Waiting at the checkpoints
first moment at Bet Iba, the first checkpoint we
went to at the south entrance to Nablus, I thought
I was on a movie set, the Palestinians and soldiers
are extras, the cars and donkeys in line part of
the art department, the guns, and sand bags behind
which the soldiers stood, - props. Only myself and
the other three women from Machsom (checkpoint)
Watch were free to walk among these entities, just
like in the many years I had worked in films as
a script supervisor and walked among such staged
scenes. Only it was not a movie. And it made me
so ashamed and so guilty and responsible that to
the best of my ability I spoke, using the ten words
I know in Arabic, to as many people as I could,
saying to them all "I am so sorry", "I
am with you". I spoke to them with my eyes
and my facial expressions and my hands in the Indian
"Namaste" position, in their honor, and
looking them each in the eye. This is with the people
who stand in line for hours. At some point I stood
with a group of men who might have been there for
over two hours, in the sun, and the smell of sweat
was dominant. I continued to stand there with them
thinking, "This is a much better smell than
perfume I smell in living rooms in Tel Aviv and
other side of the checkpoint, for people going out
of Nablus, is a narrow shaded concrete structure
in which people are packed like sardines. When their
turn finally arrives they go through a revolving
steel door so narrow I don't know how a pregnant
woman or an adult plus child will pass through.
Then the soldiers, who stand behind sand bags, barricaded,
big guns almost pointing at the people in front
of them. At some point, in a small closure in which
they randomly detain a few, including kids, I saw,
to my amazement, three soldiers checking their guns,
only they did it in such a way that it seemed the
three guns were pointed AT the people in the closure.
The kids all began to cry. A young thin woman fainted
in the heat. Her family and I lay her on the ground
and I held my hand under her head and my other hand
on her belly. She opened her eyes a few times and
looked at me, surprised, then she would faint again...
she was so beautiful, I will never forget her face,
her green eyes, her utter vulnerability and despair.
Then an ambulance came for her.
spent two hours at this check point. Little help
here and there: Let an old man pass before the others,
a boy carrying meat on a donkey, let him go quickly
before the meat spoils in the sun... a little water
here, a kind word there. One of our women wrote
a report. They've been coming to the checkpoints,
at least once a week, for the past couple of years.
The lady "in charge" of our group gave
lollipops and candies to the kids. The kids smiled.
I have never seen such friendly children, I kissed
and hugged many of them and they all hugged and
kissed me back.
we drove to Hawara, the east entrance to Nablus.
This is a huge checkpoint with lots of taxis and
vendors. The same concrete structures here too,
were now packed with four hundred people in each
side, but the checkpoint had been closed shut for
three hours, with hundreds of individuals and babies
and old people inside of them. Why? The soldiers
said there had been an alert on the other side,
and they were now dismantling the bomb. People were
angry, tired, hot, thirsty, humiliated, shamed.
Some seemed pleased to see us; we had badges of
Machsom Watch - Women for Human Rights. After about
twenty minutes the alert was over and all the people,
first the four hundred on one side, then the four
hundred on the other side, were let through without
checking. There had been no bomb on the other side,
just a girl from Nablus who the soldiers were suspicious
of, and they arrested her.
the hundreds of Palestinians from the other side
were released, a bunch of people mostly women in
beautiful clothes, some with flowers in their hair,
walked beating a drum, clapping and singing. It
was a wedding. I thought to myself, "What resilience,
to stand in the sun, in the heat, for three hours,
in this utter unbelievable humiliation, then, in
one instant, to dance and sing! WOW!!!" There
were so many people here too I got to talk to in
my ten Arabic words, though some speak English,
and unfortunately, Hebrew... such beautiful exchanges.
One guy knew about the demonstration Women in Black
had organized in Los Angeles two weeks earlier,
in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners' hunger
strike. I told him I had been in it.
I stood there bearing witness to so much suffering
and humiliation, I was also happy to witness the
moment in which each Palestinian is let through,
and for an instant the tension is released, for
an instant they are free... until the next checkpoint.
Though there was this one woman, with a child in
her arms, I faced her right after she was let go,
and when my eyes met hers, I thought I am looking
at Munk's famous painting, The Scream. So much pain
was in her beautiful, young face.
of the last moments we spoke to a guy who held a
folder that read Peace is Possible. He was returning
from an international peace conference in Jerusalem.
He wanted to give us the folder. He was bright.
On his wrist he had a band woven in green, red,
black and white, the Palestinian colors. He insisted
on giving it to our team leader. She received it
and placed it on her wrist.
body is in Tel Aviv but my heart is in Palestine.
My heroes: Palestinians and Israelis walking
hand in hand
met A.K. in Tel Aviv, in the group of Israeli activists
waiting for the bus organized by Gush Shalom, to
take us to the demonstration at a-Ram, - "Let
them go to school." To my understanding, the
wall built in the middle of the neighborhood will
make it difficult or even impossible for the Palestinian
youngsters to go to school. A.K. wore a Palestinian
headdress (kufiyyeh) around her neck, and it impressed
me that she walks like this in Tel Aviv. She added
that when she goes to the checkpoints with Machsom
(checkpoint) Watch, to observe that Israeli soldiers
do not further violate the human rights of Palestinians
passing through, - she does not wear it. I explained
that I am an Israeli living in L.A., part of Women
in Black, and as we exchanged phone numbers I saw
that she's the daughter of an Israeli writer I had
recently read, a book that deeply moved me. On the
bus was Mr. Uri Avnery, an old time Israeli peacemaker
I knew of but had never met before, his wife Rachel,
lots and lots of teenagers, as well as older people,
- life-long peace and human rights activists. A.K
and I sat together, and I found myself, maybe we
both "found ourselves", telling each other
about important events in our lives, and about our
social and political attitudes.
a-Ram we descended the bus and walked eight hundred
meters towards the demonstration. We walked along
the wall, which is indeed eight or nine meters high,
and built in the middle of the street. All along
the wall stood young Israeli soldiers with machine
guns. The site of the rally was filled with hundreds
of school children in school uniforms, ages six
to eighteen. Two bus loads of Israelis, one from
Tel Aviv the other from Jerusalem, were there in
solidarity. A.K. pointed Rabbi Asherman to me, -
from Rabbis for Human Rights, a tall, bearded, good
looking guy about whom I had heard in Los Angeles,
and was now speaking to a reporter. Gadi Elgazi
was there too, - him I had met in Los Angeles at
a presentation he gave about the wall, and the work
of Taayush in helping Palestinian villagers whose
lives and work are disrupted by the wall. There
were many reporters, many people with video cameras
at the rally in a-Ram. On the platform of a truck,
against a clear blue sky, stood a few young men
and women, some waving Palestinian flags, some speaking
to the demonstrators in Arabic, which I don't understand.
For a moment I was lost in the crowd and saw Mr.
Avnery standing by himself. I walked over to introduce
myself but at that very moment someone came to summon
him, so I followed them. Mr. Avnery was lead to
the front of the march, where holding a yellow banner
stood Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, the creator, along
with the late Prof. Edward Said, of Al Mubadara
- the democratic, secular Palestinian initiative.
I had heard Dr. Barghouthi speak in Los Angeles
about a month earlier, in an evening organized by
Women in Black - Los Angeles, and Palestine Aid
Society. I was shaken to tears by his power-point
presentation about the daily suffering of Palestinians
enclosed within the walls built by Israel. And I
was impressed with the equanimity with which Dr.
Barghouthi spoke, a certain peacefulness, kindness,
lack of retribution, and even a trace of anger I
did not detect in his speech. When he concluded
his presentation he just said, with great pain but
calmly: "We (the Palestinians) are not going
anywhere." Y.K., of Women in Black, who had
introduced him in Los Angeles, said, I am paraphrasing,:
- "We will not stop our work until the Palestinian
situation is righted."
the morning before the demonstration I had caught
Dr. Barghouthi on his cell phone in Ramallah, and
he said he was driving to a-Ram. Now, at the demonstration,
as I followed Mr. Avnery, he was walking shoulder
to shoulder with Dr. Barghouthi, both holding the
yellow banner. I walked behind them and for a few
moments, and I think, hope, pray that I am not inventing
this and that this is indeed the truth, I saw that
Dr. Barghouthi and Mr. Avenry were holding hands
as they walked. When the march stopped for a second,
Dr. Barghouthi looked back and saw me, and made
room for me to join in at the banner. I found myself
smack in between Mr. Avnery on my left and Dr. Barghouthi
on my right, the three of us waving the peace sign
at the three video cameras in front of us. To say
that I was honored, humbled, and a little shy -
is an understatement. I also loved it, and felt
that if destiny planted me right there in this way,
the march and the speeches were over I mingled with
the school kids, and was then happy to introduce
my new friend A.K. to Dr. Barghouthi. She had heard
about him and his work, and I was pleased to introduce
her to him as an activist who goes to the checkpoints.
I was also happy to introduce her as the daughter
of a progressive and excellent Tel Avivian writer.
Later, when the bus was ready to leave I saw that
A.K. is not with me. I phoned her on her cellular
and she explained she had heard gun shots and returned
to the site of the rally. It turned out, she said
afterwords, that once the grown-ups had left some
of the kids threw stones at the soldiers and the
soldiers tear-gassed them. I guess a shot had been
fired too. Thank god, no one was injured.
I was a teenager in Tel Aviv, my heroes were Martin
Luther King, Abbie Hoffman, Angela Davis, to name
a few, people who fought for peace, human rights
and freedom. This was in the seventies, the Vietnam
war was still going on, and I moved to San Francisco
to be part of this peace movement. Nowadays, as
I live in Los Angeles, my heroes are Dr. Mustafa
Barghouthi, Mr. Uri Avnery, Rabbi Asherman and Gadi
Elgazi, - to name a few. And of course A.K., who
walks around Tel Aviv with a Palestinian kufiyyeh
(headdress), and goes to the checkpoints three times
Abu Ghraib in Abu Dis
met A.Z. in the deserted plaza of a small Palestinian
town part of East Jerusalem, another town cut in
two by the eight meters high concrete wall. It was
the second day of the Jewish new year, and being
Friday, the stores in the plaza were closed. Our
group consisted of seven: An activist from Los Angeles
of Israeli origin and her daughter, a Palestinian
Israeli activist with her son and his Canadian girl
friend, an Israeli activist from Jerusalem, and
myself. We had come to see the wall, and were taking
pictures and videotaping. Just moments earlier we
had seen it from the top of Mount Olives, from the
Intercontinental hotel: The tall concrete wall curls
around through the beautiful vista, with the dead
sea on one side, the Jerusalem hills and valleys
on the other. It stretches south toward the horizon
through fields and towns, forests and orchards.
stood in his checkered shirt, his eyes questioning
our being there. I approached him. Introduced myself,
explained who we were, that we came to bear witness
and take pictures "for the world to see".
He was suspicious at first and asked that we don't
photograph him. But in a moment he told us that
just two days earlier, a Palestinian from the Palestinian
side had crossed the wall with his young daughter
to take her to the doctor, and two Israeli soldiers
caught them, separated the two, then took the father
into the military quarters, once a hotel, and urinated
in his mouth. An Israeli female soldier was there
too, A.Z. said, watching the scene, and adding her
own insults. "It's like Abu Ghraib," he
concluded, his face saddened, his intelligent eyes
filled with shame as he recounted the story.
invited us to his house on the other side of the
wall and we followed. We walked through an opening
in the wall, next to the military quarters once
hotel. No one stopped us. My friends later said
they saw soldiers through the window playing checkers.
A.Z. pointed to a modern building on the Israeli
side of the wall, an Israeli flag up top blowing
in the wind. "Settlers," he said. Until
not long ago the building belonged to a Palestinian
family. We walked through a quiet neighborhood.
The olive trees dusty white by the construction
of the wall. In some instances the wall is two feet
from the home's windows. We arrived at A.Z's house.
Two boys and their beautiful sister greeted us.
Behind them the young pretty mother with a baby
in her arms. She was smiling. In their garden stood
a group of tall, proud sunflowers.
saw shoes by the door so I took my shoes off, the
stone floor in the living room was so cooling and
pleasant in the heat. The beautiful wife made the
best sweet Arabic coffee. We sat around drinking,
playing with the kids, chatting. Another relative
arrived, a man with a smile on his face and deep
eyes. He carried prayer
beads and the baby began to play with it, placing
it on her head as a crown. We laughed. My friend
from Los Angeles talked politics with him: "What
do you want?", "How can the situation
be solved? " -- He replied: "Throw out
your weapons, stop stealing land, no borders."
He told us about demonstrations in which Israelis,
internationals and Palestinians protest together,
afterwords, after the Israelis and Internationals
leave, the Palestinian protesters are taken by the
army. It broke my heart. It makes me feel afraid
as I write these words, it forces me to be more
general with my descriptions.
sun was setting and it was time to go. Again I stood
admiring the sunflowers in the garden. How symbolic
they are of Palestinian resilience. The two grown
men and the kids accompanied us. Another family
relative, an old man with a wrinkled face, a snow
white keffiye (headdress) on his head and shoulders,
sat waiting for his sheep to return from the graze.
I shook his hand, his eyes were wise and twinkling.
We waited for the sheep with him. Four internationals
passed by and asked how they could continue along
the wall. A.Z. showed them the way. They spoke Italian.
The flock of sheep arrived, skipping gaily towards
the food the kids had just neatly placed for them.
will stand in solidarity with you till the day I
die" - I told A.Z.'s relative as I shook his
hand goodbye. Crossing back through the opening
near the military quarters I now saw a female soldier
in the third floor window, speaking on a cell phone.
She continued to speak as we passed.
Golden is a Romanian Israeli living in the US since
1978. She is part of Women in Black, Los Angeles
and a writer, filmmaker and has a school for Creative
Writing in L.A.