Naturally I have nothing
against soldiers being sent to prison. But such punishment would not be
for committing their main and most despicable crime which is their
actual complicity in oppressing the Palestinian people. Being sentenced
in prison for taking bribes means being punished for a marginal act. I
nearly dare say it means to be incarcerated for that which is not a
crime. Not when this specific "crime" means a Palestinian can put bread
on the table for his children, go to the hospital or visit family.
I met F. several weeks ago near one of the hundreds of checkpoints
scattered throughout the occupied West Bank. She is a relatively young
woman, pale, her smile huge. She has five children, she told me, and her
husband left her and is now doing time in a Palestinian jail. She has
only sisters and that, as far as I understand, means she has no economic
support from her family. She is alone with her little children and old,
ailing mother. She alone is feeding all of them.
F., like most adult Palestinians, is not allowed into Israel to work.
She is black-listed by the GSS, even though she has not been suspected
of "anything". The fact is she has never been summoned for questioning
nor arrested, nor has her home been searched. Had she been suspected of
anything, resisting oppression and occupation and state-terror, she
would have been caught and interrogated. And even unsuspected, she might
have been arrested and interrogated. Suffice it for someone else to have
breathed her name, or a soldier wished to get back at her for not having
stood properly in line, in his opinion. But even this did not happen.
She is home, not suspected nor accused of anything, not even under
The only "crime" of which she is guilty and which keeps her out of
Israel, is that she is Palestinian. Object of collective punishment of
her entire people, denied such basic human rights such as the right to
work, to health, to marry, to build a home, to move freely within the
occupied West Bank, except according to the systematically arbitrary
criteria of the Occupation.
However, in spite of the institutionalized harassment of the Occupation
de-facto, in spite of the attempt to deny work as a method of oppression
and pressuring people into collaboration, it is impossible to prevent a
mother from seeking food for her children. Such is evolution. The drive
to feed the young is invincible. F. Must work, or else her children will
fall ill or die. No matter how grim the regime, how cruel, and how
violent and 'gung-ho' the soldiers are at the junctions, on the roads,
she will arise and go to look for work in order to feed her children.
F. tries to sneak into Israel for such cheap labor is in demand. The
paths are well-known. At night, in fields, in dangerous places. Where
soldiers, licensed to act ruthlessly, chase poor work-seekers and harass
them as much as possible before sending them back or arresting them and
fining them as another type of warped state benefit. But a woman after
six births (one daughter died) cannot run around nights on dangerous
roads like the young male work-seekers.
She simply cannot.
She stood by the checkpoint and that was strange. And we talked. For
they don't allow them in there, as we knew. Because that's how it is.
We waited some, and then we left.
Later we spoke with her again, and to our amazement and relief she had
already been in Israel. And soon she will be working in some home, she
said. And we were delighted.
F. managed to cross the checkpoint because she has an arrangement, and
that's why I don't say where all this took place. In other words,
someone is paying certain soldiers, and F. and her friends pay him and
they cross even though officially this is forbidden, and it's lucky.
The soldiers, too,
perceive the lie that is at the base of the security claim for
preventing passage. They, too, see the checkpoints fragmenting
Palestinian areas from each other, far away from the 'green line'. They,
too, realize that prevention breeds bitterness and frustration and
helplessness and despair and rage, and that collective punishment breeds
neither obedience nor security. And they, too, know that whoever wants
to do something like smuggle an explosive charge or blow himself up,
would never go through a checkpoint where he hasn't a chance to pass
without being detected. They know full well that inspections are a
fiction that is meant to oppress and threaten and frustrate and starve,
and that it is not serious.
And thus, after F. and all the rest of those prevented passage have been
refused, they will stand by some checkpoint or other, at a few meters'
distance from the soldiers. And the soldiers do not allow them to cross
but do not prevent them from standing nearby. And that for the simple
reason that they are not afraid of them. Fear is, of course, a sure
cliché to explain and justify institutionalized harassment of the
Palestinian people, and is much in use, but on the ground one cannot but
see that these are nothing but empty, overused words. If the soldiers
were afraid or suspected those whose passage they prevented of being
dangerous, smuggling explosives, they would never let them stand so
It was not fear that made them prevent F. from crossing the checkpoint.
Who are those soldiers who did not accept bribes? Who did not let F.
What is their personality like, the ones who saw an impoverished woman
who has done 'nothing wrong', and they knew exactly why she wants to get
through, and would not let her? In spite of witnessing how miserable she
is, and how pale. They didn't suspect a thing, they did not summon the
police, or the GSS, and were not afraid of her, and were not disturbed
by the fact that she stood so close to them after being refused passage.
These are the "good" soldiers, who obey orders no matter what they are.
Follow the rules because they are the rules. Regime officials. Cogs.
Those who looked at F., the miserable, poor woman seeking work to feed
her children. And even though they did not think she deserves to starve,
it did not keep these decent guys, these followers of orders and timely
rules, from preventing F. willingly and naturally from crossing the
checkpoint to make a living.
Unlike those soldiers who took bribes and enabled L's children to be
fed. These are the "bad", the greedy soldiers.
Who should not have taken money from those who have none, from those who
deserve to move freely in their homeland, and to seek work. From those
who have been so terribly wronged. For they are human.
These soldiers should not have asked anything in return for doing the
right thing. They could have simply let her through, for free.
But those are the ones who think for themselves and do not follow the
rules of their time only because such are the rules, who are healthily
subversive and challenge the automatic legitimacy of State clichés,
whether from a criminal or from an ideological angle, and yes, they are
criminals according to certain criteria, but they are the ones who said
and will say to this or the other historical victim: give me something
and I'll let you escape to the forest, or something of that nature. And
not necessarily out of the goodness of heart or ideology or caring. But
by being free of dictates and automatic loyalty to norms and rules.
These are the special ones who do not tow the line of flattened,
habitual conformity. The exceptions, the others. Who – by their
rebelliousness, criminal or not, benevolent or malevolent, in spite of
their criminality – are all the more important to society's morality and
wholesomeness than its obedient servants have ever been.
"Still they took bribes from those who have nothing" I said to a young
Palestinian near the Container Checkpoint at a-Sawahira a-Sharqiya, short while after the former unit
posted there was removed after being accused of letting Palestinians
cross in return for money taken. And he answered: "What are you saying?
These were good soldiers. What kind of salary do they get? Naturally
they'd take money. And they take a risk too. And who does things without
money? Does a doctor work without money? Or a prime
minister? A doctor, too, charges a patient who is penniless. And these
soldiers who are here now are garbage. No one gets through with them.
Now this is prison. No money. No livelihood. No life. Nothing. Pity for
the soldiers who were caught."
and he added, "Nice guys…"
May they thrive, the bribe-takers, thanks to whom people like F. can
bring home a bit of food. And thanks to them, they will not starve. And
this is no metaphor.
Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran.