A Morning at an Israeli Checkpoint

We have just returned from a week in Israel and Palestine. We organize a chamber music festival in Southwest France and are interested in bringing Israeli and Palestinian students to our master classes.

We had no trouble reaching Ramallah from Jerusalem by public transportation. But we had problems on our return trip. We reached the Kalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem on Friday, March 11, at 9:30 in the morning. We chose to get off the bus with everyone else, even though as foreigners we could have stayed on.

We were stunned by what we saw: dwarfing cement structures, barbed wire, cameras. As we lined up we could see an Israeli woman soldier inside a multifaceted concrete blockhouse, peering out at us. Ahead of us there was a tunnel of bars just wide enough for one person. At its end a turnstile was blocked electronically from somewhere.

As we entered this narrow space I looked at the barbed wire further on. We are Jewish, and began to weep. How was it possible that our own people, who have gone through such suffering, can inflict this ordeal, intended to humiliate and intimidate another people?

And then we were seized by fear. If there had been a surge of panic or a fire, we would all have been trampled, for there was no escape. The stories of women giving birth here, some losing their babies, came painfully to mind.

After that narrow corridor we stepped into a small area, again in front of a metal turnstile. Many of us were wet, as it had rained in the morning, and it was cold. There were not that many people waiting but only one or two people were let through every 10 minutes or so.

There was no bench in this space, nowhere for old people or children to rest. One child started to cry, another complained of her feet being frozen because her boots were wet. Old women started to plead with the men to let them go through first, but the men refused. They wanted to keep their place in line in order to be in time for prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

We began to talk in English with the people around us. We did not hide that we are Jewish. A couple with a child showed us their appointment slip for a hospital consultation at noon, an unlikely target now, even though they had arrived at 9:30, as we had. As noon approached a few men turned back; it was too late for prayers.

At 12:10 it was finally our turn. We could see the people controlling the turnstile. There were several young Israeli soldiers inside. They seemed to be having a very good time, laughing, horsing around, like all youths. We want to believe that they had no clue as to the moral and physical suffering they were inflicting with their very slow control process. Do they have orders to slow everything down on Friday mornings in order to discourage the men who come to pray? Or perhaps to reduce the numbers of people who want to spend the weekend with their families?

One can easily imagine the feelings of resentment that are born from this experience. This treatment is unwarranted from the perspective of legitimate security imperatives; it is degrading and inhumane and not understandable coming from a nation that wants to be perceived as democratic, a nation among nations.

By Alain Salomon, a former associate professor of architecture at Columbia University and president of a chamber music festival in Southwest France and Katia Salomon, who heads the association that runs the libraries in the Fleury-Mérogis Prison in France, Europe’s largest.

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