Thursday, April 9, 2009

Just Another Checkpoint

I’ve been in the West Bank about two months now, so I’ve been through a couple checkpoints. I always have a vague sense of unease similar to going through security at the airport. It’s nothing particular and I have nothing to hide, it’s just the dread of being hassled by people with guns and authority that makes me feel skittish. Nobody likes to be interrogated. Thankfully, my experience with checkpoints up until now has been pretty painless. For whatever reason I tend to just be waved through, though I think my nationality has something to do with it. The other day however was a taste-by-proxy of what other people go through.

Around 11 am I hopped in a taxi with Fadi and headed to one of the checkpoints from the West Bank into Israel to meet a Dutch group who were coming to visit the Holy Land. We arrived at the checkpoint to meet them on our side sometime around 11:30 and parked the car. We saw them enter the building on the other side of the border and settled down for the wait. I strolled around the, trying inconspicuously to take photos, keeping an eye on the person I could see in the watchtower about 100 meters away from me. Knowing the person in there could see me and was almost certainly had some kind of huge automatic weapon within arm’s length gave me pause about taking photos, but I went ahead and snapped a few before hiding the camera back in the car.

However, after about half an hour the Dutch group had not emerged. At this point Fadi decided to go in and see if he could move the process along, so I waited sitting on the hood of the taxi with the driver. The minutes ticked along, and I sat under the ever-watchful eyes of the soldiers. A man under an awning to my left spread a rug and made his midday prayers. A group of young men sat and chattered, eating seeds and waiting. A UN truck pulled up and sat at the rolling gate behind me to enter Israel. Still I sat. The men near me came over and said hello to the driver. Still I sat. One of their friends pulled their car around and turned on the radio and the men began to do a traditional Arabic dance, arms around each others shoulders. I smiled as I watched these people laughing and dancing despite the barbed wire and the soldiers with machine guns.

Eventually (finally) Fadi emerged with our group, who looked relieved but perhaps a little bewildered. In total their passing took just over an hour. The UN truck was still waiting at the gate when we left.

At the end of the day my lasting memory was of the men dancing at the checkpoint. It reminded me of a vignette by Eduard Galleano, which I think sums it up better than I can:

“On a wall in a Madrid eatery hangs a sign that says: No singing.
On a wall in the airport of Rio de Janeiro hangs a sign that says: No Playing with Luggage Carts.

Ergo: There are still people who sing, there are still people who play.”

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