Occupation is all around me here, from obvious signs like the wall and checkpoints to the less obvious (at least to the newcomer) of bus systems and permits.
The wall is the biggest, most obvious sign of occupation, when combined with the Settlements and checkpoints there is no denying the situation. However, Israel likes to think that international visitors somehow miss the absurdity of some of the things that they do to make it seem ‘less bad’. I was visiting near Ramallah one evening last week and, when I left I took a shuttle to Qalandiya checkpoint. I then headed to the ‘terminal’ to walk through to the other side. Made to look something like airport security it is a series of passages with a turnstile at one end – operated by Israeli soldiers, and beyond that a bag scanner and walk through arch. Everyone lines up at the passages as I did that night with around 20 others, but then the ‘fun’ begins. The soldiers switched between passage to passage so we had to keep moving – quite literally the first became last and the last first on a number of occasions. They would let one or two (or no) people though and then move the line. After about 20 minutes I got through and looked up – there I saw it, one of Israel’s new signs at the checkpoints. In Hebrew, Arabic, and English it read “We wish you a safe and pleasant stay” just like you’d see at an airport. The absurd, and not widely realised thing is, this is at an airport – or at least what remains of one. Atarot or Qalandiya airport was here (the busses now park on the runway) which was closed finally in 2000 and handed over to the IDF for the wall and checkpoint.
The absurdity continues if you take a Palestinian bus from the West Bank. At the checkpoint all of the Palestinians must get off the bus and wait to have their permits checked. As an international, Israel thinks it makes a good impression if you remain on the bus and have your passport checked before they check the Palestinian documents. So the soldiers come on to the bus and check internationals passports, while all the time the Palestinian commuters are standing outside, regardless of the weather, waiting to have their permits checked and be allowed back on the bus.
There are other signs of occupation, literal signs saying that places in the West Bank are illegal for Israeli citizens to enter, the fact that when you use Waze (like Google Maps) in the West Bank (in the parts where it works) it tells you that you are entering an ‘unsafe place’, there are roads for Israelis (and internationals) only, pop up checkpoints between East Jerusalem and Jerusalem Old City, and many, many others.
For me, it is important to walk through checkpoints when I can to be in solidarity with those who have to do it every day, every year. But it’s easy for me, they see I have a UK passport and I’m waved through – normally with a smile and a ‘Welcome to Israel’.
For me, Taqi Spateen in his Alice and Wonderland painting on the Wall near to Banksy’s Walled off Hotel has it completely right when he writes:
Destiny failed us through this hole called the West Bank
Just like Alice in [the] rabbit hole we are trapped in this dark prison and separation walls,
Just like Alice found the door – we look out of the checkpoint and give up on our dignity and we are humiliated to fit through.
Just like Alice ate the candy to fit through the door – we have [to] get an entry permit to visit our land and families separated from us by the wall.
Indeed, we are Palestinians in Wonderland.