The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Gates of Hell

"The world must hear what is happening here. We cry out but our voice is not heard! So please, use all of it, and we'll be totally grateful to you!" Daphna Banai, Machsom (checkpoint) Watch, Tel Aviv, Israel

Elana Golden • 7 October 2004

As I write these words back in my home in Los Angeles, the latest Israeli operation in the Gaza strip continues to kill innocent Palestinians including many children, demolish homes, and create hell for a large population. This afternoon, peace and justice groups in Los Angeles will demonstrate in front of the Israeli consulate. On September 29th, the day the operation began, and before we found out about it, the following took place in the West Bank:

A funeral, a dog bite, an arrest, and a truckload full of life:

The ambulance carrying the dead body of Sa'al Jabara is to pass through the Hawara checkpoint at 1:00 in the afternoon. This Palestinian taxi driver was shot at close range two days ago by a Jewish settler, and now his body is transported from the morgue in Tel Aviv to the burial grounds in the village of Salem. Four of us women from Machsom (checkpoint) Watch are there to assure the ambulance is let through without delay. Once at Hawara, we split into two groups, D.B and N.S. go to the south checkpoint, A.C and myself to the north one. Four ambulances are in line for a long time on the north side, not the one carrying the body. A.C rushes to the soldiers, and in less than ten minutes the ambulances are let through. "Why did you keep the ambulances in the sun for so long?", she asks the soldiers.

The ambulance carrying Sa'al Jabara's dead body arrives, and under the supervising eyes of A.C the soldiers let it through. The insignia on the ambulance indicates it's been donated by a Los Angeles organization. The four of us then, with D.B. driving, take another road, a settlers' road, to the checkpoint into Salem, to see that the ambulance is let through there. D.B. tells us Sa'al Jabara has seven children, two of them blind from birth. "Who will look after them now?" she asks, "the settlement of Itamar, the home of the murderer, - WHO IS FREE?"

While D.B. and N.S. were at the south checkpoint they came across Hallil, a young Palestinian man who'd just been bitten by a settler's dog. His hand was badly bleeding. D.B arranged for him to go to a clinic nearby and got the soldiers to promise they'd let him through upon his return. D.B. took Hallil's cell phone number. "The settlers' dogs are trained to bite Palestinians," D.B. says as she drives, speculating, outrage in her voice.

In the distance, stretching peacefully on the slopes of the mountains, is Nablus, its white minarets against the blue sky, the city blending into the landscape. I want to take a picture for my friend Nidal, a Nablus born Palestinian now living in Los Angeles. I met Nidal at a large demonstration in front of the Federal building in Los Angeles in the spring of 2002, in protest of the Israeli incursion into Jenin and other West Bank cities. "Weren't your parents ashamed to come from Europe and take our homes?" Nidal asked me then, when we were first introduced. His question still rings in my ears. "It's not a good idea to stop on this settlers' road to take a picture", D.B. says.

At the checkpoint into Salem we see the ambulance from afar. It was let through and is now driving towards a procession of cars. The villagers are out joining the funeral, the voice of the Muezzin rising from a Salem minaret reaching us over sunny hills and valleys. We cannot go to the funeral, it's in an area restricted to Israelis. D.B. says she'll return in a day or two to console the family. "I'll walk through the fields," she explains. She then drives us to the site of the murder. The point in which a narrow gravel road for Palestinians meets the main highway, - for Israelis only. We stop the car. Maybe it's our way of paying respect to the innocent.

Back at the checkpoint into Salem the lines are long. It's a usual hot day. Three school boys with books in their hands stand for inspection in front of a soldier. The soldier asks to see their books. "Why?" A.C. questions, "what do you have to see their books for?" "It can be material of incitement," the soldier declares. "Material of incitement!?!" A.C. explodes, and pointing her finger at the barrel of the soldier's rifle, which, as always is aimed at the Palestinians in front of him, she states to his face: "THIS IS MATERIAL OF INCITEMENT."

The soldier flips out, jumps out of his barricaded spot, aims the gun at the four of us, shouts "The checkpoint is closed!" and tell us we are under arrest.

Our ID numbers are taken, military superiors and the police are called in. It takes them a long time to show up. When the superiors arrive they videotape us. When the police arrives they take a report from A.C, the only one they can arrest under the clause: "Interfering to a public servant on the job." All this takes hours. In a way I am glad to experience what Palestinians experience on a daily basis, - even if for an iota. The next day I have to fly out of Israel. I wonder if they'll stop me at the airport now that they have my ID number and picture. I wonder how many Palestinians lost their flights because of the checkpoints. All awhile D.B. is in communication with Halil via cell phone. By now he's back from the clinic, in pain, and detained at Hawara. D.B.'s focus is on releasing him. She calls anyone she can, the military liaison dealing with Machsom Watch, the military radio. But to no avail. It's two or so hours since we've been detained, and since Hallil has been detained. We speak among ourselves. "Getting angry is a privilege," I say, "We don't have the privilege to get angry at the soldiers…. it's counter productive." But as I write these words, I feel, maybe I am wrong. Maybe A.C.' pronouncement that "rifles are material of incitement" are exactly the words that had to be spoken.

During our detention we are forbidden to do our job. "Stand here and don’t talk to us," the soldiers order. Many Palestinians passing through the checkpoint stop by us: "Ahalan (hello)", they say, some smiling at us, some shaking our hands, "Shukran - (thank you)". "It kills me when I see such politeness and gratitude," D.B. says. A large truck packed to the rim with furniture and home appliances approaches. The driver, his wife and four small children are relocating to a new home in a nearby village. The soldiers reroute the truck to the side of the road where the sun blazes and ask the driver to take everything out of it. The man asks for our help: "I have a refrigerator and a stove, how can I take it down?." One of his children fell off and his forehead is bruised and swollen. Though we are not to speak to the soldiers, we do, to one who seems kinder. Despite orders from his officer, the soldier tends to the matter. The Palestinian father of four thanks him.

Finally A.C.'s investigation is over, she's taken to the Ariel police, and the three of us are released from detention. On the way to pick her up, from this settlement which is more like a city, we stop at Hawara. Hallil is still there along with a large number of other detainees. His hand is bandaged. I hold my hand on his bandaged hand to comfort him. I speak to another detainee, there for three hours. "I am amazed at how patient you all are in all of this…. if these were Israelis detained here, I don't know what they would do, they'd …." The Palestinian detainee does not let me finish my sentence. "Don't say that," he insists, "there's many good Israelis, I have many Israeli friends."

As the sun is setting Hallil and the others are released. Despite his pain, humiliation, insult, he's so polite and grateful. D.B. offers to drive him to his village. He crosses the checkpoint where he's allowed to walk, and we drive where he's not allowed. When we meet on the other side he tell us he'd met someone to drive him to his village. "Go home," he says, "I don't want to take more of your time, it's the eve of Sukkot, (Jewish holiday,) - go to your families."

Back in Los Angeles, (I was not stopped at the airport in Israel,) I wish I was there at the checkpoints. Since they exist, "the gates of hell" as D.B. calls them, I want to be there and do the little that I can… it's so tangible. And maybe I, we, here in the big wide world, can do something about it too…

"On Monday, another MachsomWatcher was arrested, no one knows why. It seems the soldiers have found a new way to harass us. Still, it won't deter us, so we hope they will realize they are wasting their time." Daphna Banai, in an email from Tel Aviv.



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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.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

9 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Death of George Harrison
Ruairi O Bradaigh, National Irish Freedom Committee and Brian Mór

Can't Deal, Won't Deal
Anthony McIntyre

Update - Youth Suicide Prevention Project
J. Terry Ryan

Father Mc Manus on Ron Lauder, David Trimble, the Orange Order, and Catholic anti-Semitism
Father Sean Mc Manus

Say it in Breac'n English (Part Four)
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Some Inconvenient Facts
Patrick Hurley

Marx, Engels and Lenin on the Irish Question
Liam O Ruairc

The Gates of Hell
Elana Golden

After the Venezuela Referendum
Toni Solo

One for the Road
Brian Mór

5 October 2004

Marty O'Hagan Three Years On
Anthony McIntyre

Say it in Breac'n English (Part Three)
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Shankill Education
Mick Hall

Where Are We After Fours Years of Intifada?
Haithem El-Zabri

The Letters page has been updated.



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