Friday, March 21, 2008

Palestinian Voices: No Israeli mercy for a Bethlehem mother

Another experience from Rana, written 21st January 2008 about an experience at the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The settlement of "Har Homa" that she refers to was stuck on a hill known as Jabal Abu Ghneim just outside of Bethlehem back in the 90s. The site it was built on was deliberately preserved by the Palestinians as a sort of nature preserve, the Israelis as usual stole it and devastated it with concrete to fill it up with colonists. I observed close hand how the US government disingenuously would protest to the Israelis for a week when the building hit international headlines, then would deliberately and callously turn their backs and wink at the Israelis as the construction resumed as soon as the press heat was off. A few years later, the checkpoint mentioned below was built.

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Sometimes I think that I should write a book just to cover the stories that I see everyday while crossing the checkpoint on my way from home to work. Thinking about it now, I have been doing this journey for over 11 years!!!

Being away in Amman last week – a much needed break from the checkpoint- I was curious about how the checkpoint crossing was in my absence. Before I even asked, everyone in the car was complaining about how hard it has been the whole past week, how they would stand for hours and no one would be allowed in, etc. etc.

Sure enough, as we got to the checkpoint, one could hear the noise of the crowds from outside. There were no less than 300 people waiting to cross, the inside hall was full, and people started piling up outside. I worked my way in, watching as the usual fights started, about who is not standing in line, who is taking the other's turn, and so on. Being a woman is sometimes a blessing, as some men would allow me to go in front of them, not wanting women to wait. I passed through the metal detectors and bags x-ray and reached the ID check, where the lines were so long, you can't see the end.

In between two lines, a young couple with a little baby boy stood, looking distressed. Shortly after, a soldier came from the other side and started telling them that "it was not possible" that there was "no way" he could let them in. The couple started pleading with him to no avail. A little while after, the female soldier behind the window in the line I was standing in, called on them. It seems she was curious at what their story was. So, I got to hear the man repeat his story to her. Their baby is sick and needs to go to the hospital in Jerusalem, the father has a permit, but the mother's permit expired and the new one is delayed (for some reason), and they had an appointment this morning with his doctor. She made a few calls, checked his papers, but like the others, she said that he can pass with the baby, but not the mom.

Different soldiers would come and go and inquire about the case, but neither would let the mother in. She would plead and explain; how her baby is just a couple of months old, that he is not used to being separated from her, that the doctors in Hebron told her they had no cure for him, and he had to be taken to Jerusalem, that she is the one who has been following up on his case with the doctor and the father wouldn't know how to answer his questions. But, no, no one would listen. She had to go back home alone and let her husband take the baby. Finally, they gave up trying. The dad took the baby and crossed over, and as I watched, the mom, her eyes filled with tears, handed her husband a diaper from behind the gate… my heart broke.

It seems Palestinian babies have to start suffering from a very early age, to learn that they should grow up fast and be independent from their mothers, and grow up to be people with no rights, just like their mothers and fathers.

There was a lump in my throat as I walked out, with the image of the crying mom in my mind. As usual there were tens of people waiting for a ride, and there was no bus. Not being allowed to drive our cars to Jerusalem, we all depend totally on one single bus company that operates mini busses to and from the checkpoint.

The first bus came and in a blink of an eye was soon filled up with double its capacity, the second bus came, and I thought I should try and take my chance. I managed to get in, but had no seat, so I had to stand in the little space between the seats, carrying my bag and my files. We stopped at the traffic light, and I watched the Israeli settlers coming from "Har Homa" settlement; what used to be our town's "green hill", where we would go for picnics as children and enjoy the beautiful nature. This hill is now a big settlement, with lots of buildings and no trees. Settlers living on this stolen land, drive their cars to their work, while we stand crowded in a mini bus. Their children sit in car seats in their parents cars, when they take them to the hospitals, ours have to let go of mom, because she has no permit to accompany them. Did the world forget what Justice means? Would there ever be "Peace". I guess I will keep wondering.

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