Child at a checkpoint
In Palestine, we are living in an unacceptable situation and have to worry about our children all the time. Here is just one example. My children’s mother has a blue Jerusalem ID and lives in Jerusalem, and I have a green West Bank ID. According to Israeli military rules, West Bankers are not allowed to go to Jerusalem without getting special permission. So the children have to travel between their parents through the major military checkpoints in the Separation Wall on their own.
Across the West Bank there are at least 500 military checkpoints, within civilian areas and between them. Checkpoints are very frightening places as civilians have to confront armed soldiers, so my children travelling through checkpoints on their own is a major point of worry. Things can happen fast there and many people (mainly young) have lost their lives at checkpoints recently. They are staffed by teenage soldiers who act as if they are in a war zone, treating Palestinians as enemy targets and ready to kill (maybe even for fun?) because they knew that they have all the power and protection behind them and that nobody will ask them what happened after that. Since Israel was created in 1948, we did not hear about an Israeli soldier who was taken to court for killing a Palestinian: there is no fair investigation when it comes to the killing of Palestinians.
On Thursday afternoon, my fifteen-year-old son went with his sister from my home in Abu Dis to his mother’s house in Jerusalem. While he was travelling on the 36 bus to East Jerusalem, the bus had to pass through the Israeli military check point at Azza’em. It’s routine that Israeli soldiers get on the bus there and ask for people’s IDs. So the bus stopped and my son was asked for his ID. Because he is under sixteen, my son does not have an ID. The only document he has to prove his identity is his Jerusalem birth certificate which has no photo on it. My son was pushed out of the bus because the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint did not believe that the birth certificate belonged to him.
My son told me that he was really worried as he was pulled out of the bus because his 11- year-old sister was with him, and she was relying on him to take her to their mother. Their mother lives in Sheikh Jarrah which is full of Israeli settlers and it’s really dangerous for a young Palestinian girl to be outside on her own. He asked the soldier to allow his sister to get out of the bus and wait for him, but the soldiers refused to allow her off the bus and they shouted to the bus driver to move.
He then asked to use his mobile to call me or his mother to inform us about what was happening but also they refused to allow him to. The soldiers started to shout at him in Hebrew language which he can’t understand. One of them pushed him with his gun pointed towards hishead asking him to move on. My son said he was confused and did not know what they wanted him to do or where to go, and every time he moved in any direction, soldiers shouted angrily at him like he was doing something wrong. Everything was in a language he couldn’t understand and all of them were pointing their guns at him.
My son was taken in to a side room away from the main street and two soldiers shouted at him. He was asked to take off his jacket and they searched him. Then they started to ask him questions in Hebrew language. He did not know what to say or what they wanted from him until one of them who seemed to be an Arabic native speaker started to talk to him. He was asked about his family members, the names, the birthdates, work, schools, addresses, than the same questions were repeated over and over again for half an hour while their loaded guns were pointed at his body.
At the same time, his sister was looking for her mother’s house. She left the bus in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and crossed the main street near the Israeli Interior Ministry office which is also like a military base in the middle of the civilian area of Wadi al-Joz. To reach her mother’s house, she had to go around the military base which has watchtowers and automatic guns covering all the street. She was really worried about her safety and about her brother and she was running in order to let her mother know about what happened to him.
After the soldiers finished with my son, he was given back his birth certificate and asked to go back to the main street in the middle of the checkpoint to stop a bus and continue his journey to Jerusalem. At that point, he managed to call me to inform me about what was happening – till then neither myself, his father, in Abu Dis or his mother in Jerusalem was aware of what was happening. He was also worried about his sister because he knew that it wasn’t easy for her to reach home safely.
On Thursday, my son faced a position which all of our kids can face at any point in their lives under military occupation. Many young people have been killed because they did not understand what they were asked to do on these military checkpoints. He says that he felt it was very dangerous, while as a teenager he was getting more and more angry at being shouted at and pushed and pulled about by other teenagers with uniforms and guns. He felt that any reaction from him could have ended his life. For them it was a joke: they were shouting and laughing and changing positions like playing a game humiliating a powerless, 15-year-old Palestinian kid, waiting for him to lose his nerve and take any step; even not answering a question could give them an excuse to shoot.
There is no one at all that we can complain to when something like this happens. But it’s not acceptable at all to have children treated like this, shouted at and frightened, held on their own and threatened with machine guns, split up from their siblings, not allowed to call home. It’s not acceptable that their father is not allowed to accompany them in his own country. It’s not acceptable that you have to be worried all the time going from a place to another inside the country that you live in, and to have to face soldiers with guns pointed at you every time you go out of your house, town or city. It is a huge issue to feel all the time that you are wanted and guilty and always have to prove the opposite.
The military rules which have been controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians for generations now must come to an end. Most of these military rules started as temporary orders to deal with emergency situations like wartime and cannot be accepted as the normal situation. It is not acceptable to destroy others and to make their living conditions impossible in order to achieve comfortable living conditions for another people. Human beings’ security and protection are a basic human right for all. There must be an end to the division and the apartheid system that we are living in which deals with people according to ID colours, home address or nationality. My father grew up with this, then myself, now the next generation. We as parents eat ourselves with anxiety when our children are moving from one part of the family to another. The situation is continuing and my sons and daughters are growing up with this now, but we cannot accept that this is normal. Abu Dis, December 2016
(picture is not from this the story)