The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Diary: 3 Days

Waiting at the Checkpoints;
My heroes;
Abu Ghraib in Abu Dis


Elana Golden • September 2004

September 11, 2004
Waiting at the checkpoints

The first moment at Bet Iba, the first checkpoint we went to at the south entrance to Nablus, I thought I was on a movie set, the Palestinians and soldiers are extras, the cars and donkeys in line part of the art department, the guns, and sand bags behind which the soldiers stood, - props. Only myself and the other three women from Machsom (checkpoint) Watch were free to walk among these entities, just like in the many years I had worked in films as a script supervisor and walked among such staged scenes. Only it was not a movie. And it made me so ashamed and so guilty and responsible that to the best of my ability I spoke, using the ten words I know in Arabic, to as many people as I could, saying to them all "I am so sorry", "I am with you". I spoke to them with my eyes and my facial expressions and my hands in the Indian "Namaste" position, in their honor, and looking them each in the eye. This is with the people who stand in line for hours. At some point I stood with a group of men who might have been there for over two hours, in the sun, and the smell of sweat was dominant. I continued to stand there with them thinking, "This is a much better smell than perfume I smell in living rooms in Tel Aviv and elsewhere."

The other side of the checkpoint, for people going out of Nablus, is a narrow shaded concrete structure in which people are packed like sardines. When their turn finally arrives they go through a revolving steel door so narrow I don't know how a pregnant woman or an adult plus child will pass through. Then the soldiers, who stand behind sand bags, barricaded, big guns almost pointing at the people in front of them. At some point, in a small closure in which they randomly detain a few, including kids, I saw, to my amazement, three soldiers checking their guns, only they did it in such a way that it seemed the three guns were pointed AT the people in the closure. The kids all began to cry. A young thin woman fainted in the heat. Her family and I lay her on the ground and I held my hand under her head and my other hand on her belly. She opened her eyes a few times and looked at me, surprised, then she would faint again... she was so beautiful, I will never forget her face, her green eyes, her utter vulnerability and despair. Then an ambulance came for her.

We spent two hours at this check point. Little help here and there: Let an old man pass before the others, a boy carrying meat on a donkey, let him go quickly before the meat spoils in the sun... a little water here, a kind word there. One of our women wrote a report. They've been coming to the checkpoints, at least once a week, for the past couple of years. The lady "in charge" of our group gave lollipops and candies to the kids. The kids smiled. I have never seen such friendly children, I kissed and hugged many of them and they all hugged and kissed me back.

Then we drove to Hawara, the east entrance to Nablus. This is a huge checkpoint with lots of taxis and vendors. The same concrete structures here too, were now packed with four hundred people in each side, but the checkpoint had been closed shut for three hours, with hundreds of individuals and babies and old people inside of them. Why? The soldiers said there had been an alert on the other side, and they were now dismantling the bomb. People were angry, tired, hot, thirsty, humiliated, shamed. Some seemed pleased to see us; we had badges of Machsom Watch - Women for Human Rights. After about twenty minutes the alert was over and all the people, first the four hundred on one side, then the four hundred on the other side, were let through without checking. There had been no bomb on the other side, just a girl from Nablus who the soldiers were suspicious of, and they arrested her.

When the hundreds of Palestinians from the other side were released, a bunch of people mostly women in beautiful clothes, some with flowers in their hair, walked beating a drum, clapping and singing. It was a wedding. I thought to myself, "What resilience, to stand in the sun, in the heat, for three hours, in this utter unbelievable humiliation, then, in one instant, to dance and sing! WOW!!!" There were so many people here too I got to talk to in my ten Arabic words, though some speak English, and unfortunately, Hebrew... such beautiful exchanges. One guy knew about the demonstration Women in Black had organized in Los Angeles two weeks earlier, in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike. I told him I had been in it.

As I stood there bearing witness to so much suffering and humiliation, I was also happy to witness the moment in which each Palestinian is let through, and for an instant the tension is released, for an instant they are free... until the next checkpoint. Though there was this one woman, with a child in her arms, I faced her right after she was let go, and when my eyes met hers, I thought I am looking at Munk's famous painting, The Scream. So much pain was in her beautiful, young face.

One of the last moments we spoke to a guy who held a folder that read Peace is Possible. He was returning from an international peace conference in Jerusalem. He wanted to give us the folder. He was bright. On his wrist he had a band woven in green, red, black and white, the Palestinian colors. He insisted on giving it to our team leader. She received it and placed it on her wrist.

My body is in Tel Aviv but my heart is in Palestine.

September 14, 2004
My heroes: Palestinians and Israelis walking hand in hand

I met A.K. in Tel Aviv, in the group of Israeli activists waiting for the bus organized by Gush Shalom, to take us to the demonstration at a-Ram, - "Let them go to school." To my understanding, the wall built in the middle of the neighborhood will make it difficult or even impossible for the Palestinian youngsters to go to school. A.K. wore a Palestinian headdress (kufiyyeh) around her neck, and it impressed me that she walks like this in Tel Aviv. She added that when she goes to the checkpoints with Machsom (checkpoint) Watch, to observe that Israeli soldiers do not further violate the human rights of Palestinians passing through, - she does not wear it. I explained that I am an Israeli living in L.A., part of Women in Black, and as we exchanged phone numbers I saw that she's the daughter of an Israeli writer I had recently read, a book that deeply moved me. On the bus was Mr. Uri Avnery, an old time Israeli peacemaker I knew of but had never met before, his wife Rachel, lots and lots of teenagers, as well as older people, - life-long peace and human rights activists. A.K and I sat together, and I found myself, maybe we both "found ourselves", telling each other about important events in our lives, and about our social and political attitudes.

At a-Ram we descended the bus and walked eight hundred meters towards the demonstration. We walked along the wall, which is indeed eight or nine meters high, and built in the middle of the street. All along the wall stood young Israeli soldiers with machine guns. The site of the rally was filled with hundreds of school children in school uniforms, ages six to eighteen. Two bus loads of Israelis, one from Tel Aviv the other from Jerusalem, were there in solidarity. A.K. pointed Rabbi Asherman to me, - from Rabbis for Human Rights, a tall, bearded, good looking guy about whom I had heard in Los Angeles, and was now speaking to a reporter. Gadi Elgazi was there too, - him I had met in Los Angeles at a presentation he gave about the wall, and the work of Taayush in helping Palestinian villagers whose lives and work are disrupted by the wall. There were many reporters, many people with video cameras at the rally in a-Ram. On the platform of a truck, against a clear blue sky, stood a few young men and women, some waving Palestinian flags, some speaking to the demonstrators in Arabic, which I don't understand. For a moment I was lost in the crowd and saw Mr. Avnery standing by himself. I walked over to introduce myself but at that very moment someone came to summon him, so I followed them. Mr. Avnery was lead to the front of the march, where holding a yellow banner stood Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, the creator, along with the late Prof. Edward Said, of Al Mubadara - the democratic, secular Palestinian initiative. I had heard Dr. Barghouthi speak in Los Angeles about a month earlier, in an evening organized by Women in Black - Los Angeles, and Palestine Aid Society. I was shaken to tears by his power-point presentation about the daily suffering of Palestinians enclosed within the walls built by Israel. And I was impressed with the equanimity with which Dr. Barghouthi spoke, a certain peacefulness, kindness, lack of retribution, and even a trace of anger I did not detect in his speech. When he concluded his presentation he just said, with great pain but calmly: "We (the Palestinians) are not going anywhere." Y.K., of Women in Black, who had introduced him in Los Angeles, said, I am paraphrasing,: - "We will not stop our work until the Palestinian situation is righted."

On the morning before the demonstration I had caught Dr. Barghouthi on his cell phone in Ramallah, and he said he was driving to a-Ram. Now, at the demonstration, as I followed Mr. Avnery, he was walking shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Barghouthi, both holding the yellow banner. I walked behind them and for a few moments, and I think, hope, pray that I am not inventing this and that this is indeed the truth, I saw that Dr. Barghouthi and Mr. Avenry were holding hands as they walked. When the march stopped for a second, Dr. Barghouthi looked back and saw me, and made room for me to join in at the banner. I found myself smack in between Mr. Avnery on my left and Dr. Barghouthi on my right, the three of us waving the peace sign at the three video cameras in front of us. To say that I was honored, humbled, and a little shy - is an understatement. I also loved it, and felt that if destiny planted me right there in this way, it's okay.

When the march and the speeches were over I mingled with the school kids, and was then happy to introduce my new friend A.K. to Dr. Barghouthi. She had heard about him and his work, and I was pleased to introduce her to him as an activist who goes to the checkpoints. I was also happy to introduce her as the daughter of a progressive and excellent Tel Avivian writer. Later, when the bus was ready to leave I saw that A.K. is not with me. I phoned her on her cellular and she explained she had heard gun shots and returned to the site of the rally. It turned out, she said afterwords, that once the grown-ups had left some of the kids threw stones at the soldiers and the soldiers tear-gassed them. I guess a shot had been fired too. Thank god, no one was injured.

When I was a teenager in Tel Aviv, my heroes were Martin Luther King, Abbie Hoffman, Angela Davis, to name a few, people who fought for peace, human rights and freedom. This was in the seventies, the Vietnam war was still going on, and I moved to San Francisco to be part of this peace movement. Nowadays, as I live in Los Angeles, my heroes are Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, Mr. Uri Avnery, Rabbi Asherman and Gadi Elgazi, - to name a few. And of course A.K., who walks around Tel Aviv with a Palestinian kufiyyeh (headdress), and goes to the checkpoints three times a week.

September 20, 2004
Abu Ghraib in Abu Dis

We met A.Z. in the deserted plaza of a small Palestinian town part of East Jerusalem, another town cut in two by the eight meters high concrete wall. It was the second day of the Jewish new year, and being Friday, the stores in the plaza were closed. Our group consisted of seven: An activist from Los Angeles of Israeli origin and her daughter, a Palestinian Israeli activist with her son and his Canadian girl friend, an Israeli activist from Jerusalem, and myself. We had come to see the wall, and were taking pictures and videotaping. Just moments earlier we had seen it from the top of Mount Olives, from the Intercontinental hotel: The tall concrete wall curls around through the beautiful vista, with the dead sea on one side, the Jerusalem hills and valleys on the other. It stretches south toward the horizon through fields and towns, forests and orchards.

A.Z. stood in his checkered shirt, his eyes questioning our being there. I approached him. Introduced myself, explained who we were, that we came to bear witness and take pictures "for the world to see". He was suspicious at first and asked that we don't photograph him. But in a moment he told us that just two days earlier, a Palestinian from the Palestinian side had crossed the wall with his young daughter to take her to the doctor, and two Israeli soldiers caught them, separated the two, then took the father into the military quarters, once a hotel, and urinated in his mouth. An Israeli female soldier was there too, A.Z. said, watching the scene, and adding her own insults. "It's like Abu Ghraib," he concluded, his face saddened, his intelligent eyes filled with shame as he recounted the story.

He invited us to his house on the other side of the wall and we followed. We walked through an opening in the wall, next to the military quarters once hotel. No one stopped us. My friends later said they saw soldiers through the window playing checkers. A.Z. pointed to a modern building on the Israeli side of the wall, an Israeli flag up top blowing in the wind. "Settlers," he said. Until not long ago the building belonged to a Palestinian family. We walked through a quiet neighborhood. The olive trees dusty white by the construction of the wall. In some instances the wall is two feet from the home's windows. We arrived at A.Z's house. Two boys and their beautiful sister greeted us. Behind them the young pretty mother with a baby in her arms. She was smiling. In their garden stood a group of tall, proud sunflowers.

I saw shoes by the door so I took my shoes off, the stone floor in the living room was so cooling and pleasant in the heat. The beautiful wife made the best sweet Arabic coffee. We sat around drinking, playing with the kids, chatting. Another relative arrived, a man with a smile on his face and deep eyes. He carried prayer
beads and the baby began to play with it, placing it on her head as a crown. We laughed. My friend from Los Angeles talked politics with him: "What do you want?", "How can the situation be solved? " -- He replied: "Throw out your weapons, stop stealing land, no borders." He told us about demonstrations in which Israelis, internationals and Palestinians protest together, afterwords, after the Israelis and Internationals leave, the Palestinian protesters are taken by the army. It broke my heart. It makes me feel afraid as I write these words, it forces me to be more general with my descriptions.

The sun was setting and it was time to go. Again I stood admiring the sunflowers in the garden. How symbolic they are of Palestinian resilience. The two grown men and the kids accompanied us. Another family relative, an old man with a wrinkled face, a snow white keffiye (headdress) on his head and shoulders, sat waiting for his sheep to return from the graze. I shook his hand, his eyes were wise and twinkling. We waited for the sheep with him. Four internationals passed by and asked how they could continue along the wall. A.Z. showed them the way. They spoke Italian. The flock of sheep arrived, skipping gaily towards the food the kids had just neatly placed for them. Everyone laughed.

"I will stand in solidarity with you till the day I die" - I told A.Z.'s relative as I shook his hand goodbye. Crossing back through the opening near the military quarters I now saw a female soldier in the third floor window, speaking on a cell phone. She continued to speak as we passed.


Elana Golden is a Romanian Israeli living in the US since 1978. She is part of Women in Black, Los Angeles and a writer, filmmaker and has a school for Creative Writing in L.A.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

27 September 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Intimidation of a Writer
Anthony McIntyre

Say it in Breac'n English
Seaghán Ó Murchú

An Open Letter to the Man Known as "Martin Ingram"
Mick Hall

Philosophy in a Time of Terror
Liam O Ruairc

Diary: 3 Days
Elana Golden

24 September 2004

Honour the Legacy
Dermot McClenaghan, Eamonn McCann, Johnnie White

Working for the Clampdown
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Peace Bomb
Anthony McIntyre

No Essential Contradiction
Eamonn McCann

P. Michael O'Sullivan, 1940-2004
Deirdre Fennessy



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