The news from Palestine is so bad and the process of strangulation applied by Israel is so constant and murderous that one expects the worst. But I always find silent resistance, the natural tenacity of life, and the stubbornness of the Palestinians erasing my mental pictures of doom. Still yet, the disastrous applications of the Israelis take my breath away.
It has been eight months since I last took the service to Kalandia from Jerusalem. As we drove, I saw a wall, the wall, running right down the middle of the road. Sometimes our bus drove on one side and sometimes on another. It was clearly incomplete but under construction. I could see that it would simply divide all the neighborhoods surrounding this main artery into two. All the human connections across any main road running through a community will have to be abruptly severed. There is a disturbing sense of the death-wishes of the Israelis made visible in the body of this wall slicing right though Palestinian life — a knife cutting the throat till the victim bleeds to death. This is why I call it the “Strangulation Wall”.
And even so, this segment of the wall is not as high as the parts that I saw surrounding Qalqilya. And here like elsewhere, Palestinian boys are clearly testing everything. Plastic soda bottles have been stuck into the cement holes of the wall, the end of each resembling the surreal sandworms of Dune. In some holed are stuck some bits of wood. There is little graffiti as yet, but there is dust and garbage and the remains of demolition. There are the abruptly cut shreds of residential roads ending in areas of destruction. There is frustration, and traffic jams and pedestrians without sidewalks trying to weave between the beeping cars with highly frustrated drivers. There is pain is in the very sounds of the street. Anger is on all the faces.
We reach Kalandia after many many kilometers of this “Wall of Destruction and Strangulation”. The many unfinished sections afford views and the opportunity, soon to end, to select which side to drive on. Things look much worse as we approach Kalandia. The traffic, including taxi and bus pick-up areas are so thick that the crossing point is hidden completely. The new comer would not know where to go. Finally, after cautious weaving between trucks, cars, busses, and private cars full of angry drivers, I arrive at the crossing. Now instead of walking like cattle through pathways surrounded by cement walls in order to reach the soldiers, we go through revolving doors and pens.
Departure out of the zone they call Jerusalem is easy but managed through a wall of metal bars in which there are two revolving doors — like entering and leaving the subway. The difference is that you have no token (yet) to pay but a soldier with a gun to pass and many pill-boxes full of soldiers with guns eyeing you with ill intent.
Well that was not too bad passing out. But then came my return at night towards Jerusalem. Now then, this is a different Kalandia crossing. I am not going to our towns and villages on the way to Jerusalem, no, I was entering their Awershalime and they were going to make all Palestinians pay dearly for their nativity to this land that they want to steel. You approach in darkness carefully picking your steps as your eyes adjust. You hear the sound of voices, of masses of people. You approach, you see the crowd pressed, waiting in a funnel at the end of which is a revolving door. The revolving door is controlled by soldiers at tables stopping each person and searching their pockets, packets and purses. The funnel fills, the people press, fret, suffer, the children cry. I worry about the children more because it is very dark, and hard to see the short little children. I am glad they can cry. I see people are kind to each other but probably not always.
So my turn comes and I have not wanted to open my purse in the crush of the funnel and so I arrive at the table and begin to open my purse slowly. The soldier indicates that I should just pass by saying “tafaddali,” an Arabic term of politeness. I automatically reply “shukran.” Why did I do that? What in hell would I accept this little twerp’s politeness? why would I say thank you? He saw my middle class trappings and decided that I would not be a good victim.
Clearing this first hurdle I found myself in a cage. A cage! Yes, surrounded on all sides by iron bars. I had to walk the length of it to exit at the far corner. Directly in front of me was something that should be on the stage of a Broadway theatre. It was dark. Only two light bulbs illuminated my entire pathway through the Kalandia crossing. One was on the soldier and his table who searched the packets. The other was directly in front of me, directly over the head of a soldier.
It was a middle aged settler with salt-and-pepper mustache, frowsy, dressed as a soldier, sitting in soldier box with a window and a window ledge on which he rested his gun. The light bulb directly over his head gave him a theatrical look. He was posing for the stream of suffering Palestinians departing the search table. His box just barely fit his body parts whose shapes betrayed decadence of though and life. On his face was a smile, frozen, a mask. He was enjoying himself, enjoying being looked at, unable to hide his smugness. Palestinians he enjoyed torturing were is audience and he performed for us. To see with such graphic power this face of Zionist reality, to appreciate its place in the history of fascism, and to tell about it is my privilege. His, the settler’s, is the privilege of propping up his ego by enjoying torture.
But things do come to an end and I do get out of the cage and again try to walk my way through the damage. I see the wall just feet from the cage, I see the soldier tower that is built into it, I see the soot on all its side from burning garbage. The soup of destruction includes humans calling to offer their minimal wares for sale, the drivers seeking passengers, the people waiting for loved ones on the other side, and more — one forgets.
But the smiling Israelis, I do not forget. It makes a big impression on me. I feel sad for them that their life’s joy is so shallow. I saw a pair sauntering through the crowds at the border crossing, smiling to each other wanting people to look at them, conscious of the stares they do get, smiling to each other as though they belong to an elite club. Of course, as they saunter, they do look surprisingly out of place where everyone is trying to deal with fascist bureaucracy.
Samia A. Halaby (1936) was born in Jerusalem. In 1948 she was forced to leave Palestine. Via Beirut, her family emigrated to the United States. She has worked at American universities for years, ending at the Yale School of Art. Her art has been exhibited internationally, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Institute Du Monde Arab.