In one random hitchhiker, the story of the Palestinians
On a journey from Ramallah to the Hashmonaim checkpoint, one man reveals the grim reality that is routine for most.
By Amira Hass | 15:48 26.05.14
It’s still dark on Al-Rukab Street in Ramallah. Ju’ebeh’s small book and newspaper shop is the only place open, and the fresh newspapers await distribution to the other sales points in the city. I stop the car. The man who raised his arm looking to hitch a ride hurries over, looks at me through the window with some surprise, but opens the door and gets in. He doesn’t have to say it – I can tell he’s one of the lucky ones with a work permit to enter Israel, on his way to the Hashmonaim checkpoint (on land that Israel stole from the Palestinian village of Ni’ilin). I’m heading that way too. This week the Arafat Square’s tiles and the roads leading to it were yet again dug up all the taxis that usually transport workers from there to the checkpoint have vanished. So in the early morning many workers are standing at the intersections hoping to catch a ride with other early risers.
The man works in construction. In the Haifa area. He tries to come home every day, even though his permit allows him to sleep in Israel. He has six grandchildren already and has been working in Israel since 1970, when he was just 13. He tells me all this as the sky brightens and one can make out the dueling graffiti slogans on a block of cement at the western exit of the village of Deir Ibzi’a to the gleaming bypass road that closes off Palestinian villages and creates a long and expanding continuum of settlements. Somebody once sprayed “Death to the Arabs” on the cement block. Then somebody else came along and changed “Arabs” to “Jews.” Then someone else came and sprayed something else atop the Arabs/Jews. Only “Death” is still legible.
We chat about things in the news: the weather, the two teenage boys that IDF soldiers killed on Nakba Day, was there really an attempted kidnapping attack on a moshav. And then he suddenly says: “I lost a child, too.” My words are lost for a moment, and then the questions come – when, where, how. It was the fall of 2002. The boy was 12, he was standing in the street, not far from home. Gunfire from a military vehicle, or a military post (I didn’t delve into the details). Afterwards, they apologized, he said. They admitted they had fired for no reason. The boy wasn’t endangering the soldiers, let alone the state of Israel. I didn’t ask about compensation. I did ask what happened then with the work permit, and as I guessed, having killed his son, Israel also stripped him of his work permit and his livelihood. After 10 years, with a lawyer’s help, he was able to obtain the permit again, so he can work now — 15-hour days, including travel, building houses for Jews.
At the checkpoint I told him I was sorry I couldn’t drive him any further. The bereaved father thanked me and joined the rest of the laborers who were walking into their inspection facility. As a Jewish Israeli woman I passed through the checkpoint with no trouble. At this checkpoint (and others), Palestinian citizens of Israel are given special treatment that steals their time. They are directed to the side, and special air pumps are used to check if their vehicles are carrying any explosives. They are also questioned and their bags are inspected. Terrorists until proven otherwise.
This is the Palestinian routine. One that isn’t filmed or recorded in writing, or leaked in a secret document. Occasionally a photo from unexpected security cameras or activists’ cameras appears and cracks the official hegemonic story that the loyal media relates and the Israeli public warmly embraces. Sometimes it’s an internal document that is made public by virtue of the Freedom of Information law, and manages to break the self-righteous wall for a few hours.
The crack teaches about the whole. The testimony of a Palestinian, his life experience, the field work of journalists that is based on witness accounts and their corroboration, on millions of such “stories” – all this does not matter. The Arab is lying until proven otherwise, and when proven otherwise it’s presented as a regrettable and unusual instance that calls for investigation, and is quickly forgotten. And even if not forgotten – it is never perceived as a link in an ongoing chain, a continuum, as a detail in an existing, thriving pattern. We see the results of this pattern in the abundant vineyards and expanding neighborhoods of the settlements, and in the warning signs placed at the entrance to reservations – those parts of the West Bank from which we haven’t managed to expel the Palestinians.
‘Not just Arabs’
A spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories called my attention to a discrepancy between what was cited in my May 21 report on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee’s Subcommittee for Judea and Samaria Affairs, which discussed methods for clearing Palestinians from Area C – and what was not mentioned in the editorial on the same subject, on May 22. The editorial said that from the protocol of the meeting, there was no telling whether the representatives of the authorities, including Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, protested the crude and racist language used by some of the participants. It cited phrases like “throwing out the Arabs.” So this is an opportunity to repeat what was written in the article, and to emphasize that Mordechai did strongly protest the offensive statements by MK Orit Strock. She wondered how “we got to such an astronomical number of Bedouin” and asked “is anyone making sure that the Bedouin are really Bedouin and not just Arabs.” Mordechai explained to her that it’s impossible to just become a Bedouin. And he added: “By the way, all the rest are not ‘just Arabs’ but Palestinians who live in some of the areas in Judea and Samaria.”