Christian believers in the Church of Holy Sepulcher during the Holy Fire ceremony in Old City of Jerusalem, 7 April 2007. (Anat Zakai/MaanImages)
The following is the story of Mary van Teeffelen-Morcos as recorded by Toine van Teeffelen on 10 April 2007:
I went to the checkpoint with Yara and Tamer, after getting my Easter permit at the parish. As always, the rings and jewelry had to be put in the basket. Yara, too, took off her bracelet. She went in and out of the X ray each time putting off something new but the machine stayed beeping. Then the woman soldier behind the bullet proof glass asked her to put off her pants. In public.
Would you allow your daughter to put her pants off just like that, with everybody around? I told the soldier, “Why can’t you body search her?” But she refused to leave her glass cabin. And I refused to leave. Yara was crying, she didn’t want to take down her pants. She is now old enough to feel the embarrassment. I was standing there for 15 minutes, going back and forth between closed iron doors.
The soldier did not allow anybody of the people waiting to come in. It was like a stand-off in a test of wills. She asked me to go back to Bethlehem. I told her, you have nothing to do here, go back yourself to Tel Aviv. I became angry. The other time, when I was there with my sister and her son, I was very quiet and my sister and nephew became nervous after we could not find my diamond ring which was stuck and lost in the X ray. But in the case of one’s daughter it is different. I told the soldier: “I hate the way you treat me!” And then I insulted her, and her government, with words I don’t dare to repeat again.
Ya rabbi (my lord), how angry I was. Wouldn’t you do the same? No, I am sure you would stay quiet, that’s your nature and of course you are a foreigner. You don’t feel the humiliation. What I hate is those orders shouted at Palestinians: “ta’al!” (come), “ruuh!” (go), “islah!” (put off). So the soldier refused to let me enter. I went back and passed the 25 or so people who were waiting and who asked me what happened. I told them the story, and they said, “Oh yes, of course, when you insult them, you cannot enter.”
What should I do — bow for them? Let people pass there the next time completely naked, with journalists around. Let us show them how inhumane they are. To calm Yara, who started again crying because we could not pass, I told her that we would tell her story to the world. Tamer asked me: “Did Jesus listen?” I told him, “Yes, for sure he did.”
We then went to another soldier elsewhere and explained the issue. He was surprised and thought that we should be able to pass. He went back to the female soldier behind the glass, but she made the gesture that I spat upon her, which wasn’t true. But of course I insulted her. He then patted Yara on her back as if to console her. I became even angrier and told him “Don’t touch my daughter!”
But I was determined to go to Jerusalem. At that moment I didn’t want to give them the pleasure of denying me entry. So I went through the DCO in Beit Jala, which is open for foreign passport holders but not for permit holders. I tried my luck there, with my Chilean passport. I was even willing to pay the driver 50 shekels.
The fat woman soldier at the DCO was in a good mood. Even the driver, who knows her, joked with her how she could be in such a good mood after serving there continuously for a month. She just told me that I should next time take the children’s Dutch passports.
So we went to the American Colony (in East-Jerusalem), to search for Easter eggs. Yara was happy playing outside. When we entered the patio, imagine whom I saw. Israelis sitting with their guns besides them. Just like that. Is there anybody who is asking them to take them off, to go through the X ray? Why do they have the right to wear weapons in my country, even in a hotel, and nobody is asking them anything?
Deep in my heart, I think that I will never ask for a permit again. Why should we go to the mall [the large shopping center in Al-Malha near Gilo settlement]? To support the Israeli economy? I think it’s a mistake to take the permit. Many people can get permits these days, but they refuse. I think they are right. The humiliation is too much to bear.
Toine van Teeffelen is development director of the Arab Educational Institute (AEI-Open Windows) in Bethlehem.