By Ishai Rozen-Tsvi (Appeard at Ynet, July 1, 2002; translated by Assaf Oron)
This weekend we had a chance to meet the pretty side of Israeli Occupation (“A Humanitarian Officer’s Diary”, Yedioth Aharonoth, June 28, 2002). This face showed up as A.S., “A Jerusalem Leftist” according to the story, a “Humanitarian Officer” at the Calandia Checkpoint. He’s in charge for courteous and appropriate treatment of people passing through the Checkpoint. No, he states, the Checkpoint’s not so bad. Something between the entry to the United States and the line at Social Security. It only takes three minutes for women and eight minutes for men. He took time. At the Paris Airport it takes much longer. Indeed, there’s not much of a line at the checkpoint nowadays. Our delicate officer has left out one tiny fact: there’s no line, because right now the Checkpoint serves only three small villages in North Jerusalem. The majority of the residents of the Occupied Territories who normally frequent this Checkpoint, are now locked up under total curfew. People cannot leave their homes for weeks, their villages and towns for months. A horrible siege, about which we’ve tried again and again to inform the rude, well-fed, self-righteous Israeli heart – with no success. Fifty percent unemployment in the Territories, one million people gaining less than $2/day, a trash of a life – we’ve run out of superlatives. The Palestinians no doubt miss the days when at the Calandia Checkpoint stalled endless lines, with humiliating checks going on for hours under the blazing sun, on the way to work, to school, to visit relatives. Because then, as slow and depressing as it was, there was still some way to move. Now all this is a remote dream. But why should we complain? A.S., the Enlightened Oppressor, a true Leftist, greets the residents of a few Jerusalem barrios with a nice ‘good morning’, in Arabic, of course.
How much narrow-mindedness A.S.’s story displays. About checkpoints, he says, he’s heard from the horror stories of Gideon Levy in “Haaretz”, but in fact it’s not like that at all. Indeed, A.S. is right. It is his story, and not the horrifying testimonies that Gideon Levy brings, that is the true story of Israeli Occupation. But in fact, it is much more appalling. A story of such immense insularity, that it cannot see anymore the destroyed world of millions of people, living without any rights whatsoever for over a generation, and whose conditions have terribly deteriorated over the past 21 months. Such a narrow-mindedness, that it does not even ask why people should live within the walls of a giant prison, under Martial Law, but rather, settles for checking how courteously the warden treats the 80-year-old inmate. It’s the story of one, who while he oppresses and deprives millions by force of arms, keeps telling himself how delicate and moral he is.
The story of Israeli Occupation is not that of the sadistic soldier. Oh, there are plenty of those to go round. But the real story is that of A.S., the Courteous Leftist, who doesn’t hit or curse, just stands at the Checkpoint, at the entrance to every town, at the exit of every village, and imposes a hermetic siege. And so, softly and with good manners, deprives others of their freedom. Why do they hate me? He wonders. I am so fair. They hate you, A.S., because you are their prison warden, no matter how much Arabic you practice.
How much racism lurks in this story – transparent as the Occupation itself, invisible. The Checkpoint is located at a “strange spot”, tells us A.S. so innocently. Well inside Jerusalem’s [self-proclaimed] municipal boundaries, leaving several Palestinian localities outside. How strange indeed. After all, these are ordinary residents of Israel, “deserving equal rights.” How come they find themselves outside the Checkpoint? Probably a matter of “topographic constraints”, in A.S.’s words. Would the residents of Gilo or Ramot [two Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the 1967 line] also be left outside because of topographic constraints, to go through humiliating checks at every trip from their home to town? But why bother the readers with trivialities, after all, these are Arabs we’re dealing with.
No, A.S., you are NOT preventing Terror attacks, you are a partner in their making. The oppression, the destruction, the killing, the despair, that you are covering up for and helping present their pretty face, are the fuel feeding Terror attacks day by day. The question is not whether a few lunatics can be found, to commit suicide attacks in the future. Apparently, a few may be always found. The question is how come we’ve reached 80 percent approval for these attacks among the Palestinian public this year. This is not Fate, this is not metaphysics, we are producing this with our own hands. Israel’s current policy in the Territories is a greenhouse for Terror. Only complete blindness prevents people from seeing this. Operation “Determined Path” will stop Terror just like Operation “Defensive Shield” did (or maybe the next one, surely even more grandiose and sophisticated, will do the trick?) How much more bloodshed will this blindness cost us?
All this being said, I wish the story would have been so innocent, only the story of a narrow-minded, kind-hearted Israeli officer. But we are not innocent anymore. The voice is A.S.’s voice, but the hands are those of the Army Spokesman’s Office. A.S., willingly or unwittingly, serves here as a pawn in a propaganda game. Operation “Humanitarian Officer” is yet another media spin, intended like its predecessors to cover up the crimes and hush the criticism. Walk with, feel without. In fact, the job is not so difficult. The press is happy to collaborate, and so are the readers. Who has any energy for these pests, who keep reminding us that in 2002, Israel holds in its backyard million of right-less people living like dogs? Let us sleep quietly.
The Enlightened Oppressor stories, always despicable, are now completely ludicrous, at a time when the entire Occupied Territories have been totally re-occupied, and men, women and children are under total curfew for weeks on end. Now, when the Occupation is in one of its darkest, most cruel hours, such a story turns from empty self-righteousness into complete farce.
At such a dark, Godless hour, we must cry out loud: A Checkpoint is not an issue of good manners. The question is not who says ‘Good Morning’ to whom, but who holds the gun. The Palestinian’s entire world is at the hands of A.S., the Enlightened Absolutist. Their time, their liberty, their freedom of movement, their livelihood, sometimes their life. And he, from the heights of his power, gently smiles at them. If I were a Palestinian, I would spit upon the good manners of A.S., the courteous Checkpoint officer, the distilled concentrate of Israeli Occupation.