Checkpoints: Area C

I recently had the occasion of venturing into the West Bank’s Area C (with a dip into Area B). While Areas C, B and A are behind the so-called Green Line [1], Area C is under full Israeli control, whereas Areas A and B are either under full Palestinian control or joint Palestinian-Israeli jurisdiction, respectively.

Since I had hitherto studiously avoided crossing the Green Line into the West Bank, and had observed and/or read of events that made the news from the comfort of my Tel Aviv home, this Machsom Watch tour was a real eye opener.

It made things that much more palpable. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an in vivo experience is worth a million, and I strongly recommend going on a tour if you possibly can: all it takes is an open mind, a few hours, and a small donation to cover transportation.

Machsom Watch [2], a voluntary organization created by Israeli women who stand for human rights and concomitantly oppose the Occupation of the Western Bank, performs various functions and activities. Among them, daily visits to numerous internal checkpoints or “machsomim” between Area C (and by implication, Israel, once the final checkpoint before Israel is passed) and Areas A and B—in order to peacefully observe the interactions among the young Israeli soldiers who upon graduating from high school, are tasked with manning these checkpoints, the Palestinian farmers needing to work their land (which is often on the wrong i.e., Israeli side of the security fence or “Gader”), and others, of necessity equipped with permits of various shapes and forms.

The mere presence of these dedicated women, who take turns on early morning, noon and evening “shifts” at the checkpoints, appears to have a quasi-magical, calming effect on the tense and often terse encounters between peoples and cultures, between oppressed men, women and children and the representatives (and symbols) of their oppression, teenagers and adults tasked with upholding the security of their fellow citizens, Jewish, Christian and Arab Israelis living in Israel, and the international community visiting or based in Israel.

Across the world and over the centuries, oppression has never boded well for those involved, whether oppressed or oppressor. Isn’t this a strong “clue” that oppression should be eradicated from the repertoire of human behavior? Or at least from ours? Don’t we, as Isaiah would have us, consider ourselves a “Light Unto the Nations,” an Or LaGoyim? Mentors of spiritual and moral guidance for the world at large? Can we learn from our own experience?

Neither the prolonged Occupation nor Israel’s abnegation of responsibility for implementing a clear and humane policy with respect to who is or isn’t a bone fide asylum seeker and refugee, suggest that little has been internalized or learned since the exodus from Biblical Egypt and the fate of the Jewish people at critical eras, such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Pogroms and the Second World War with its Shoah atrocities.

 

One of numerous agricultural barriers and checkpoints surrounding Palestinian lands and villages in the West Bank’s Area C, under full Israeli control. We learn that it is only recently that someone has bothered to put up a timetable specifying when it is manned. Being late means you cannot leave your village or return to it, and are forced to remain in Area C or Israel, albeit illegally more often than not.

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Farmers entering the checkpoint.

[1] Named in reference to the green ink used in the 1949 UN-mediated Armistice Agreement to demarcate Israel from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Since 1967 and the Six Day War, the Green Line also delineates Israel from the occupied West Bank, home to Palestinians and Jewish settlers of various persuasions, originally sent there by the government to enhance security prior to the signing of peace treaties with neighboring countries.

[2] See their website (machsomwatch.org). One of the Tel Aviv chapter’s founding members is Dalia, the daughter of Eliyahu Golomb, a founding member of the Haganah (1920) and later the Palmach, both of which are considered the precursors of the Israel Defense Forces, formally established in 1948 upon the founding of the State of Israel.

The Eight Day War

Eleven days have elapsed since the tenuous ceasefire between Israel and Gaza—which was preceded by eight days of war (some would rather stick to the more sterile term “operation”) and twelve long years’ worth of indiscriminate firing of missiles and rockets over Israel’s southern farms, towns and cities (e.g., Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Sderot, Qiryat Malachi) and their chronically battered inhabitants, many of them too poor to relocate, about one in four traumatized.

Whereas the citizens nearest the Northern border have also weathered the outpour of rockets time and again, culminating in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, this has been the first time since the nineties and the first Gulf War, that the people of the greater Tel Aviv area and their children have been under fire.

For these children, the reality of being under attack begins to sink in:

Givatayim: At my godson’s school, a drill was followed by the real thing—but this time the shelter was locked. “Many children panicked and many girls screamed.”

Tel Aviv: The following day, minutes after reviewing what should be done in the advent of an attack while one is out on the street or in a moving vehicle, my eleven year-old godson was forced to practice this in vivo, as belly down like a seasoned SAS commando, he inched his way towards a bush, mindful of protecting his neck and eardrums with his elbows and hands. The backdrop of the wailing sirens, the witnessing of the abandoning of cars in mid-street by frantic people running for shelter, and seconds later, the sound of a rocket being blown to pieces in midair by the miraculous Iron Dome (having a mere few hours earlier been rushed in from the assembly line and primed for action by a newly formed team headed by a woman, a lieutenant)—all these conspire to make my brave boy “frightened for the first time.” Meanwhile, I try not to freak out, safe in the bomb shelter on my floor, an assortment of neighbors at my side, having left three cats and a parrot to brave the sirens as there was no time to grab them and take them to the shelter. Several blocks away, my mother rushes to a tiny, windowless corridor in her apartment to sit out the mandatory ten minutes since the first siren sounded (after which it is supposedly safe to venture to another room), preferring to remain at home rather than rush off to an empty and inhospitable shelter with a useless wooden door. Minutes later, my friends phone to tell me they are still in one piece despite having been ‘caught’ outside, and now hastily on their way home.

Jaffa: My daughter and her friends rush down the stairs to an underground shelter as there is an ominous explosion that sounds blocks away. I later pick them up, vigilantly listening for the piercing roller-coaster sirens as I drive south, avoiding the freeway and sticking to the right side of the street, so I can stop the car more easily, should the sirens wail. Soon the ‘service-year’ group will disperse, its members off to different parts of the country, where they can rejoin their families.

Rishon: A high-rise condominium sustains a direct hit, the upper floors getting the brunt of it. Miraculously, no one is fatally wounded, the residents having ‘made it’ to their fortified rooms. Numerous families are evacuated, spending what remains of the night in a neighboring school, until other arrangements can be made.

What about all those innocent people on both sides, who either don’t have or can’t make it to a bomb shelter? Not to mention all those who are left homeless through no fault of their own? Boys taught to hate the Zionists and become shahids. Civilians targeted by terrorists or callously used as human shields by same. Soldiers on both sides, conscripted by rulers whose agendas they don’t necessarily embrace, swept along in the flow of events that leads to the outskirts of Gaza and the unknown. Will there be a land attack? Has it started? What will trigger it? Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, are unable to sleep, in their incessant worry for their loved ones– even when the sirens are finally quiet, the “surgical” strikes over. For some, they keep ringing in their brain, rekindling the traumatic event/s.

Imagine if the contents of the war-bound coffers of the world were used to improve the lot of the people in the Middle East and other afflicted areas. Spent on cultivating health and the prevention of sickness, on unbiased education, vocational training and conflict resolution by peaceful means.

I choose to dream.

 

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The Blog

Dear Reader,

From now on, I will be blogging every once in a while, in the hopes of providing you with a good reason to revisit my site and keep in touch.

Topics will address aspects of writing with which I have grappled, what it’s like to live in Israel during these turbulent times while needing to deal with a constantly changing (and quite worrisome) Middle East, and other issues that I hope you will find of interest.

As a writer who has just published her first novel, I look forward to your comments  and constructive feedback (please post or use contact form).

*

Our ragdoll is sleeping on top of my laptop as I write, our parrot busy chirping away and trying to get me to variously talk/whistle/sing to her. She is quite persistent and often noisy, as Sun Conures tend to be.

It is exciting to have The Rosebush Murders finally out there. When I first started out, I had no idea it was so complicated to write a novel and get it published. Meanwhile, I definitely have a few more gray hairs to show for it. It’s been challenging and yes, at times frustrating,  as the writers among you will know first-hand, but also and mostly FUN. I enjoy making up stories and having my characters lead me on serendipitous paths. I also like researching things, whether online or out there in the world.

Although I haven’t participated in a play since my youth, I suspect that writing is a bit like acting, in the sense that both writer and actor tend to tap into different aspects of their personality when role-playing/acting different characters or writing from varying points-of-view (which may or may not coincide with their own).

To be continued….

Ruth Shidlo