By Yitzhak Laor
Ha'aretz, December 2, 2004
Every so often, ghosts from "the Jewish past" are summoned by a
contemptible action in the occupied territories. Someone manages to
photograph it. There are dramatic headlines about it, as in the case of the
young Palestinian ordered to play the violin, but then the affair quickly
becomes "an exception." Most of the soldiers do not compel violinists to
play at the checkpoints. Most of the soldiers do not kill little girls. Most
of the soldiers do not confirm the killing. But the melodramas help to
conceal the larger truths. Israelis do not like the truth. And the truth of
the Israelis can be found deep inside the occupied territories.
If not for the self-deceit of the Israelis, they would have succeeded in
reading a long time ago what every Palestinian knows and has added to his
vernacular during the past 13 years as al-mahsum (plural: al-mahasim) - the
Arabized version of the Hebrew word for checkpoint (mahsom).
The fact is that the checkpoints are not a product of the intifada. When the
truth is written about the history of the checkpoints, and not from the
chronicles taken from the desk of the army commanders, it will become clear
that the checkpoints gave birth to the intifada. They were born in 1991, two
years before the Oslo Accords, and were greatly reinforced after these
agreements were signed. Only complete blindness on the part of Israelis -
who know more about the chic restaurants in New York than they do about the
checkpoints in the West Bank, the checkpoints that divide and slice it,
turning its citizens into the victims of good or sadistic soldiers - only
this blindness could have begotten the "surprise" of Autumn 2000: What did
they want? After all, everything was already OK.
But from the perspective of someone waiting long hours in line, it does not
matter whether the soldiers standing facing you is a sadist or a nice guy.
Ask any Israeli who is forced to wait 15 minutes in line at the bank if
there is any difference whether the teller is nice or not when his turn
finally comes. But something more important can be learned from the
Israelis' hatred of lines: they have no idea what the Palestinians
experience on a daily basis.
The checkpoint system is not part of the intifada, but it did grow and
strengthen "thanks" to it. The checkpoint system is also not going to end
when the intifada is over. The checkpoint system belongs entirely to the
Israeli unwillingness to give up all of the territory of the West Bank,
including all of the settlements. The checkpoint system is aimed at ensuring
Israeli control over the lives of the Palestinians. Thus, it was
strengthened after the signing of the Oslo Accords.
From this perspective, the settlements are not the reason for the
checkpoints. The "isolated" settlements and the settlement blocs - part of
the "new" consensus of the Oslo era - are the pretext for the checkpoints,
but they reveal their real function: We are present everywhere, we will
split the Palestinian territory in every way, we will control them.
Anyone who knows the West Bank since the Oslo Accords knows how much
humiliation tens of thousands of people have experienced at the checkpoints.
Anyone who knows the Oslo Accords from the Palestinian side knows how they
looked there: Besides the expropriations, the bypass roads and the expansion
of settlements, the checkpoints were their nightmare, a nightmare we knew
Melodramas about the hard-hearted soldiers who forced the Palestinian to
play his violin compartmentalize this as an exception, and again conceal the
system. Again, "the generations of Jewish people" return to the center of
the picture. Again, the Jews will remember their past. Again, it will be
about our lives, our decline, and not about Palestinian suffering. And again
the tabloids will set the "lynch-like" tone of our lives in their
pornographic headlines. But the truth is stronger. Whoever is unprepared to
separate from the West Bank, with all of its settlements, does not
understand that he is paving the way for generations of checkpoint soldiers,
sadistic or friendly.
The chief of staff is again giving a "completely frank" speech now. Again he
will say, "We failed," and we will understand that his failure is our
failure. So there is actually no failure because if the chief of staff had
truly failed, he would have had to go, like the commander of the Gaza
division. And we will continue to hear occasionally about what each
Palestinian child is experiencing daily at the checkpoints, with or without
the soft-hearted military volunteers who come to create a humane checkpoint,
because the decision about who may or may not pass is made by foreigners,
not by the people who must traverse these checkpoints. And this is all under
the auspices of the only democracy in the Middle East.