18 December 2007

by Jan Benvie

The Israeli-controlled Road 317 bisects the only road that leads out of
At-Tuwani on the way to the towns in the area. It is a busy intersection.
Palestinians from At-Tuwani and neighboring villages cross to visit family,
shop or access services in nearby Karmil or Yatta.

On 4 December, the Israeli army set up one of its many temporary roadblocks
at the junction. By the time we arrived in early afternoon, the soldiers
had stopped several Palestinian vehicles and pedestrians on either side of
317. We asked the soldiers what was happening and they told us a race was
about to take place. That seemed a plausible explanation until we saw
Israeli vehicles traveling along the road. We queried whether or not the
road was closed. "Only Palestinians are stopped," one soldier replied, and,
when we asked why, he answered, "Because we are in charge." The other
soldiers looked on, grinning.

I felt angry at the blatant racism and the soldiers' arrogance. I had to
step back. I could not engage constructively with these soldiers. Another
CPTer continued talking with the soldiers, and was able to include the
waiting Palestinians in the conversation. My anger subsided; I was glad to
see this exchange.

Runners passed, along with a continuing flow of Israeli vehicles. Then the
race was over.

As we waited for the army to reopen the road, we saw two Israeli soldiers
stop a woman with two children on a donkey. She had crossed the road and
was trying to get home with her sick child. I moved towards them, working
to keep my anger controlled, knowing that angry words would not help. The
woman was pleading with the soldiers to allow her to go home, explaining
that her child was sick. The youngest boy, clearly ill, kept turning to his
mother to sob on her shoulder.

I spoke to the soldiers. They stood, seemingly impassive, and refused to
allow the woman to pass. I pleaded with them. "How would you feel if this
was your child?" I asked, "What if this was your young brother, would you
not let him go home?"

As I looked from the woman and her child to the soldiers, I saw their
discomfort. They could not look at the sick child. They would not look at
the mother or at me as we continued to plead. One soldier kept talking on
the radio. I sensed he was seeking permission to allow the woman and her
child to go. My anger dissipated, I felt only sadness for these young
soldiers, coerced into committing such an inhumane act. Eventually they
allowed the woman to take her child home, and a short time later re-opened
the road.

Afterwards I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. About the woman and
child, about the two soldiers, and about the damage such arbitrary abuses of
power do to human relationships.

Here, there are no winners.

A photo of the woman and children held at the checkpoint: