several days went by and every now and then I wondered whether he
had managed to get through, and I wasn’t too worried, because he was
nineteen, and even if he hadn’t managed, he had family in Ramallah and
could sleep over.
And then that Wednesday. I remember it was a Wednesday although it’s
been a few years since then, perhaps because everything that day was
etched, singed and hard.
I was at Qalandiya Checkpoint again and from afar I noticed R. who waved
at me, and was also waving something that looked like a sheet of paper,
and he ran towards me, and I saw he was in a good mood and I smiled. He
reached me, asked how I was, and said “look”, and was beaming, because
he had a printed certificate confirming that he was a member of the
Palestinian police. With his picture. A handsome nineteen-year old,
Because he is young, and he is in the police force, and that’s something
to be proud of.
And because, so he thought, now he could get through without any
And I already had this gut feeling and I cringed but said nothing. And
we talked on a bit, and then R. stood in line. And I got closer. Maybe I
foresaw what actually did take place. It took a long time, it always
does, and finally he got to the head of the line, and handed the soldier
his certificate confirming that he belongs to the Palestine police,
smiling to the soldier, to the Jewish youngster his age whom he didn’t
hate, because he is young and in uniform like him, and he understands
him, or so it seemed.
The soldier looked amazed at the certificate that R. handed him. With a
look of slight disgust that turned into light derision he said flatly,
“get back”. And R. didn’t move, he just couldn’t believe it. And then
the nineteen-year old Jewish youngster with his uniform and rifle raised
his voice and said, “Get back, I told you. Get back”.
And I saw R. cave in at once, like a tower of cards collapsing, turned
around and left, bent over in spite of his youth, walking slowly, his
eyes quenched, turned in and lost. He passed by me without seeing me,
and I said to him, “R.”, and he stopped, looked up at me with his
beautiful soft eyes, under his thick lashes. Right at that heartrending
point between the final moment of childhood and the start of adulthood,
in this captivating wordlessness, and didn’t say a thing, nor did I,
because everything was obvious.
After all when the soldier had told him before - that same soldier who
now drove him away, or perhaps it was another – that only Palestinian
police gets through, in all likelihood he had made up that instruction
on the spot just to drive the fellow away, to humiliate him, and maybe
there was such an instruction, indeed, and even if it was issued
officially, the point was the same: to be arbitrary and detached and
confusing, and leave the Palestinians in a state of constant uncertainty
as that senior commander had once put it, and could have been that order
as well as any other.
And I knew again that he would probably be able to get through to A-Ram,
but I also saw, even though I didn’t want to see it, that something
momentous had happened.
Something momentous had happened in the life of young R.
Not because there was anything exceptional in this event, the likes of
which had already happened before. But I saw that for him this event
suddenly marked everything anew.
There are such moments.
For all of us. Moments when even if that which happens is just like
whatever happened often before, still something happens as a result
which is different. Just as this small instance, the extra one, in spite
of its resemblance to others before, suddenly signifies and defines
In love, there’s that moment in which nothing happened that hadn’t
happened before, but after it suddenly you’re no longer placed softly in
the eyes of the beloved, and that’s that. And like other crossroads in
life where there is that moment when suddenly the system can no longer
contain something although it could before, and the irreversible
happens, the point of no return is crossed.
And this is what happened to R. that day, I saw it.
I never saw him again after that.
Occasionally I thought about him. And then I didn’t and I wasn’t really
worried. Or I didn’t want to worry. And sometimes I worried. And the
years passed, and my memory of him got swallowed up in the whirl of
others, and at some point I stopped thinking about him altogether.
Then a few weeks ago while I was at the Qalandiya Checkpoint and just
began to walk towards the refugee camp because I had made a date to see
a friend of mine there, I suddenly noticed a young man and thought to
myself, Wow, that’s R.! and I was so glad, and wanted to run to him, and
then I thought it actually couldn’t be R. because R. must be older than
this fellow now, who looks just like R. did back then. Or maybe it’s his
brother, I thought, and again I was glad because I meant to ask him
about R. whose memory flooded me again, and as I took a while to
deliberate whether to ask or not, and whether this could be R.’s brother
or not, the young man vanished.
At home that evening I got online and looked for R.’s name which I don’t
fully mention here on purpose, even though now perhaps it’s possible.
I read that Israeli undercover agents went into a cafe in Ramallah a few
years ago and murdered a wanted man who had been on the list for three
years. I also read that Israel had announced that he’d belonged to a
terrorist ring that meant to blow itself up in Jerusalem, and that this
wanted man was R.
The first – or nearly first – thing I thought was that I don’t believe
them. Israel’s spokesmen. I don’t believe he wanted to blow himself up
and kill and die. Because it’s R. And because they distort everything.
And because what they say always serves the system, usually warped and
false and purposeful, and it simply cannot be, and that’s that.
But I also knew that whether Israel sent its skilled murderers to a cafe
in Ramallah to shoot an occasional Palestinian, free game that happened
to be R., or because they claim he was about to go blow himself up in
Jerusalem and murder others who hadn’t necessarily done him any harm,
just because they happen to bear the same identity as others that had
harmed him, it’s not true that what they are saying is impossible.
And then I thought again. God. He’s dead. He was alive and now he’s
dead. R. is dead. And I recalled his beaming, proud, happy young face.
And I also tried to recall the faces of those soldiers back then, the
guy who told R. that only the Palestinian police gets through that day,
only to humiliate him or because of blind obedience to cruel arbitrary
orders which he naturally followed, or the one who told him, after
seeing his police service certificate, ‘get back’, and I couldn’t recall
them. Nor was I sure whether these were two different soldiers or the
And all I want is to drip into the past, and peel away time, and tell
that young Israeli soldier, the guy with his gear and gun and insolent
smile, who today is already in his mid-twenties, it’s your fault.
Not the Occupation, not the State, not your parents who raised you to
want and desire and go and be proud of that wrong thing, joining the
army, no matter what the army does, as if this were the nature of
You are to blame for R.’s death.
You, the soldier whose name I don’t know, whose looks I cannot recall,
you are the guilty one.
You are to blame for R. having lived the way he did, he and his family,
trampled and caged and humiliated and deprived of human rights. You are
to blame for the fact that at one certain moment something in his life
had been cut and split, subsequent to which he died. Because of you.
Murdered by the likes of you. And you are to blame for the possible
death of those he may have intended to murder, and had he murdered them,
they too would have been murdered by you.
You, the soldier from back then, you and only you are to blame.
But I know that even if by mere chance that soldier would read my words,
he would probably not even remember or realize that he was the one.
He wouldn’t remember that he was the soldier who had once told one
Palestinian that ‘today only Palestinian police get through the
checkpoint’, or said ‘get back’ some days later, because what he did was
so very routine and normal and unexceptional, and that was what he had
been sent to do there.
Just like everyone else.