Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Temporary Victors: Intimidation, Humiliation, and M-16s

Crossing borders went fine. I made it from Syria, to Jordan, to the Palestine. Now I am in Palestine, back at work in At-Tuwani.

My first two days in Tuwani have been tiring, busy, and difficult. Spring time is busy with shepherds taking advantage of the (small amount of) greenery. Shepherds often stay out with their flocks from 8am-4pm. Long days in the sun, including school patrol of the kids, computer work, video uploading and household chores.

Today was especially tough for me, mentally, physically, and emotionally. A car of young Palestinian men were passing through Tuwani, heading north to the city of Yatta, and were stopped by the Army. When we got there, we were told that the soldiers had all of the men's IDs and then saw the soliders attempting to drive away from the scene with the IDs. My teammate and I stepped in front on the vehicle to not allow the soldiers to leave the scene with the IDs. This prompted a call to the police (who can arrest us, as opposed to the soldiers who cannot), and after the police arrived we sweet-talked our way out of getting arrested, by agreeing to no longer interfere.

Back to the story, having your ID taken is an extreme inconvenience for Palestinians, but it is also extremely dangerous to travel anywhere without ID, because (as this example shows) you could be stopped at any time, and you MUST provide ID to Israeli authorities. You would likely face arrest if you did not produce ID.

After the arrival of the police, the soldiers started searching the car. At one point during the search, one of the young men started to walk into the village (because his cousin lives in the village and he was coming to visit). One particularly aggressive soldier saw the man walking up the hill and began to scream at the man, running towards him with his M-16 pointed at the man's chest. Later in the search, the same soldier saw a suspicious movement in the group of men, he immediately stepped towards the men, gun pointed, and started screaming in Hebrew. Apparently obeying the orders they were given (and understanding Hebrew because the only work available to them is within Israel), the men pulled down their pants to the ankles and lifted up their shirts. Seeing nothing suspicious or dangerous under the clothes, the soldier was satisfied and returned to searching the car.

Palestinians are often made to lift up their shirts at checkpoints to prove they are not carrying bombs or weapons. But this act of making young Palestinian men pull down their pants in the middle of the road, while you search their car, is utterly dehumanizing. It's unacceptable. After this happened I started to walk back towards the situation, at which point a soldier pointed his rifle at me and demanded I come towards the police, who looked at my passport and demanded to know which organization I worked for, and why I was in the village. Their attention was soon diverted, and I made my escape behind the rocks, to avoid possible arrest or deportation.

After the car had been searched, the Palestinian tried to start the car, to no avail. So the army hummer got behind the car and pushed it (bumper to bumper). They told the Palestinian owner he needed to walk to the nearest military base to have his ID and car processed. The hummer proceeded to push the car 2 miles down the road (with one soldier inside the Palestinian car, steering). The owner of the vehicle was made to walk 2 miles to the base, to retrieve his car.

This is a policy of pure humiliation, irritation, and pointlessness. Palestinians in this area are often forced to drive to the checkpoint, where their cars are often kept, and Palestinians are not able to retrieve them for some length of time.

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I don't have any profound observations, just that it's absurd. The M-16 seemed to have won today, which drives me crazy. A soldier with an attitude and an M-16 wasted 3 hours of these young men's day. They were made to strip to their underwear in public, with a fully automatic rifle pointed in their face. Then their car was pushed by an army humvee to a base 2 miles away, to which they were forced to walk in the heat, to retrieve their car.

The absurdity and the inhumanity of this occupation slapped me in the face today. I prayed today for the power of the high-powered automatic rifles to be overcome by the power of nonviolence. I have to believe that this nonviolent struggle will overcome the power of these oppressors. I have to believe it, even on a day when it takes so much faith to believe it.