There was all the rest, and there was this: the tiny torture, in a sea
of things, of this elderly couple, whose names I do not know, and
probably never will.
I noticed them from the beginning. Perhaps because they were elderly.
He, more than she. And already at this point his face was perspiring in
tiny droplets, and he needed to lean against something while we all
A time that is invariably experienced as long because it is not merely
She looked good. Upright. Vital. Very attentive to him.
They both looked like city-folks, if anything.
There was all the “usual”. The mere existence of a checkpoint there, in
the heart of occupied Palestine. Checking/blocking Palestinians amongst
themselves. The “usual” is the fact that the right to cross it is
conditioned, by inconstant, changing criteria both as a policy embedded
in the system and in the hands of the individual soldier.
And the “usual” is that whatever was the rule yesterday is not
necessarily the rule today. On purpose.
It is to be without a personal, proper name, proper identity. Not “who”
A Palestinian. And the rest is merely a variation on the extent of
cruelty. Anxiety inside the pulse. An anxiety amorphous in nature, thus
dominating one’s entire being.
It is the uncertainty, the lack of control, and boundless horror.
Together with others I crossed the various phases of the checkpoint,
amidst the soldiers’ barks of “get back!” and again “no!” and “over
there!’ and “go away” and “it’s closed!” and then “open” and then
“closed” again, and all the rest of it, in the broken Arabic of
occupation forces that is always heard there, because it is a
We were many, and I and the elderly couple in front of me, and we faced
the last part, the scariest of them all, and then their turn came.
The light above the turnstile turned green and they crossed hurriedly.
This phase of the checkpoint involves placing bags inside an x-ray
machine, going through a metal detector, and then presenting documents
to a soldier, in the hope of being allowed through.
This is the hardest, the most exhausting, the most frightening part,
because here is determined the right to cross, and anything might
The woman had a black handbag that she placed at the opening of the
x-ray machine belt that began to move. She then crossed the metal
detector, that did not bleep, and was about to approach the plate-glass
window behind which the soldiers are seated.
Get back, lady! a woman-soldier’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker.
The woman stopped in her tracks.
It was obvious she had no idea what to do. In the meantime her elderly
companion searched for something to lean on in order not to collapse.
“Bag, bag” the invisible soldier’s voice boomed again.
The woman looked confused. She looked at her partner, and again towards
the window of the invisible soldiers.
“Bag, I told you!” the soldier’s voice was heard again, louder this
time. And the woman hurried to grip her bag that had just emerged from
the other side of the x-ray machine, and went back through the metal
detector she had just crossed, and placed her bag once more inside the
“No, open your bag I told you”. This time it was a male-soldier’s
authoritative voice. Less screechy than the woman-soldier.
People in line began to tell the woman all sorts of things of which I
only understood a few.
“Go already, get away from there” his voice sounded again. “Go!” the
woman-soldier repeated after him.
The woman, exhausted, ran back through the metal detector, gripped her
bag again which arrived at the other end of the machine, and slowly
approached the soldiers.
She gingerly lifted her bag in the air. Showing it.
“Open”. The male-soldier’s voice had lost its calm authority and sounded
One could see that the woman, who probably understood the words although
they were in Hebrew, did not know what to do with this instruction.
And then I also noticed she was very old. Older than I had thought
earlier. Because her hands, that began to tremble, were dry and veined
like an old woman’s.
“Open already, lady,” the woman-soldier joined him. “Don’t you
With trembling hands she opened her raised bag in front of the invisible
And we all held our breath, that’s how I felt.
And again the screaming voices of the young occupation soldiers were
heard over the loudspeaker, and I could no longer tell whether it was
the male or female soldier’s voice, or what exactly was being said. It
all sounded the same anyway. It all sounded like one big no. No, for
whatever you want to do. No, for whatever you are
Take it out, take it out already…
The woman, her whole body now trembling, slowly brought down her hands,
turned her bag over and poured all its contents on the filthy concrete
floor. Sounds of objects falling cracked the silence.
“In the plastic” yelled the woman-soldier. She articulated it slowly,
“in the plastic”.
“In the plastic” people in the already long line were telling her.
On the concrete floor one could see a small tin box and I supposed it
might contain medication, and a red purse, and a bag which obviously
contained sandwiches. Then I stopped looking. Suddenly thinking that at
least I shall not take part in this forced, terrible stripping taking
place in front of our very eyes.
And again the woman crossed the metal detector, picked up one of the
plastic trays on which bags are sometimes placed and came back to stand
in front of the soldiers’ window. She raised the bag and, noticeably
tired, poured the rest of the objects from the bag into the tray.
Her tears were seen all the way to where we were standing.
Then she bent down to pick up the scattered objects and was already
holding one of them when the male-soldier’s voice boomed again: “Bag in
The object she happened to be holding that moment was a painted wooden
box – perhaps to store a piece of jewelry, I thought, or even sweets –
that fell to the ground with a cracking sound, and she hurried on from
there, without looking, towards the opening of the x-ray machine, where
she placed her bag inside for the third time.
She did not put her bag in the plastic tray again.
“In the plastic” came a voice that scorched her skin, and our skin, and
the skin of the sky stood still, so I felt, right there in Qalandiya, in
that filthy place, that cruel place, that immoral place. And then her
hands that hardly obeyed her, so it seemed, placed the bag in the
plastic tray, and it disappeared inside the x-ray machine.
The tears that shone in her eyes earlier now turned into a quiet
whimper. Her old partner, who had not budged all that time, was
trembling all over.
The woman went to the other end of the machine, took her bag from there,
approached the plate-glass window, again, and raised her bag. Her gaze
And I though to myself, that in these moments I witnessed pure,
unadulterated evil. That is how evil looks. And again I thought that the
most complicated part of this is the knowledge that what these men- and
women-soldiers do is what normal people do. Not monsters, just human
beings. That it is so easy to carry out nearly anything, as long as it
is the norm, what everyone does, that which is done with everyone’s
blessing, no more.
And that it is terrible.
“Magnet, magnet!” the voice beyond the plate-glass window boomed again
and cut off my thoughts.
Her elderly companion, who had not budged all that time, joined her. The
woman silently collected the rest of her things from the ground and
placed them in her bag. Then she took out their two ‘magnet’ cards, hers
She placed them one after the other in the proper slot, and waited.
And we all waited.
“Go on, go!” the woman-soldier concluded.
And they crossed. Accompanied by the giggles and laughter of the
soldiers. Merry voices of normal youngsters.
And then my turn came.
The light turned green, I crossed the turnstile and placed my backpack
in the x-ray machine, it went through. No occupation forces demanded a
magnet card or special permit from me, as I am not Palestinian. After
all, I have the obvious privileges between the (Jordan) River and the
As I presented my worthy ID, I saw them still laughing.
Were the soldiers laughing about the woman? Were they laughing because
something amused them?
It didn’t matter.
Either way, for them this elderly couple - as all of the other
Palestinians there and elsewhere - were not human beings. Not really.
Because if these People were humans for them, in the true sense of the
word, they – the Israeli soldiers – would not have been there.
Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran. 16.5.2012