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another wednesday
in qalandiya

a report by aya kaniuk



Another Wednesday in Qalandiya by Aya Kaniuk

It was Wednesday. In the women’s and “humanitarian” line, a woman held a baby a few days old, two small children at her side. Beside her a man, her spouse, and an old man, all of them standing in front of soldiers. “Irja’ ” [“go back”], the soldier automatically says to the man, but nobody replies, because how can you reply – will he leave his wife who can barely carry the baby, and his small children? After a few “irja’”s, the soldier’s voice fades away. And they passed. “Good day, Shalom, all the best, thank you very much,” says the volunteer with the white beard in an unending chatter as he turns his offended and bewildered gaze to those who come and go and hear his croaked blessings as if they were transparent, and do not present themselves to benefit from his humane enlightened humanitarianism. “Irja’, wahad wahad” [“go back, one by one”], and four more are permitted to pass from the first carousel to the second. From time to time one gets stuck inside, to the suppressed or open amusement of the soldiers.
A man comes and stands in front of the female soldier. He waits. She dreams. He opens his bag. She does not see, or alternatively she is afflicted by the euphoria of power that swells within her … from his seeming submission to her, from his clear dependence on her, from his obvious desperation. After an unreasonably protracted period of time, during which the line stops and the man stops, his bag is open in front of her, its contents are clearly visible, and dozens of wordless quiet tense people are waiting, their gaze turned to her, and with a movement of the curved palm of her hand, as if her hand were an object detached from herself, not having looked at his bag or at him, she signaled to him with smiling carelessness to go, and he went. “Thank you very much, Shalom, good day, all the best,” continue the bursts of disjointed and bewildered greetings of the old man, which are the other, unreversed side of the young soldier’s “irja’,” and of the female soldier’s
silence in the face of a man twice her age, waiting for her to deign to notice that he exists, that he is a human being.
Three parallel versions of occupiers.

It was in winter. Avishai, the checkpoint commander, was definitely consistent about doing bad for the sake of doing bad. To answer with enthusiastic vulgarity, to be alert only for the purpose of impeding, restricting and harming. A small boy, nine years old, who passed out of line, he diligently grabbed by the neck, his fingers continuing to squeeze his neck as he dragged him, gleefully thrust him towards the carousel to go back to his place. People are checked with dreadful slowness, also because of the routine, that is to say the background chatter of the soldiers to each other, the obliviousness to the raw human reality standing before them, their indifference to the hunger, the hardship, the dwindling of time. Apart from the slowness determined by the racist simplification for those who stand before them, who are not human beings in the full sense of the term, and they do not bleed like we do, and their wounds do not hurt like ours do, and the mothers do not love their children as ours do, it was specific. And the specific was the tone of Avishai and another like him by the name of Haim. Power swelling up within them. And there was what the soldiers claimed was an alert, for someone [female] who might come in the form of somebody [male] or something. In other words, they are all suspects.
Even the babies, and the sheep, and the child’s bicycle, and of course the eighty-year-old woman from Jericho who is not in good health and who stands for two hours and asks to go to the “humanitarian” line, but no, it’s impossible, all, all, all of them are suspects until it is proven otherwise, and even after that.

Qalandiya, like all the checkpoints, is a place where movement is forbidden. Forbidden except. And this small and ongoing except, is narrowing, changing. Its official purpose is security, and its unofficial purpose is the destruction of the fabric, the belongingness and the dream.

Qalandiya is a place.
Qalandiya is a symbol.
Qalandiya is fate.

It is where a soldier sits in a booth with or without a rifle pointing at the waiting multitudes, hundreds of people, for hours, in the sun. He signals with a small motion of the palm of the hand and the Palestinian approaches. He extends a hand, the ID card is given, he throws a glance, and if all goes well he signals to him with a motion of the hand to go. The body does not move, only the small palm of the hand with its small curve. Qalandiya is where the army and the municipality together take care to ensure that downtrodden people, who in any case have lost their possibility of livelihood because of the closure, and all that remains for them is to stand near the checkpoint and offer things like bread and hummus to people who are obliged to pass there, whose earnings will amount to 50-60 shekels a day at best, will lose everything. They come, burn stalls, beat, dump and trample merchandise or confiscate it without giving a ticket, systematically, in the framework of law – the occupation – which is not the law, but it makes no difference because this is Qalandiya. It happened not long ago. Two soldiers, a young man and a young woman, opening and closing the gate for the passage of cars, flirting with each other. He brings her coffee and closes the gate, she takes out chewing-gum and closes the gate. The fate of the Palestinians must dance to the rules of flirtation, and obedient cars wait quietly for one of them to wave and say: you have permission to cross your land, to go to your house and from your house, and in the midst of their preoccupation with each other and the hours pass as they make arbitrary decisions to prevent or to permit. In Qalandiya a woman did not arrive to feed her baby because the soldier thought that to complain was audacity that required the punishment of delay, and anyway, what kind of mother is it who leaves her baby, so she had it coming to her … a soldier on a hill jumps onto a low concrete wall with a rifle pointed at a taxi that stopped somewhere forbidden. Not because there is some known prohibition on movement that descended from the heavens and said you can’t stop there, not because that holy line behind him or in front of him is forbidden based on some logic, or morality, rather it is forbidden where the soldier Shahar, or maybe Eli [decided], or maybe it came “from above”: on that day they decided that it was forbidden. Why forbidden? Just because. What does that mean, “just because”? Just because is just because. And this “just because” is not fixed. Every day and every moment it can be a different “just because,” there can be a number of “just becauses” in a day, one time forbidden from point X to point Y, another time forbidden anywhere. Why? Just because.
And because of this crime, of stopping to pick up a woman with several children at a spot near the Qalandiya checkpoint, the soldier points his weapon at them, the children are terrified, one of them wets his pants, sometimes it is accompanied by puncturing tires or smashing windshields, sometimes the taxi is confiscated for a few hours or days, during which the man cannot bring food to his home, and maybe they just take the ID card for a few hours. They do not always return the ID card. Sometimes they tear it up and throw it over the fence. Sometimes they just lose it. Sometimes they do not return it because that is the punishment.

And why did the soldier do that?
Just because.
Or as somebody put it, because we are Arabs.

They are Arabs. They do not have distinct faces. They are one. One brownish pulp in orange taxis.

How did the female commander at Qalandiya put it some time ago? “I know him.”
“You know his name?” I asked innocently. “You can identify his face?”
“No,” she said with scorn at my stubbornness. “I know him, them.”
Because what difference does it make to her. He, they, he stopped in a forbidden place, he, which is they which is he, and now there is a punishment for him, for them, for them which is he, “and what if he’s a suicider?” She explains.
For she is protecting me from him, from he whom she knows but not his name, not his uniqueness, but on the basis of the principle that a man who is a Palestinian driving a taxi, a reduction of a stereotype of which the individual becomes its representative, is a “terrorist.”

In the end they did not shoot him, they did not beat him, they did not stand him against the wall, or in the rain, or in a hole, with threats with a gun, and they did not hit him with the butt, and they did not even steal cellular telephone cards from him. They just let him dehydrate in the taxi for a few hours, very close to the soldiers.

It will be said: this is Qalandiya, those are its soldiers, it’s this particular checkpoint, it’s not the system, it’s not the concept, the goal. After all, it is possible to set up a checkpoint without yelling with a pointed rifle at someone who steps on the white line: “Go back!” The butt prods her body until she falls back and knocks down those in front of her and the children cry. It can be done without closing the checkpoint to hundreds of people because someone “bypassed” the line. After all, the soldiers of Qalandiya, when they shot at the children who threw stones, from a distance, they could have not shot at them, and if they shot – then they did not have to use live ammunition like they used to shoot 14-year-old Omar Matar to death in the neck as he was fleeing, or when they shot a rubber bullet into Fares’ eye and left him to bleed without calling for help, without checking. They shot, killed and left.

And if moreover they did not shoot and did not beat, and when they stopped them for inspection they did it without making them sit or tying them up or making them stand on one leg, or exactly on the white line and don’t you dare get up – then we could suppose they were just enforcing “the laws.”
What are the laws?
After all, it is on the basis of orders that most of the population is forbidden to make a living, to work the fields, to go to school; it is on the basis of orders that they stop them for as many hours as they want, and confiscate the taxi of a 60-year-old man raising ten children for as long as they want because he stopped somewhere or did not stop; it is on the basis of orders that they shoot at children who throw stones at the “fence”; and it was on the basis of orders that they murdered 13-year-old Ahmad Abu Latifa near the Qalandiya checkpoint. He was climbing the fence, and they fired first in the air, then at his legs, and “only then” they shot him in the heart, all on the basis of orders.

Orders that are changed every day, systematically. One time only teachers are permitted and another time only teachers are forbidden, according to the orders. One time certain kinds of work permits are respected: no for gas transports, yes for food, and regarding permits for medical problems it depends, because how can the soldier know how to evaluate
the medical problem, the checkpoint commander patiently explains to me, his eyes green and soft, and who certainly takes excellent care of his parents’ cats and gets up for all the old ladies in the world on the bus?

Indeed, how can he know?

But he is the one who will determine whether the woman in labour will get to the hospital, or someone who has a “rupture of the spleen” [English in the original – trans.] will get to her operation, and what if he never learned the meaning of the [English] word “spleen”? No problem, after all he is defending the State against terrorist attacks!

It was again Wednesday. A father and his small son were standing and waiting for their turn and then they approached. The father’s ID card was checked and he was authorized to pass; his small son was standing in front of him when a soldier, unintentionally, it seemed to me, but from unrelated haste, accidentally bumped into the father from behind.
The father was jolted forward and bumped into his son, who fell sprawled onto the ground.
The father, who knew that the soldier had pushed him, did not say a word, did not resist and did not protest. The expression on his face did not change, he did not look behind. In silence he picked up his small son, who also rose mutely, and they continued to walk, as if nothing had happened, his small son in front of him and himself behind.
The soldier who unintentionally pushed the father saw that the father had been pushed and that his son was knocked down. He was not blind. He turned to his friends and started to joke with them about this and that, not from any particular cruelty. No deliberateness was manifest in him. He did not derive any satisfaction from what happened, he certainly did not mean to knock down the boy. He was chuckling with his friends about their own affairs. Conqueror and conquered – the conquered knows, sees, but is silent, mute, he restrains himself and goes, because he has to bear his life, his son, what remains, to cross the checkpoint was more important than to call out for justice, to demand it.

The conqueror does not see. He looks and does not see. From his perspective nothing happened. A Palestinian father who was pushed and knocked down his son is nothing.

These days, as periodically at Qalandiya, there are all kinds of changes. The routine physical changes.

“Is this for Jews or Arabs?” a boy asks us – one of the death children of whom three have been murdered already in the past two years, in the death games between the children of the refugee camp who throw stones at the rocky field called the airfield, far from the checkpoint (incidentally, if they threw stones from close-up would it be permitted to hunt them down and to murder them?), and the IOF soldiers who chase them and shoot them as they are fleeing.
We did not reply. We stitched up the pain within us, we smiled at him. The answer is clear.

“Do you want to throw stones, maybe?” he suggested to us from a feeling of closeness.

                                                                                    Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall

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