They raise their shirts, then turn around, then hold their breath.
Sometimes their mouths tighten, their faces flush with
embarrassment. One by one they get out from behind the bars, from
the crush of the crowded waiting line in which they have been
standing for hours, and place their belongings on a filthy table. At
times they cringe at first, having seen what happened to the person
ahead of them in line, but then they approach, obey, for one soldier
points his gun at them, the other stands there with today's list of
'wanted' men. And then one of the soldiers, every time a different
one, send his hands to rummage ahead, one young man after another,
one drawn face after another.
At times, coming out while tucking their shirt back in and buckling
their belt and zipping their pants back up they swear, unheard.
It is not necessarily the worst amongst the abuses. There are indeed
worse ones than this one. It is also true that men don't necessarily
feel humiliated when ordered to undress in public.
Humiliation, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. And people do
respond in different ways.
Checkpoint Huwara, like all of the checkpoints in the West Bank, is
not located upon the 'green line', it does not separate Palestinians
from Israelis, but Palestinians from Palestinians, all of whom are –
without exception – denied passage unless they answer to this or the
other criterion that are always changing at random, and neither
fixed nor sensible, as a method.
Israel's official reason for maintaining the checkpoints is
security, an argument that even if it were valid, is by no means
acceptable or justifiable – for it constitutes undifferentiating
collective punishment imposed upon a whole nation, millions of
people, a-priori, regardless of their individuality, their deeds, or
the personal price they pay.
The security argument becomes nearly incredible when applied to
checkpoints located deep in the heart of the Palestinian population,
cutting it up and dividing it into small, crowded and isolated
enclaves, preventing movement between villages and towns, on roads,
anywhere. Checkpoints that in their inherent official cruelty,
create a mighty distortion of every bit of normal civilian life, on
the way to hospital to receive a transfusion, or to school, or to
visit an old mother in the village, or to bury one's dead or to go
It is difficult to avoid the thought that the humiliation, the
harassment that come about when people are denied existing and
moving about in the space of their lives – are not the inevitable
result of a policy, but rather its purpose.
Throughout history, in most cultures and religions, the ultimate
humiliation of a person has been to undress him or her in public.
This is true of western civilization, and with it and within in –
all three monotheistic faiths.
Shedding the respect for an adult's nudity in public usually stands
for the fact that the victim of this procedure is no longer
In 1984, in the chronic closed ward 6a at Abarbanel psychiatric
hospital, people were required to undress. The chronic closed ward –
unlike other closed wards – contains people who are hospitalized
long-term and whose condition is diagnosed as permanent. There were
those patients who had spent over thirty years in this ward. Many of
them were Holocaust survivors and who knows how they ended up there,
but they would never leave, and no one demanded to have them out.
Most of them aged. And this ward was their only home.
In the morning the nurses would yell at them to get up, or wake up,
depends who. And then on to the showers.
At the center of the ward were a few small shower stalls, without
doors. Sometimes the nurses would place sacking partitions a meter
and a half away from the open shower stalls. At other times, they
Those old men and women as well as the not so old, would obey
instructions, undress and walk nude over to the showers.
Hurry up, shouted the nurses, and turned on the water.
Women and men together, side by side, undressed, every morning, on
their way to the shower in the non-human kingdom.
The nurses handed them bars of soap, maybe towels too, I no longer
Naked, unseen, not really human beings.
When an adult is undressed in public, it is done either to
humiliate, or punish him or her, or because he or she are not
conceived as fully human. Even when, at an airport, some suspicion
or other comes up (a problematic issue in itself), and a person is
taken aside and required to take off one or another item of
clothing, it happens off in some side room or cubicle. Never is this
person required to undress in full sight of everyone present.
On their way to die, people were made to undress for they were no
longer human, for they were about to die anyway, for their shame was
unseen, like their humanity. In chronic hospital wards, in
institutions for the retarded, in nursing homes – some people shake
loose this delicate line of respect for the privacy of the patient's
nudity, because the patients are not conceived as fully human.
Under Israeli occupation, by law and norm and not as an exceptional
incident or because of some specific soldier, but rather as an
entirely official routine, not on the way to any ovens, nor in a
chronic ward of the demented aged, young men are required to
undress. Not yet fully.
Translated by Tal Haran