The sun was finally shining – I start to feel a little better but the feeling is temporary – were I at my place in Ramallah right now, it wouldn’t even be safe enough to step out on the balcony. The shutters would be drawn, I would be in darkness, and my usual short supply of food would have been exhausted long ago. Would my phone line still be working, would I be one of the few that has water?
I manage to get to the checkpoint. Qalandia: dusty hot wind, sand, guns, sand bags, cement blocks, soldiers, guns pointed at you, guns pointing at you. Armoured Personnel Carriers. Army Jeeps. A colour pallet of sand beige and army green.
Just beyond the military barricade is Qalandia refugee camp. Refugees from Qalandia camp stand in line. Ramallah is a ‘closed military zone’ but they can at least get across, back into their refugee camp. At least today. They stand in line, at the first barricade. 20 feet from the first soldier. He stands behind a cement block, gun pointed at those in line. The woman is told to advance. She knows to put her bag down, walk towards the soldier holding out her ID card. His tip of his machine gun is one foot away from her, at chest level.
Above him is another soldier behind another cement block. His machine gun is aimed at her head; his finger rests on the trigger. There are another two soldiers with their guns aimed at those in line, another six waiting, in a jeep. She extends her ID. He decides to let her through. But first - she goes back to her bag, and unpacks the contents for his inspection. She then walks through, her little girl in tow.
You can feel the tension, muted fear of those waiting in line. When I used to be able to cross, when Ramallah was not a ‘closed military zone’ (of civilians), when I was able to go home ——
——I would be eerily aware of my every move, how any little move could be suspect. The day that I left Ramallah, over a week ago, to ‘spend the night in Jerusalem’, it was windy and cold. But as I approached the checkpoint, I didn’t dare button up my jacket. What if that was suspicious? Is the way I walk suspect? Should I open my bag to put my keys in or will they be suspicious of that? Could a slight variation in my walk - should I slip in the mud- get me killed?
But I can’t cross the checkpoint now, and I watch as refugees try to get back to their refugee camp. The dusty hot wind continues. A UN convoy is trying to get into Ramallah with supplies, with medicines. They had just come from Bethlehem; they had not been allowed in by the Israeli army. There are journalists and cameramen also at the checkpoint, following a Canadian member of parliament trying to cross the checkpoint in protest.
Suddenly, the soldiers start shouting, the fuzzy crackle voice on their radios gets louder. They shout at us to back up. The refugees start walking back, familiar with the easily fired guns.
I don’t move and one of the soldiers comes up to me:
“You have to move back, move back now!”
He is young, probably 20 or so. Skinny underneath the bulk of his uniform, padded with the bulk of grenades, tear gas canisters, extra bullets and his gun. I ask him why exactly I have to move away.
“There’s a terrorist coming!”
“There’s a terrorist coming! A Palestinian terrorist!”
I look at him, then at his gun. I turn my head slightly to the right and see three soldiers, further to the right my eyes rest on the two armoured personnel carriers (APCs), and army jeeps. To my left there are more soldiers, and more jeeps.
and so I ask -
“How will the Palestinian terrorist be arriving today? Is the terrorist armed? Will he come with guns, tanks, APCs and troops?”
He ignores me, but insists:
“There’s a terrorist coming. Please, for your own safety move away.”
I laugh at the thought of his concern for my safety, then tell him that my safety -and his- would be greatly enhanced should Israel end its occupation of Palestine.
But I move back, and wait - fascinated that I might actually be able to see a ‘terrorist’.
I wait. A woman is able to walk through. Is she the terrorist, I ask. A man walks through, with two children. Is he the terrorist? Another woman, two more children.
Wait. Stand back. How much longer will we have to wait to see the terrorist, I ask.
A Palestinian man beside me laughs bitterly:
“Are you looking for terrorists? Look straight ahead and around, my dear. They are the ones holding the guns, the ones in the jeeps there, the ones who are forcing us through this humiliation….the ones there in uniform”.