With the Little Beggars of Qalandiya Checkpoint
While we go abroad and come back, or visit friends and sit in a cafť, or
sing for peace at Tel Avivís Rabin Square, they are there all the time
with their meager wares, and soldiers chase them and hunt them down and
shoot them and harass them because this is what soldiers are sent to do.
The first person who told me about Ibrahim was Hussam. It was evening, I
was on my way back from visiting friends in Qalandiya and was about to
enter the checkpoint when he suddenly materialized out of the dark that
was already upon us, and ran towards me.
Any time I see Hussam my heart leaps. He was five years old when I saw
him for the first time selling stuff at Qalandiya Checkpoint. Back then
he already had a different, wide open heart, unusually wide for such a
small child. Since then, for these past eight years, and even before
really, every single day of his life, from the moment school is out
until the late evening hours, he is out selling his miserable goods,
beaten and persecuted by both his own family and the various forces of
the Israeli Occupation.
The single day in which he did not work all these years was when he lay
in a Ramallah hospital, after policemen had beaten him unconscious at
the French Hill Junction.
Aya, Aya! He yelled out my name and I stopped. He reached me out of
breath, with the box of chewing gum packs he sells for a pittance, and
immediately gave me one as a gift.
Help Ibrahim! He said. He was arrested. He was taken and he is alone, he
added. He said this pleading, looking at me hard, and I thought to
myself how in this little boyís heart there is room for everyone and
empathy of the kind that only mothers are supposed to possess.
I remember once when I was detained by soldiers at the checkpoint and
other children came to beg from me: he stood there with his little body
of a six-year old to protect me.
To make sure nothing will be asked of me for Iím already in trouble, so
he thought, and gave me a red plastic airplane and half a cob of corn
which was the tastiest corn-on-the-cob Iíve ever eaten.
Meanwhile all the other little beggars came running too, and told how
the soldiers took Ibrahim on Tuesday, and they say heís thrown a Molotov
cocktail, that they saw that on their camera, and they pointed to the
camera positioned above the pillbox.
Heís there alone, all the little ones repeated after Hussam, all the
little derelicts like Hussam and like Ibrahim himself, who is the most
abandoned and lost and sad child Iíve seen in my life.
It took a while until I went back to visit the children again. After the
transit crossed Qalandiya Checkpoint and I got off at the northern
roundabout leading to Ramallah, my whole being was flooded with honking
vehicles and peopleís voices and the dust of Qalandiya that is instantly
absorbed in oneís hair and eyelashes.
The line of cars bound for Jerusalem was of course long as always,
intended only for Palestinian-Jerusalemites and Israelis and holders of
special permits. All the rest Ė hundreds of thousands of others Ė are
not allowed into Jerusalem.
And then I saw them. Fatso, and Yunes and Mohammad Hussamís brothers,
and Muímin Ibrahimís brother, and another two whom I donít know who I
learned were from Hebron, and little A. and perhaps some others I donít
recall right now.
I waved hello but did not immediately approach. I realized they were all
working just then, which means in their case walking along the long line
crawling in the direction of Jerusalem and asking the waiting drivers
and passengers if they would like to buy one thing or another. Fatso
offers to clean windshields. Yunes tries to sell cloth dolls, and Muímin
has singersí DVDs for sale. A. sells puzzles, and another boy sells
So I looked around me a bit, and saw a really little boy, eight or nine
years-old I presume, who had wrapped himself up in rags like a true
guerilla warrior, standing alone on a low stone wall that was once
erected and then abandoned for another one, and looking over the
And I smiled, for it was ludicrous and touching.
Some moments later several of the children came up to me and we all sat
down on some broken concrete slabs to chat, Muímin and Mohammad and
Fatso and Yunes, and A. who sat right next to me.
I asked them whether any of them had been at the checkpoint when Ibrahim
was arrested, and Yunes said he was, and told me that Ibrahim was
standing right where we were now, by the line of waiting cars, and not
at all at the checkpoint itself, when suddenly some soldiers arrived
from inside the checkpoint and jumped at him, twisting his arm behind
his back and gripping him in the neck, as they dragged him with them
into the checkpoint. The children added that in his trial he was fined
3000 shekel, but since his parents have no money to pay, he was
sentenced instead to two months in prison, and a 1500 shekel fine which
the father has begged bit by bit from various people until the whole sum
was obtained. Poor boy, they said. And I too thought what a poor boy he
was.That poor waif. And I was terribly worried but I didnít tell the
little ones anything.
Meanwhile Yunes went back to work and so did Fatso, while the little
Ďwarriorí who had been standing on the wall earlier came down and stood
not far from me, and I saw in the corner of my eye how he gathered some
little stones in his tiny hand and threw them about two meters ahead,
not even across the road. I did not even have a chance to worry about
him because clearly no one could even notice him and his funny little
And so, while he was throwing his gravel nowhere, I went on talking with
Mohammad and with A. whose name I avoid mentioning on purpose, who
remained sitting beside me. Some time went by and he stopped throwing
gravel and went away.
I donít recall what we talked about. Perhaps we were still talking about
I inquired about him because I actually knew little. They told me his
father sells coffee in the streets of Ramalah, that theyíre lots of kids
at home and have no money at all. Something to that effect. And Mohammad
said that there is no work at all. And no future. And A. was especially
glad that a grownup woman was paying him attention, and he got as close
to me as he could, and while we were sitting there on the broken
concrete, four soldiers suddenly showed up and one of them caught A. who
was sitting next to me, gripping the back of his neck and pulled him
with force and began to squeeze his neck and little A.ís body suddenly
looked distorted and I was afraid he was losing his breath, so I got up
abruptly and gripped the soldierís fingers and pried them open so he A.
could be released from the soldierís grip and breathe again. The
soldier, surprised at my presence, did let A.ís neck go and instead
began to holler at me and scold me. At the same time the terrified child
dropped everything he was holding and shook like a leaf, and couldnít
move for sheer fright. And then all at once began running as fast as he
could towards the refugee camp.
The soldier, whoíd noticed A.ís escape, stopped scolding me and began
chasing him with his weapon pointed at him.
I screamed after him that he is a criminal, and that I wish him to be
jailed for the rest of his life and that no one will ever want to have
anything to do with him and whether heís decided to murder this child
whoíd not done a thing to him? And I tried to follow them, but at some
moment fortunately he got so angry at me that he stopped chasing little
A. and returned to me, to tell me angrily that Iím surely not Jewish and
added that he wished me a roast in hell, that I should go live over
there, pointing at Qalandiya refugee camp, and that thatís where I
belong, and I thanked him for the suggestion and told him it was a good
Only then I noticed that the other soldiers were dragging Mohammad
towards the checkpoint and the children told me, go over there, go to
Mohammad. And I went, all the children close on my heels as if I
possessed some sort of power, which I donít Ė except my wrong kind of
power, that of not being Palestinian: Which is not about what I am, but
rather about what I am not. This is my advantage and my privilege and
the reason I can feel outraged and angry and resist the Occupation
forces without anything particularly grave happening to me.
And I knew that too, of course, and thus took advantage of my status
without undue worry.
I came to the jeep next to which Mohammad was forced to kneel, and saw
the soldier I had quarreled with before, and I feared that they might
even arrest Mohammad and hurt him only because theyíre angry at me, so I
turned back and said to his brother Yunes that I wasnít sure it would be
in Mohammadís favor if I intervened, that I have no power over them. But
when I saw Yunes crying and all the little children looking at me and
expecting me to go back there, I did and asked why they arrested him,
what had he done to them. The soldier only pushed me around a little and
swore and said he didnít owe me a thing and that I should get away from
there, so finally I did and told Yunes Ė who was worried Ė that I donít
know what to do for Mohammad, and he was disappointed but he didnít say
When we got back to the roundabout, I saw two soldiers who had just come
out of some jeep which they parked at the center of roundabout, and
walked about among the cars stuck in line and the little beggars with
their guns pointed and their eyes shining, and a bit later they went and
threw some teargas canisters somewhere near the wall where no one was
standing, and came back to the jeep and proceeded to the checkpoint.
After a while they let Mohammad go and he told me the soldiers said he
was the one throwing stones, which they had seen on camera, and he said
he wasnít. Perhaps the different in ages between him and the tiny little
toddler that their camera had caught in its lens was too great, and
perhaps, too, because I was around, they stopped saying it was he who
was throwing stones, he says, but still they told him that the other
child is the one who threw stones, the one I call A. and they asked
Mohammad who he is and whatís his name, and Mohammad said he didnít
A little while before I left that day, and long after the
tiny-toddler-gravel-thrower had vanished and poor A. ran for his life,
we saw two other children who probably just got there throw, some empty
Coke bottles at the pillbox, and the camera probably picked them out,
and that would be a great reason for the soldier to go hunting them or
some other child down and say that the child caught by the camera was
this or that one even if he wasnít and that an empty Coke bottle is a
Molotov cocktail, and all this will most likely happen.
This is why I say that this whole surveillance-camera business is
nonsense intended to have the soldiers play cowboys and just detain
people for the hell of it and squeeze them dry of the pittance these
poor people earn.
For I saw the tiny gravel thrower in his ludicrous activity two meters
away. And he was not A. whom they came to arrest and squashed his neck
claiming it was he who threw stones, and it was not Mohammad who they
also said was throwing stones, and there is nothing here to argue about.
What I do think is that this is simply the latest fashion among soldiers
at Qalandiya Checkpoint. Having gotten tired of the fashion of trashing
vendersí stalls and the fashion of shooting while chasing children on
the run, and all the other changing fashions at Qalandiya, the present
fashion is for soldiers to film the children through the camera
installed on the pillbox post, and then decide they saw some assailant,
and go out on the chase, and after catching him or another one, beat and
detain him, just as they did to Ibrahim.
Two days later I went to Qalandiya again. And I saw Hussam too, whom I
hadnít seen the last time, and I was happy as I always feel towards this
child. And he told me he heard from the children that soon stones will
be thrown and that I should watch out, he thought that the soldiers
would follow and worried about me. I stroked his cheeks and I hope this
was not crossing some line.
And indeed right then we saw four or five children, eight to twelve
years old, one of them (about nine years old) with his face wrapped in
some red rag, looking like they were getting ready for something. After
a few minutes, just as Hussam said would happen, they began to throw
stones that managed to reach only the closed structure in the roundabout
outside the checkpoint, in which soldiers perhaps sit at times, but Iím
not sure. I saw that one of them held a glass bottle containing some
fluid and a rag stuck inside from the top, and apparently the fluid was
benzene. He lit and threw the bottle to that same spot, and the bottle
fell, a little fire broke out and went out within seconds.
And I was sure that soldiers would begin the chase right away. As they
always do. And this time, unlike the last time I had been there, there
were several children throwing stones, not just one, and the stones were
larger this time, and one of them even threw what is ceremoniously
called a real Molotov cocktail and not just gravel and empty Coke
bottles. Still, oh wonder! Ė not even a single soldier came out to hunt
them down and punish them. More time went by. And no soldiers came out.
No chase. No beating. No arrest. No shooting.
How is it possible, I thought, that when a tiny toddler throws some
gravel, ten soldiers venture out to throw teargas and arrest and beat
and wave their guns in the air to show whoís boss, and not even one
soldier comes out at the sight of a shower of stones and a real Molotov
The reason, I think, was the heat.
For it was a weird heat wave for the month of November, over 30 degrees,
and I assume they were simply too hot to go hunting.
I have no idea whether or not little Ibrahim Abu Alayish threw a Molotov
cocktail as the military prosecution claims, whether it was even he or
someone else, or whether a real Molotov cocktail had been thrown at all
or was it an empty Coke bottle or a ridiculous version such as I had
For it really doesnít matter. Ibrahim is a little child under Occupation
from the Qalandiya refugee camp. Just as heíd been abused before he is
still and will go on being abused, for they donít see him. They donít
see the child Ibrahim. Not the soldiers who hunt him nor the military
judges who sentence him, nor the policemen, nor the many silent.
I only hope that Ibrahim survive his jail sentence. Get through it
unscarred. Not feeling all too lonely, as Hussam worries about him. That
this abandoned little child come back to us, and that one day he will
get his right to live like a human being.
One last thing I would like to tell although itís difficult, although it
is not surprising: seeing with what joy and thrill the soldiers strut
around there with their pointed guns, hunting the children and scaring
the people in line. And how true the clichť is, that Occupation
For that is what it does.
It is difficult, for these soldiers, and not just they, also those who
took part in the massacre of Gaza and all the rest who take part in the
routine of harassment and institutionalized terror Ė they are everyman,
in fact. The son of my neighbor, possibly the sons of my friends and my
relatives, the waiters at most of the cafes and the interns at medical
school, and the salespeople at the book shops and fashion stores, for
they all go to the army, and that is what they are sent to do.
And the next time we read in the paper that boys threw Molotov cocktails
and our forces returned fire, please think about the right year old
children with the rags on their faces and the gravel in their hands, and
young armed men shooting at running children or just chasing them and
detaining them, and sending them to jail for a long time, with
For thatís what it is, mostly. More or less.
Ibrahim will get out of jail in about twenty days. And perhaps, or
rather likely, during this time the soldiers will hunt one of the other
little ones, and arrest him, and he will be thrown into some jail
because he threw stones or not, because it really makes no difference to
For all the Palestinians are alike, as far as the soldiers are
concerned. Alike and equal and identical.
One throws, the other is arrested, as a soldier once told me when I
yelled at him how come he was arresting this child who had not thrown
stones. He answered that it didnít matter, for if he hadnít thrown now,
obviously he will throw later.
And arrested him.
Because he is Palestinian.
Aya Kaniuk 7.11.2009 translated by Tal Haran.