Monday, March 21, 2011

Reality Check(point)

Yesterday I went to the West Bank, to occupied Palestine. Yes, that’s right, I went there. Whenever I mention going there, many people here react as if I were going cliffjumping. “Is it safe? Have you done it before? You know insurance doesn’t cover you right?” There is so much fear attached to this place when there’s really no reason. It's no more dangerous than most places in the world. People are hospitable and kind and usually less prone to ripping you off than in Jerusalem. And I promise, you won’t be kidnapped by a terrorist. That's the last thing the Palestinians want to do: they wouldn’t want the American military raging in to rescue some tourist. 

Anyway, I arrived in Ramallah, and got some food for literally a fraction of the of the cost it is in Israel. The end goal of my three friends and I was the tiny village of Taybeh: the only and most popular microbrewery in the entire Middle East. Taybeh brewery was founded in the hope after Oslo to become the dominant beer source in the new Palestinian state that was to be set up. I bought a 24-bottle case of beer: it can’t be bought in Israel proper, and I wanted to be set for the semester and to bring some back home for my family and Liz, so I thought it worth lugging around. "Taste the Revolution!"

The bus ride to Taybeh was quite scenic going through a countryside with little villages scattered around. The one jarring moment that actually scared me was when we saw an Israeli Army vehicle on the side of the road. Four soldiers stood with their M-16s, surrounding two blindfolded Palestinian youths who were kneeling near the ditch with their hands behind their backs. This is execution-style position, but also a position to ensure they’re easier to guard- the likely reason for this time. Our driver slowed down a bit (ostensibly for a speed bump however I also think he wanted to see), but one soldier angrily waved at us to just move along. A short distance on another four soldiers were thoroughly searching a car. Perhaps these boys had been smuggling weapons and were caught. But perhaps they were just driving down the road and swore at the soldiers. When there is so much power in the hands of a few twenty year olds, injustice is inevitable.
The Israeli squad who were capturing the Palestinian youths
Anyway, on the way back from Taybeh, I picked up a couple kaffiyehs cuz they’re pretty hipster and show you’re kinda pro-Palestinian, and we got some weird ice cream fruit mixture. We decided to head back, and got into a bus for Jerusalem. No big problem, right?

Wrong. Traffic was completely backed up from the checkpoint. The system of checkpoints, set up with the Separation Wall around five years ago, is a daily hardship that Palestinians have to face whether they go to Israel or other West Bank cities. Today it was especially backed up. Our bus decided to join several other vehicles and drive the wrong way down the other side of the highway at top speed, hoping to get ahead of traffic. As cars rushed towards us and narrowly cut over to the right side, I realized how crazy this all was. Within a mile we had run out of room to continue this strategy, and we were waved through narrow alleys to a point about a half mile from the checkpoint. At this everyone got off the bus. Confused, we asked why- we would have to go through the checkpoint on foot and take a bus from the other side. Normally us foreigners would have been able to stay on the bus and get checked quickly, but now we were having to experience what Palestinians undergo every day.

We walked towards the checkpoint, following a stream of people that threaded their way through bumper to bumper traffic. I can't imagine how a pregnant woman, child, or disabled person would make it through. The most notable part was seeing how people banded together and assumed responsibility for maintaining the law. There was not a single policeman or soldier in sight, and the traffic was nuts. But I saw numerous citizens take control, waving on cars to go and helping establish off-road routes to ease the gridlock. As I mentioned earlier, even young boys were taking part. These were citizens that realized that life was harsh but it had to go on, and so used creativity to get around the hardship. I even took part, kicking aside a large stone that was blocking a potential “lane” through the normal garbage on the roadside.

When we finally arrived at the checkpoint, we waited on line for about thirty-five minutes. With half a beer, a full milkshake, water, and no bathrooms for hours, we all had to pee, but there are no bathrooms at the checkpoint. Again I wondered what that would be like for a young mother with children. We stood in a narrow line that was a cage: fenced in from the side, front, and above. My friend Jordyn commented she felt like a dog, and I agreed. I looked at the sparrows perched above on the barbed wire and envied them their freedom to just fly over the Wall…

The interesting thing about the checkpoint is that, unlike at an airport, there is no real contact with the Israeli soldiers. Like Michele Foucault’s philosophical concept of the “Panopticon”, control is perfectly maintained by surveillance. No one even knew if there were people watching the cameras, but the mere threat of being watched ensured docility. We walked through the metal detectors and put our own things through the X-Ray machine, showed a soldier our IDs through 2-inch thick bulletproof glass, and made it through. The whole process took about thirty-five minutes, but the man behind us told us this was a very light day compared to most. Sometimes the lines could take hours, adding over four hours total to a person’s commute- every single day.
Inside the security checkpoint

The terrorism of the Second Intifada ten years ago was awful, and Israel is justified to want to protect its citizens. But the toll its protection has taken on the common people of Palestine is inexcusable, and only decreases the stability of Palestinian-Israeli relations. I believe that the Wall must either be torn down, or the Palestinians should be given their own state. The status quo is untenable and unjust so long as the land Israel controls is split by a Wall. And it is indeed a Wall, despite some who call it a “Security Fence”. Take a look at the pictures of a 10-foot high concrete barrier with barbed wire on top and guard towers and then tell me if it looks more like a wall or a fence.

So yeah. Life is hard. The Wall sears the consciences of those on the inside and ruins the livelihoods of those on the outside. But hope endures. The friendliness we received from Palestinians (such as a little old lady who smiled and pointed our way to the brewery) is just one piece of evidence that they have not been utterly warped. 
And personally, I have hope in the Messiah who has torn down every Wall and was unafraid to walk through "unclean" Samaria (today’s "West Bank": most Jews were leery of going through Samaria back then too…hmm…). Under Him, I know every system of injustice can be overthrown, and by following his example we can love our neighbors so much that we’ll want to demolish the Walls of a false, empty security.

[Originally this was going to be a video blog but it ended up being too difficult to upload this time…(sorry Jason :( ) Anyone else think they would like to see me try video? I’ll attempt it again next time when I have a shorter post.]

1 comment:

  1. This is so well written, Andrew. I mean you told me these stories but reading it here I feel like I'm there. I'm glad you have hope, unlike others who would see this and feel so hopeless about the world we live in. To the King!!