Monday, December 15, 2003

Flying Checkpoints & a Demonstration in A’ram

On Saturday we went to an anti-Wall demonstration sponsored by Ta’ayush, an Arab and Jewish Israeli grassroots movement. The demonstration took place in A’ram, a town between Jerusalem and Ramallah, normally ninety minutes from Haris, but this time it took us that long just to get out of the Salfit region. I got my first taste of “flying checkpoints,” which are like regular checkpoints but mobile, meaning they can pop up unannounced anywhere at any time. For the first hour, our bus was stopped nearly every mile by soldiers standing in the middle of the road blocking traffic and searching Palestinians. As usual, yellow-plated Israeli cars were allowed to pass unobstructed.

At the first flying checkpoint, we waited for twenty minutes until a soldier emptied us out of the bus, and checked our IDs, before letting us continue. Two minutes later, soldiers stopped our bus again, insisting that the repeated checking was a security measure due to a threat of terrorism in the area. I could think of several nearby terrorist attacks by non-Palestinians. (Our plans that day to pick olives in Deir Istiya had in fact been cancelled after an unarmed nineteen-year-old village boy was shot twice, in the hand and near his rectum, by the army. Deir Istiya was put under curfew to prevent retaliation. Of course, curfew also prevented the victim’s parents from visiting him in the hospital, and other villagers—like the farmers we were to pick with—from going to work or school.) I refrained from pointing out the irony of the illegal Occupation forces punishing Palestinians for “terror.” We were already late.

After getting through the second flying checkpoint, we drove all of four minutes before being stopped again at Zatara permanent checkpoint, where there was another line of vehicles waiting. The line was long and unlikely to move for at least thirty minutes, so my colleague and I got out to take pictures, agreeing to meet our bus when it passed the corner ahead. There were several Palestinian ambulances waiting as usual. The ambulances were told to move to the side of the road so Israeli cars could pass. Several Israeli cars were blocked for a few minutes by the commotion and they began honking impatiently. Apparently they had places to be.

Half an hour after our bus finally made it through Zatara, we arrived at the demonstration at last to find about 2,000 protesters cheering and waving flags in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The sun was shining, the mood friendly, and the atmosphere international. There were hundreds of Israeli activists who had come to show their support.

The crowd had built a 10-foot fake wall that people were spray-painting with peace slogans as television crews filmed. Within minutes, drums began to sound and the crowd stirred with excitement. A group of protestors charged the Wall, ripping it apart, Styrofoam flying everywhere. The crowd was thrilled. Before I knew it, a cheer erupted from my throat. I was overcome with emotion as I imagined the day when Palestinians and Israelis will tear down the real Wall together, freeing themselves from the mutually destructive system of separation.