I HAVE JUST RETURNED TO SOUTH AFRICA after spending months in occupied Palestine. When I was thinking about what to write about my time there, the first thing that popped into my mind was the mental violence at Israeli checkpoints. And that is still what is with me during my transition back to South Africa. People seldom write or even speak about them, but this is where you see the mental violence of the most brutal apartheid machinery.
At these checkpoints, Palestinian people are reminded every day that they are inferior and have to bow to the mood swings of the soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force. Their lives are governed by permits, and by how soldiers choose to interpret them.
At these checkpoints, you see thousands of Palestinian people attempting to cross from the West Bank as early as 5 am, especially at Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem. Here you see Palestinians clashing with one another in frustration. People’s fathers have to bear the indignity of climbing fences to get ahead in the queue to cross the checkpoint. Also, there are times when your permit allows you to cross, but the gate only opens for one person at a time before it is closed again. It doesn’t matter how loud Palestinians shout for them to open the gate. This is the main reason why people are rushing to cross.
By the time the gates are open and they get to the checkpoint an hour later, many are turned back because their permit only allowed them to cross before a specific time. And that time has now passed.
This is where you see the hurt and sorrow in people’s eyes and faces because they have lost their income for the day. People who have relatives sitting in prison are also often turned back. Their permits will probably be suspended until the person is out of prison. They cannot access Jerusalem for work, and this creates a serious threat to Palestinian livelihoods.
IDF applies rules arbitrarily
On one occasion, I met a woman named Fatima at Checkpoint 300. She wanted to take her son to see Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem because her son has never had the opportunity. The IDF forces understand very well the importance of Al-Aqsa to Muslim people and to their religion. Fatima was allowed to enter through the checkpoint. But her son was denied entry because he did not have a permit.
Of course, he didn’t need a permit as he was only 9 years old. If Fatima tried to help him to secure a permit she would be told he doesn’t need one. So this was a purposeful act by the soldiers to deny them access to their important place of worship. You see this every Friday at Checkpoint 300. Even pensioners who do not need permits are denied access because they don’t have them. The soldiers know very well these folks are older than seventy. But these are just purposeful efforts to deny Palestinians their place of worship. And they know very well the mental torture this causes people.
The serious impacts of this are visible in men and women as they stand contemplating before entering the checkpoints. People only leave home when they are sure they have all the right documentation. You see people double-checking their documents before entering the checkpoint. You also see some smoking and walking around the checkpoint for about 30 minutes before they enter. To witness Palestinians at the checkpoint is to see the embarrassment, mental torture, and dehumanisation that is caused by these checkpoints. And this is violence that no one sees or talks about.
Right to schooling violated
It’s the same story with access to school for young boys. The Israeli Defense Force is trained to target young Palestinian boys. During a walk in the Old City of Jerusalem, I came across a group of eight soldiers strangling, beating up and body searching a young boy. This was because the boy was wearing a necklace that the Israeli soldiers regarded as an indication that he was a terrorist. The boy was only 15 years old. He was only going to school when they turned him back, took him for questioning, and eventually put him under house arrest. He was forbidden to enter the Old City for two months. But that is where he attends school. By doing this, the soldiers are denying this boy his access to school education.
This is the everyday life of Palestinians under the Israeli occupation, and it is only getting worse as more and more soldiers are deployed on school runs. Not to mention how there are serious efforts to ethnically cleanse any Palestinian history from their curriculum. Every day there are school raids to see what is being taught. Soldiers confiscate any materials that speak to Palestinian history.
Another sad story of ethnic cleansing is that of Sherif Amro. Sherif Amro was a man I would always talk to when I needed a sober analysis of the political situation in the occupied land. I was there when the IDF demolished his home of 35 years.
The Israeli Authorities came to Sherif and his wife to tell them that their house was in a greenbelt. They were given a few days to demolish the home themselves or the authorities would do it. The army could not care less that Sherif was blind. They came and demolished his house while slapping him with a bill of 350,000 NIS ( R1.7 million). They were asking him to pay for the army to demolish his own house.
Of course, the matter was still in court and there was a moratorium on this demolition, but the IDF continued with it anyway. So the law does not really apply to Israelis.
After this, Sheif posted:
On the Day of Judgement God will take care of them. They destroyed houses. They are destroying trees. We are refugees from 1948, 1967 until now. But this is our country and it has been occupied.
This is the everyday life of Palestinians in the holy land. Their businesses and houses are destroyed every day in Silwan. The Israelis claim this is an area created by the Ottoman Empire, where King David’s grave also rests. So those houses should be removed so it can be a tourist site. Similarly, Israelis claim the area of Nabu Samwil as the site of the prophet Samuel’s grave. So, villagers, there should be displaced so that it can be a tourist site to commemorate Samuel.
What of the mass Israeli protests?
Against this backdrop, we see huge protests that are taking place in Israel currently. But should these protests be interpreted as actions against this kind of atrocity? No. These protests come from the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu is facing corruption charges and is trying, by all means, to gain control over the judiciary so he can dictate court rulings. Netanyahu wants to erase any further charges that might come against him.
These protests are also opening up cracks within this new coalition government. Parties are retreating from the pressure of these unrests. But these have nothing to do with Palestinians and the subjugation that they experience. Having said that, there are actually protests that are in support of the Palestinian plight. Every Friday there is a group of Israeli women called “women in black”. They have been protesting for over 35 years now against the occupation. It is only five women; no other Israeli has bothered to join them. When you do go to their protests you only see people throwing stuff at them and insulting them.
This is the same with the Sheik Jarrah protests that also take place on Fridays. These are Israeli progressives who are protesting against the displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem and beyond. Only a few people show up for these protests to speak vividly against the occupation. All you see are counter-protests against the Sheik Jarrah protests.
What Israelis really want to talk about is not freedom for Palestinians but the freedom of the LGBTQI communities, and how they want to continue sending their children to the army to protect their state.
Siyabulela Mama is an Ecumenical Accompanier in Israel-Palestine and a member of the South African BDS Coalition. He is also a member of the Amandla! Collective.