a report by aya kaniuk
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?
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
“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 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
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
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
Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall