By Tamar Fleishman – Qalandiya, Occupied West Bank
On each one of the four Fridays of the Ramadan month, thousands of Palestinians throughout the West Bank left their homes at the break of dawn to participate in the prayers at Al Aqsa at noon. Most likely, none of them was under the illusion that the road leading to their destination would be open, as is required by international law and as has been alleged by the representatives of the Israeli government in regards to the freedom of religion.
Years of experience have taught them that neither the law nor statements would determine and give out the verdict as to who would pass and who would not. They knew that criterion alone will fulfill or crush their hopes to pray before their God. They knew that at Qalandiya checkpoint there would be a screening process and meticulous inspections of IDs and permits would be performed. They also knew that they had to let it go, to swallow their pride and let it all blow over, and the fact that there is a discrimination based on age and gender didn’t go unnoticed either: since most of the boys and teenagers were too old to pass the selection and most of the men were too young.
But regardless of what they knew and despite the mental and physical torture, there were many that didn’t fit the criterion but arrived nevertheless. They gathered there, squeezed inside the crowd and insisted, they tried and tried again to pass the barricades and the rifles of the people blocking them.
Perhaps this is the only way for these people, who have had their rights trampled on, to express their protest and anger.
Perhaps the determination and persistence reflected in this ritual, in the act of returning to this bad place knowing how it will end, over and over again, week after week, year after year, is their muted scream, is for them a source for strength and hope.
And indeed, during each one of the Ramadan Friday the regulations were followed rigorously, the restrictions were well known and order was preserved.
For only thus, with criterion and order, accompanied by drawn rifles, clubs in suspense, and the hating eyes of the people in charge of discipline whose voices convey patronizing attitude and disregard, only thus, when there is no place of improvisations and generosity, does order become exemplary and the heart turns to stone.
Only thus can the tens of thousands knocking on the gates be controlled and regulated, only with these measures can so many people be sent back, can a person shut himself before the pleading of those who had been on the road since sunrise, carrying a prayer rug on their shoulders, suffering from heatstroke and exhausted from the fast, until finally arriving at Qalandiya checkpoint hoping for the best.
Only with criterion and order can a person raise his hand and voice to humiliate a father before the eyes of his children, who hold his hand and gaze at him with anticipation. Only in the name of order can elders and children be worn out with spiteful questions, be interrogated as to the number of brothers they have and the order in which they were born, and be asked a question such as this: “how many Ahmeds are there in your family?
In the name of the rules of this day, women were separated from their husbands and grandparents from their grandchildren, women were forced to wait under the blazing sun for a long time for their husbands who might or might not show up.
And when the system flaunts the alleviations granted to the Palestinians on the Ramadan, a feeling of bitterness and falsehood arises, perhaps because the permits mainly signify preventions, as all the other passage permits are considered invalid from dawn to noon. It is therefore no wonder that many of the thousands that have work, health or visitation permits arrive at night at Al Aqsa, sleep and wait there until noon on Friday to hold their prayers.
Everything has been taken under account and thought through down to last detail when it came to preserving order, and even the Red Crescent crews were policed. The members of the crews, who do this work voluntary, were required to hand in their applications at the offices of the civil administration before the Ramadan month began, so that they could be profiled- inspections in which the dangerousness of the individual is assessed- at the end of which a list of 25 names was issued, specifying the crew members allowed inside the checkpoint, which is a kind of sterile zone for Palestinians (one of the more blunt expressions of racism is that Palestinians are forbidden from standing or waiting at that huge site. They may only move from one entrance to the other, according to the orders of the sovereign).
The volunteers of the Red Crescent who hadn’t been screened, were forced to stand outside the metal and concrete barricades.
The mind that concocted this strange dish issued each week colored plastic handcuffs which the DCL officer put on the arms of the “chosen ones”, so that they don’t deceive them by bringing someone else in their place, and to make sure that they do not bring their own handcuffs and mislead the authority, each week a new color was issued.
The policemen and the IDF officers were most satisfied with their decision regarding the hours during which the passage to Al Aqsa would permitted. Those who hadn’t had the opportunity to pass weren’t as satisfied. And a person that was shoved back aggressively and forcefully by BP officers, shouted towards me: “take a picture!” and the people next to him, their bodies crammed against one another backed his requested by nodding their heads.
After all, it is not their disgrace, shame and mortification. It is ours. I took a picture of him, of them, of us.
(Translated by Ruth Fleishman)
– As a member of Machsomwatch, once a week Tamar Fleishman heads out to document the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This documentation (reports, photos and videos) can be found on the organization’s website. The majority of the Spotlights (an opinion page) that are published on the site had been written by her. She is also a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.