Friends have told us about a spot
close to the Israeli town of Modi'in where detainees are brought after
being released and left there, usually in the evening or at night, when
they have no way of getting home. We saw a road blocked by several
concrete slabs, and next to them were taxi drivers and an army jeep. And
we stopped. When the soldiers saw us filming them they left, and shortly
afterward we learned they had gone to shoot inside the village. We also
learned that just before we got there the soldiers had beaten the taxi
drivers under one pretext or another as they are wont to do as a matter
of routine. This was around 5 p.m. and the taxi drivers were waiting for
workers coming back from work in Israel. We learned from them that this
is indeed the place where the detainees are thrown, and about what
happens across the road every day before dawn, except Saturdays.
They said come and have a look. And we came.
Beit Sira Checkpoint, the western checkpoint on
road 443, near the blocked entrance to Beit Sira village, Makabim
Checkpoint as the army calls it.
4 a.m.. It is pitch dark. Takes a moment to get used to it. Then we see
people. All men. Emerging from the dark and through it and beside us
along the road. More and more. Individuals, here and there two together.
Dozens of men. Each holding a plastic bag or box that looks like a lunch
box. Some with woolen caps or hoods. No sideward looks. They walk
rapidly, their backs leaning forward, intent, their eyes withdrawn.
These men are not young, and it is a strange. Road 443 is deserted but
for an occasional truck that speeds through the dark, and an occasional
taxi rushing along the dark, empty road. In the center of the road, lit
with some metallic sheen, stands Makabim Checkpoint, the checkpoint of
First we stood on the south side of the road, by the square concrete
slabs that block access to Beit Sira and the other villages of the area.
Total darkness. Everything looks deserted. Suddenly a light appears and
a van arrives. Some men descend quickly and begin to walk. Determined.
Bent forward. A plastic bag in one hand. The van turns around and
disappears into the dark, and then another.
No one looks at us, or to the sides. They walk behind one another, or
pass each other by, wordlessly. We followed.
On the northern side of the road and of the checkpoint, a bare field,
and in the distance, about 200 meters from the road, there is a shed.
Outside several dozen men stand crowded in what appears to be a waiting
line. Nearby, about ten meters away, some men stand around, their
rounded backs creating a circle, their shoulders hunched against the
cold, they rub their hands together. The time is some minute past 4 a.m.
Silence. We approached. They immediately made room for us. We greeted
them. They answered our greeting.
F. from Beit Sira explained that this whole checkpoint, the lit part on
the road, and the part with the shed through which workers with jobs in
Israel get inspected, are actually one and the same checkpoint, that he
and his friends call Beit Sira CP. This crossing is only for workers, he
says. Anyone who is not a worker and has no permit will not be let
through. Once someone was very badly hurt in a traffic accident just
beside them. The soldiers would not let him through. They said it was
only for workers. Only whoever has a work permit.
Road 443 is located on the lands of Palestinian villages in the area
that have been confiscated years ago, when the road was built. And it
was actually built for their own use, too. Or so they were told. Now for
the past few years all Palestinian residents of the region, except for a
very few, are prohibited to travel this road, and the access roads from
the villages to the road are all blocked with concrete slabs. As there
is no entry to Jerusalem, Ramallah is the only place in the region to go
to for hospital, pharmacy, garage or university, anything really. When
the road was still accessible to Palestinians they could reach Ramallah
in about a quarter-of-an-hour. Now they have to travel a potholed back
road through six or seven villages, and the trip takes about an
Since it has been forbidden to cross or travel road 443, women have
given birth in taxis, had stillbirths, people have died on the way, and
chronic patients waste away at home. Some of the villages have
petitioned the High Court of Justice about the matter lately, and since
then the army's routine harassment has gotten worse.
Everyone on the spot already arrived at 3 a.m., or half past, to save a
place in the waiting line that will open around 5, quarter past. He will
be standing there for at least an hour, hopefully. Usually longer. And
then, hoping he will be permitted to proceed into Israel, to work. Most
of them hold work permits valid from 5 a.m. to seven pm. Few hold a
twenty-four hour permit. They are all over thirty years old. Most are
older. All have permits and a Jewish employer who has requested to have
them work for him. Who waits for them to come to work.
I am old, says one, and I have a job. I have three sons in their
twenties, they have little children, they don't work at all. He speaks
very quietly. They stand quietly. Holding their lunch boxes and bags.
Although they stand for a long time, they place nothing on the ground.
Hardly talk to each other. And it is strange.
The shed is about twenty meters long. People stand outside. And wait.
Usually for hours. When one person approaches the shed he faces several
stairs, still outside. And then when he is summoned inside, he enters.
Inside the shed there is a metal-detector. Each of them has to pass it
and then reach a high cubicle with the soldiers' checking posts. The man
has to hold out his ID and permit up for the soldier to see, usually on
tiptoe, and get his final okay to cross. Then go back towards road 443,
to the other side of the checkpoint where vans stand waiting, or the
Two soldiers, a man and a woman, approach Tamar. Would you stop filming?
No, she answered.
-I have no problem with your being here, said the woman soldier. That's
cool. But not here, stand over there.
No, says Tamar. There's no reason. And continues to film.
-Sure there's a reason, it's a closed military area. You must not stand
No problem, show us the order signed by the regional general commander.
-You can't stand here. I've spoken to my officer.
Sorry, he's wrong.
-He's not wrong. I just spoke to him.
I tell you he should go find out. I want to see the closed military
order signed by a general.
-Fine, no problem. I'll get it. And don't film me.
The soldier goes off to make a phone call. Tamar continues filming.
They posted one more soldier for the checking, someone comments
wondering. That's when we get observers here, the UN, he says. Or a
senior officer. Come every day
We looked at the checking posts. Instead of one soldier checking there
are now two. The woman soldier who forbade us to film earlier and
promised she'd bring the signed order is now helping out with the
Apparently instead of giving her the signed order which no one there has
to give, she was told to go stand there and take part in the
inspections, it would look good in the pictures.
Well certainly not good.
An officer arrives. Probably the checkpoint commander, with his typical
- Give me your data, he says.
Bring a police officer, we say. We'll show him our papers.
-You have to show me, too.
No, I don't. Get the police. Tell them to tell us.
-You know you're in some danger here as well.
We sure know that. Thank you. From you. We feel endangered but not by
whom you think.
It is still dark. More men keep arriving. And joining the slowly moving
waiting line. That now contains hundreds of people in a long queue that
disappears in the dark, ranged single file.
Someone turns and says, all of a sudden: When a little boy throws a
stone, they talk about it everywhere. Here thousands of people stand in
the bitter cold, and no one says a thing about it. They stand in the
rain. There's no shelter. The sheds are just for soldiers. Sometimes
there are three, four hundred people standing in the rain. If we move,
they get angry.
Today is okay.
When we talk, they shut us up. Don't talk! As if we're children.
Bring television crews. Come here every day.
The line shorter than usual according to the people standing in it
gradually grows longer. The silence is a bit less penetrating. Some
people smoke. Talk with each other more.
Two weeks ago people didn't get along because the soldiers were doing
everything very slowly. Making fun of us. Then soldiers hit people in
line with their rifle butts.
5:18 a.m. People hurry off to the side. Some stay in line. People kneel
for prayer. I don't know from where they suddenly got pieces of
cardboard, perhaps they had prepared them in advance, perhaps they're
kept in some corner somewhere. Some hand them over to each other. They
kneel together and pray. Heads bobbing up and down over the cardboard.
After a while, one of them begins to lead the prayer, standing ahead of
the others, and they all follow.
A man dressed in red loosens up and talks. Apparently they are no longer
afraid to talk in line. Less are seen gazing sideways in concern. I'm
from Hebron, not from here. But what can we do? Gotta work. He says
there are many like him, from elsewhere. Nablus and Jenin. They rent
places in this area. For example, himself and four other fellows from
Hebron rented a two-room flat about 100 meters from the checkpoint. They
pay two thousand NIS a month for it. And that's a lot. Once a week, on
Saturday, they go home. Two and a half hours each way. They have to be
back on Saturday in order to stand in line at 3:30 a.m. to get to work.
This is no life, he said.
Someone lit a small campfire and several men stand around it, encircling
as if to hide it, warming their hands.
As time passes, the fire grows.
At the brightly-lit checkpoint on the road, a police car stops. Perhaps
that is why the topic suddenly came up. Every two-three days, they tell
us, interrupting each other, a policeman comes and hides off the road
(they show us exactly where) and fines anyone crossing the road. For the
inevitable crossing of the road. Because there is no pedestrian
crossing. And nowhere else where Palestinians from the Occupied
Territories may cross the road. None. Only there.
Fines are 100-250 NIS each.
There is one spot where the road can be crossed underneath. Near
Kharbata. A kind of tunnel under the road. That's where they used to
cross in order to avoid getting fined. But now it has been made
Everywhere we look we see money being stolen from Palestinians with an
industriousness that is absolutely terrifying.
I was given a 200 NIS fine, someone says. Where am I going to get that
kind of money? Half of my workday wages is spent on transportation. 25
NIS each way just to get to work. Some spend even more. Half goes to
feed the children. And then I get this fine. Where can we cross? How can
we pay? It is all intentional. Sometimes people who get fined lose their
A month ago soldiers entered Kharbata. They went from house to house,
made people stay in one room and stole money. That's what they do.
Thieves. For money.
More people are warming up by the fire that is no longer concealed.
Others have added some wood.
If you weren't here, they'd put it out. Fire is forbidden here, someone
I come here every day at 4 a.m., someone tells us. Every single day, he
adds bitterly. They check everything. They check this, pointing at his
heart. His body. I am old. What are we carrying, bombs? We are decent
people. Never been in jail. We are alright. Every soldier plays with us.
They talk about us. Take their time looking at our permits. Then they
say 'get back', then 'come here', and on and on and on. Why do they make
us open our pants? Why be like this? Once I was sick of them. Take your
coat off. Why the coat? What's wrong with my coat? Tell me. We want
peace. It's the truth. Not the big ones. We, the little people. Want
there to be no difference between Arabs and Jews. We're straight.
Honest. Everyone knows me in the village. Y. From Beit Liqya. What do we
want? We don't want anything. Just to live our lives in peace.
He looks about sixty years old. Is probably less. Talks very painfully.
We're human, like any humans. No difference between Arabs and Jews. They
look into my box twenty times over. What is there to look at in a box?
There's food inside. That's what it is. Food.
The sense of humiliation flashing through his words is fascinating and
difficult to witness. Perhaps I am wrong but I think that at other
checkpoints I've seen anger, and helplessness and bitterness, but not as
much humiliation and offense as here. Or perhaps it had been absorbed,
in my perception at least, by other things.
Is it possible that these people, who are relatively privileged with
their permits to work in Israel, even the fact that they have work
even these people who Israel, in its way, sees as entitled, "proper"
The mere obtaining of such a permit, unlike the general sweeping
prevention aimed at most Palestinians, does it not (possibly) contain
the slightest sense of hope to be regarded as humans? That their
different, rare privileges somehow make them real and human in the eyes
of the occupiers, for how would they have received them otherwise? And
from this sliver of hope, or this assumption, or belief that this is at
all possible, the explicit lack of humanity in the treatment they
receive everywhere, not totally human after all, this tireless
harassment by the soldiers who are entitled to it and seemingly bask in
it this tears them to pieces.
Perhaps feeling so very openly humiliated and offended is a result of
expectation. Of trust. Of hope. Of letting down defenses. And it's both
fascinating and unbearable.
There are times when some soldier one of them says tells you: Get
back! Back! and you're already one meter from the bridge. Back, back! he
tells us. An elderly man. Almost old. Or so he seems. When he speaks,
his mouth trembles. They treat us like dogs. Really. For them we're not
The beautiful flames rise and curl. Pleasant orange-yellow-red hues move
in the dark. Nearby, the bluish fluorescent lights of the checkpoint in
the middle of the road. And the figures of the soldiers wearing their
army winter overalls, looking like some computer-game robots.
Some of the people standing in line leave it, warm themselves a bit by
the fire and go back. Amazingly, no one is pushing, not only because
they fear the soldiers, but because everyone's place is clearly
recognized and reserved, so it seems. And that in itself is moving. If
you weren't here, they would put the fire out. With their boots. They
would overturn it. Like this, someone demonstrates. We must not have a
fire here. Must not get warm.
Where are we? Out in the field. Not near them. Why is it forbidden? Two
weeks ago they were hitting out with their rifle butts. Ask them. What
are we, children? Don't talk! Don't move! Don't smoke! Don't talk on the
phone! Do so and so and so. What is this?
As soon as someone is seen talking on his cell phone, they take away his
permit and that's it. They tear it up. Or they say: Go home! Because of
the cell phone. Even for smoking a cigarette. Sit off to the side. What
do you mean? Says the woman commander of the checkpoint. This is my
checkpoint. I myself was sent away from the checkpoint because of a
cigarette. Because I lit a cigarette.
And if we sit on the concrete here. It's a low concrete ledge alongside
some steps ascending towards the checking shed. Then they say go home.
Why? Why can't he sit on the concrete? What has he done wrong? An hour
and a half standing in line, that's what.
The work permits are valid for three months at a time, they told us. And
every time we have to renew them. But this depends on our boss
requesting someone or other for work. Some of the employers are good,
they say. Some are, some aren't. If the boss does not want to pay
compensation or something, he does not ask for a certain worker again,
and there's no more permit. And no wages. And no entry to Israel.
We start work at seven, usually. Get here at 4 in the morning, at the
latest. Sometimes only get to enter around seven. Because of the
soldiers. The boss waits. If he looks and sees no workers, he goes back.
He doesn't wait. Then people go back home without any work. And if this
goes on, we won't get permits.
It stresses people out, this checkpoint.
There seems to be this fine-line dissonance drawn between the need and
norm and instruction to harass the people waiting in line in every way
imaginable, in addition to the harassment that is inherent in the mere
existence of the checkpoint, for this is its purpose and the need to
let most of them through because their employers are after all Jews, the
occupier's people, perhaps his parents.
We could say that in fact the people here, those few who hold permits to
work, are 'fortunate', for their work is in the interest of the
over-privileged. (God knows what some had to do to obtain it, but that
is another matter). Still, however, harassing them as much as possible
without totally breaking this cheap labor market exploited for the
benefit of "whites" is present in everything. In prohibiting. Denying
people warmth and talk and sitting. In the policeman giving out fines
for crossing a road that cannot be crossed anywhere else. What is a
civil servant who is supposed to serve a large population doing in the
middle of nowhere, and against the poorest of the poor?
Are there no other crimes to be fought?
He is doing it for the fatherland.
The line grows longer.
If you weren't here, says someone younger, it would stretch all the way
out to the road. And again we are stunned that this is considered
better. The line, slow and somber, stretches out into the dark.
Look, there are two sides, someone says excitedly. He looks amazed.
Look! They have never opened the other side for checking. Ever. They
know you're here. That's why.
Apparently they not only added the woman soldier to the checks today,
after noticing that we were filming in spite of their threats which in
itself was rare but not impossible, as they told us. But they had also
opened another waiting line in front of the checking post shed. And that
is something that - although the physical lane exists has never
happened before. Again and again people tell us, in total awe, that
never, but never since they've been coming here, had they ever seen
another line opened in front of the checking shed.
This is shocking and symptomatic and says it all, how in fact the
presence of a gaze at the soldiers male and female and especially
the gaze of those regarded by them as their own affinity group, changes
their conduct. How honed their senses, how deep their racism
Today is really special, people said, breaking our heart.
More and more people tell us or ask us to believe how much worse it
always is than today. On the one hand they are glad that today's line
grew shorter. But they must also say that this is just never so. That we
should know how much more awful it really is.
We, who are shaken by what we see already, have no words.
Look, they have their shed. We stand like this in the rain. We don't get
a shed. What can I tell you, life sucks. A relatively well-groomed man,
just a trimmed chin-beard, complains but smilingly. It is still utterly
We suffer a lot at the checkpoint, someone says. Every person who comes
here has a permit. But still they look at it as if they were reading a
newspaper. On purpose.
Today no one was told to go back. Because you're here.
Someone who came not long ago says, I wouldn't believe it when they said
today everything is going smoothly. He smokes and smiles. You're here,
they do nothing. Come every day.
We saw no women, so we asked. Very few women come to this checkpoint,
someone says. About five or seven of them, as far as he knows. From Beit
Liqya and Kharbata. To work in the vegetable fields.
I choose to write about the cheer at the fact that we were there, not
because I think there is anything positive about our being there making
any difference. Nor do I think that it did make a difference. Not
really. Even though of course if it took only one hour for someone to
cross instead of several hours, this is definitely something.
And I have no answer to the question whether it is good or bad that we
'improved' anything. Certainly not in essence, perhaps on the contrary.
And I have no interest in making evil look 'better' than it really is,
or help occupation conceal itself.
It is more than likely that the soldiers' 'moderation' as a response to
our presence will be tempered once they realize they will not be
evaluated in spite of our witnessing them. That our voice is transparent
But perhaps because of our testimony if we persevere - sheds will be
put up to shelter from the rain, and water faucets, and perhaps the
Palestinians will be allowed to light a fire, and talk on their cell
phones at least when 'whites' of some sort are present.
But it is important to say, especially now, that such things do not
change the essence of it all, only the outer shell. Not the principle of
the thing. And that there is quite a chance that we will be used
precisely for this purpose, and not for the first time.
"Improving" the way occupation looks and helping to hide it. For it is
worth their trouble. To clear their conscience and minimize public
censure, and carry on.
It is likely, perhaps, that these very words about our presence making
people wait less in line, is already serving evil, and will be used to
say quite the opposite of what they were meant to say. That is why I
emphasize, from the start, and as a warning, how this relief at our mere
presence, is another facet and aspect of that same horror. A symptom of
the very same illness. Not to be too celebrated, and very very
And that we must see again how, because of all the wrong and inherent
and totally internalized reasons in the world that soldiers have
(representing a method and train of thought) in other words their
racism, and the norms, and the power that is everywhere a few women
about whom no one knows a thing except for the fact that they are of the
"right race" can affect so much. Even if not the essence itself.
And I must reiterate how troubling this point is. And how sad.
It is also important to add that at this point we were not even
recognized as belonging to one organization or the other. We were
absolute strangers. But suffice it for our race to have been obvious,
'their' race, for them to have halted the usual and permitted mandate to
harass. Not the inherent one, of course. But its local variation. And
And one more thing, always, and here too. Even if the soldiers had not
added one thing to their instructions just to stand there and allow or
prevent passage according to criteria they had not set themselves; even
if they had spoken politely and quietly, it would not change their deeds
and the harassment they represent and maintain in their presence there.
Nothing of what they would or would not do changes the act of occupation
and dispossession and expropriation and theft and terror and prevention
of which they are the executors.
There is no gracious occupier, just as there is no enlightened
occupation, nor moral rapist.
The fire burns large and beautiful. The waiting line is long. And slow.
And sad. People are a bit more relaxed. Smoking. Here and there smiles
are seen. More and more stories about incursions of the checkpoint's
soldiers in the neighboring villages at night. About children who wet
their beds. About how difficult life is. And how before dawn, in the
dark, day after day, the occupation soldiers harass them only because
There has never been a day like today, they tell us again, and our heart
We left after 6 a.m. More men were still arriving. We looked back for a
moment. The sign says "Checkpoint! Stop for inspection" in three
languages. Then another sign: Kharbata (455), with an arrow pointing to
the right. But Kharbata is blocked. As part of the apparatus for hiding
evil, there is a road sign pointing to a locality, like a sign of life,
but none of its prisoners are allowed to follow the arrow, or even see
There are more cars on the road now.
A line of light in the dark.
6:15 a.m. We leave. We'll come again, we said. We think of this strange
and sweeping generosity we have witnessed in these people, trodden by
other people whose identity and language are our own, and still they see
us as individuals, not symbols, not a reduction of our affinity group as
it were, which has been trampling them both as a method and purpose for
at least sixty years now.
Present: Tamar Goldschmidt, Vivi Sury, Roni Hammermann, and Aya Kaniuk
Sunday 6.1.2008 4:00 a.m.
Translated by Tal Haran.