A Checkpoint Isn’t Just a Construction

By Tamar Fleishman – The West Bank

Shuafat checkpoint that was inaugurated a few days ago disconnects the residents of the refugee camp from the center of their lives. It separates family members, employees from their place of work, patients from clinics, children from educational institutions and restricts the free movement of tens of thousands of human beings, for the ultimate goal set by its inventors and constructors to create a "strictly Jewish Jerusalem".

The architecture of the checkpoint correlates to the principles of modern prisons, the Panopticon, the concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched, according to Michel Foucault’s definition:

"A metaphor for the modern disciplinary power which is based on isolation, individualization and supervision… the construction is divided into cells that provide the supervisors a clear view of the prisoners- so as to enable the creation of hierarchy and power. In this instance, the custodians (prison directors, wardens) are able to observe and control the space through different devises (closed-circuit televisions, patrols and so on) and they have control over and access to the entire site. In contrast, the prisoners’ movement is restricted to a defined and narrow space, and their accessibility, as well as their ability to observe, is partial and limited according to the regulations of the administration".  

When entering this lion’s den one is sure to lose his way in the concrete monster, adorned with the hidden eyes of countless cameras and the revealed eyes of the men in uniform, who are seated in a room separated by bullet proof glasses.

The walls of this construction are impenetrable to sun beams, the vast space is lighted artificially, which causes the person walking in the meandering labyrinth to feel uncertain whether he is located on ground level or under it. In this atmosphere, in which one can’t tell if he is above or under, whether it is day or night, of estrangement and isolation from natural surroundings, and in which in each moment a side door might open and the person might disappear to god knows where, it’s no wonder that there is a sense of distress and suffocation.

A protest was supposed to be held on the inauguration ceremony. But the long arm of the occupation was quicker than the protest leaders, and in the dead of night it visited tens of houses and only at morning was it known that thirty five men were arrested. In the absence of the protest leaders children and teenagers took their places. Some had their faces bear and other covered them for fear of the cameras above that immortalize every movement made in the open space, as well as the long sighted camera that was attached to the military jeep patrolling at the side of the protest. Years of experience have taught them that after the cameras come hunters that do not distinguish between children and adults, to them they are all prey that can be arrested and locked up.

The children protested and threw stones and in response a burst of rubber bullets was fired, after which a group of armed men with drawn riffles came out of the checkpoint and stood at the center of the main street. Once they finished notifying every one of their presence- they headed back.

By the new pillbox, on the road heading out of the checkpoint, like a memoranda is the soldier post which was the symbol of the old checkpoint. The old checkpoint wasn’t more humane than the new one, but it gave a sense of impermanence, and with impermanence comes hope. Unlike the new one, the actual construction of the old one enabled a physical encounter between occupier and occupied, without the alienating sterility which is typical to the new checkpoints.

A checkpoint isn’t just a construction implemented for blocking and imprisoning, its essence isn’t architectural; it is also and perhaps mostly there to mold consciousness and ideology.

(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 site: www.machsomwatch.org. 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.

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