A culture of mistrust

From: david.preiss@yale.edu
Date: Sat Mar 20 2004 - 19:58:40 PST

I just read the article below in Haaretz. I thought it well
illustrates how cultural practices can be degraded by the lack of
trust in the other. What does the reality depicted there say about our
recent discussion on reflectivity and collaboration?


Welcome to Tora Bora
By Daniel Ben Simon
The A-Ram checkpoint is considered a "soft" checkpoint. It filters
Palestinians who want to enter Jerusalem and who have already gone
through a prior and rigorous filtering process at the terrifying
Qalandiyah checkpoint. "This is a secondary checkpoint and is
considered political in character," Doron said of the A-Ram site.
Doron is a veteran policeman, who in the past few years has spent days
and nights in his job of supervising the movements of the
Palestinians. With time has come proficiency. He can now spot the
different accent, the look, the facial expression, the body movement,
he says. Every Palestinian has his way of entering Israel. "With the
Christians, we're more flexible," he noted.
This week, he and his buddies at the checkpoint were asked to keep a
special eye on the children. Once, women were thought to be innocent
of all malicious intent. Since they joined the family of suicide
bombers, they have become ticking bombs. This week, children entered
the terrorist club: A 10-year-old boy was caught trying to smuggle a
bomb through a checkpoint, although he didn't know what he was
carrying. So kids, too, were added to the list of suspects. It's an
impossible situation, Doron says. On Wednesday morning, about 5,000
schoolchildren entered Jerusalem for another day of school. Every one
of them carried a bag on his or her back. There were children of 6 and
children of 8 and children of 10.

Benny, an officer with the Border Police, is the commander of the A-
Ram checkpoint. Like Doron, he too wears a protective vest. Here the
chance of smuggling in a bomb is almost nil, but the men in uniform
are fearful that a Palestinian man or woman will open fire at them at
short range. This week, Benny felt distressed. The fact that children
had joined the club of suspects disturbed him - both logistically and

"How can you check 5,000 children?" he asked, shaking his head. "And
how can you check 5,000 bags? Even if you place dozens of guards and
dozens of policemen here, you will never succeed in examining all the
bags, and there is also no chance that the children will get to school
on time."

The line is orderly and flowing. Hundreds of Palestinians are standing
here, waiting for the soldier to wave them toward the checkpoint. One
more small revision, one more step, and they are in the Promised Land.
They show ID cards in a rainbow of colors. Green, orange, blue. The
holders of the blue cards enter without delay. With the others,
lengthy negotiations begin, which are sometimes oppressive.

One woman succeeded in softening Benny's heart. She is a resident of
the territories and doesn't have an entry permit to Israel. One of the
soldiers noticed her as she tried to make her way between the boulders
in order to sneak into Beit Hanina. "Come here!" he ordered her in
Arabic. In her interrogation, which took place in front of all those
who were waiting in line, she related that if she didn't get to Beit
Hanina, she would be passing a death sentence on her husband and her
children. She showed Benny their photograph and burst into tears. The
husband's disability has created a division of labor between them: he
collects squash from the nearby fields, extracts juice from them and
puts it into bottles. She sells the bottles of juice in Beit Hanina
for next to nothing, and thus is able to provide food for the family.

Heartrending negotiations went on for close to an hour. Under the
orders, she is not allowed to cross without authorization from the
army. She begged so piteously that Benny broke. He moved away from
her, as though intimating to her to enter. The woman, already
experienced, started to walk, and didn't look back.

Dulled faith

According to Doron, the checkpoints have created a reality that every
human being would protest. Including him. But in the madness that
currently rages, there is no choice but for him and the soldiers to do
their work. "It's hardest for me with the children," he said, moving
his rifle from one hand to the other. "I have kids, too. I look at the
Palestinian children and I see my children. That makes things really
hard for me. An old woman comes and begs me to let her enter. I look
at her and I see my grandmother or my mother. My heart breaks."

Benny and Doron say they have lost their innocence in this grinding
job. On the day they started being suspicious of women, something
changed in them. This week they felt that another line had been
crossed. "A child who lives in this reality is no longer naive," Doron
explained. "He's not some kid from Switzerland who wants to enter
Israel. A 6-year-old Palestinian kid already knows what an M-16 is and
even how to use it. He knows what a device is and how it's activated.
In general, every container that a child or an adult carry with them
is a means to bring in explosives. They aren't naive and we aren't

Over time, Doron's faith in humanity has become dulled. He sleeps with
a pistol under his pillow, takes down the garbage at home with a
pistol in his pocket. "In today's reality it's become part of my
body," he said. "Unfortunately, I don't see a rosy horizon."

Ten minutes from Jerusalem

At the Qalandiyah checkpoint, which is very different from the one at
A-Ram, tens of thousands of people and thousands of cars are handled
every day. This checkpoint crudely splits the area of separation
between Israel and the territories. The Palestinians call it Tora
Bora, after the region that was blasted by the Americans in

It's hard to believe that such a nightmarish, ruinous reality exists
10 minutes' drive from the capital of Israel. With the crack of dawn,
thousands of people are channeled into three lines that lead to the
coveted exit gate. One line for the elderly as well as women, children
and the disabled. Two lines for the healthy and the strong.

The sights create the impression of a jungle, of a non-place. The
noise is earsplitting. Whoever has access to a vehicle honks his horn;
everyone else shouts. Hundreds of taxicabs and trucks make their way
between roads the army cut in two to control the traffic. There is no
space for the masses of people who stream hither and thither,
sometimes with no clear aim. Every car that gets through the
checkpoint, after a wait of two or three hours, speeds wildly toward
Israeli territory.

On both sides of the checkpoint, for hundreds of meters, are stalls
whose owners sell everything they can lay their hands on. Razor
blades, stylized combs, hot pitas, shoelaces, shoes, T-shirts. There
are also food stalls offering meat meals in the kind of hygienic
conditions that recall certain parts of Calcutta. Exhaust fumes from
the vehicles sting the eyes and the relentlessly blaring horns
paralyze thought.

The soldiers are vigilant, wearing helmets, hands ready to use their
weapons. So many events have occurred here, so many alerts have been
issued, that they feel their lives are in danger. This is a full-
fledged military zone, and Israelis are not allowed to cross the
checkpoint, not even journalists. The vehicles entering Israel mingle
with the vehicles entering the territories, creating a huge melee of
traffic that is perilous for pedestrians. The taxi drivers fight
desperately for every Palestinian who crosses the checkpoint into the
territories, trying to grab them as a fare and earn a few shekels.

"This is a madhouse," one of the soldiers admitted, "but everyone
knows his part in this madhouse. Whoever breaks the rules pays the
price. It could be them and it could be us."

Here, too, a bizarre routine exists between the soldiers and the
Palestinians who lack the proper permits. The soldier says that since
being posted here, he has discovered that "all the Palestinians are
suffering from all types of cancer, diabetes and other illnesses."
Everyone has his medical authorization, everyone has his
doctor. "There is nothing I haven't heard since being here," the
soldier added. "Everyone tries his luck. Some tell the truth, and some
lie. I don't blame them, because the situation turns them all into

A aged woman tried to get past the checkpoint on a path outside the
line. She shuffled along, making slow progress. The soldier notices
her and moves toward her. She shows him a very swollen leg. Her toes
are bandaged and blood can be seen seeping through the gauze. "I can't
stand in line," she said, crying. The soldier is unmoved by her
importuning. "It's against orders," he explains to the journalist next
to him. Finally he gives in and lets her through without having to
wait in line.

"I just can't," the soldier mumbles. "The situation is totally
impossible. How can I tell her that it's against army orders?" His
gesture didn't catch the gaze of the responsible officer, and the
woman went through safely.

Even this brutal reality has amusing moments that bring a smile to the
soldiers' lips. In the afternoon a Palestinian came to them with an
unusual request. He wanted to move from the Palestinian side to the
Israeli side for a few minutes, claiming his barber was there. "I'll
get a haircut and be right back," he told the soldiers. "Why not get
your hair cut in Qalandiyah or Ramallah?" he was asked. "By Allah's
life, only my barber knows the kind of haircut I like. He turns me
into a real doll." The soldiers told him to go back home.

Security checks have become more rigorous in the past few weeks. At
this checkpoint, children were considered suspicious even before it
was learned that they could serve as unwitting carriers of explosives.
Every morning, all the schoolchildren are checked by sensors that are
installed at the entrance to the checkpoint. Their bags also undergo a
strict search.

"I know it will plant hatred in their hearts," one of the officers
acknowledged. "But our children also develop hatred when they hear
about a terrorist attack. Even if there is a political solution, what
happened between us will generate hatred for generations, and that's a

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Nov 09 2004 - 11:42:23 PST