Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Palestinians collectively punished for my 'mistake'
So I packed one of the many Israeli smoke grenade that littered the ground into my bag before leaving for Ramallah. I walked with it in the bottom of my bag through Huwwara checkpoint. After passing through the checkpoint I jumped into a service taxi (like a cheap taxi but the driver waits for it to fill up with people going in the same direction before heading off). The car was stopped at a flying (non-permanent) checkpoint, by Israeli soldiers. Our car was picked for a random search and they instructed us to all leave the car. The soldier then instructed the driver to open all of our bags and rummaged through them.
When they reached my bag they found the smoke grenade in my bag. The army proceeded to take all of our ID's and radio them in. They instructed us to tip out the content of all our bags and for the driver to empty the car. Even though the smoke grenade canister was empty, the Israeli army still brought in the bomb squad. They searched every inch of the car. Yet despite having searched every inch of the car they still felt the need to hold while they transmitted the details of the Palestinians ID cards and my passport.
We were held for four hours, over that time I kept talking to one of the soldiers who said there was nothing he could do about it. He said that it was a necessary process. In Australia a police officer could tell you in 2 minutes if you had a record and whilst I can understand a bit of leeway 4 hours for 7 Palestinians and myself. After the 3rd hour they offered us some rations (cold couscous and pasta).
The soldier kept telling me how dangerous Nablus was and that there was nothing to see there etc. After talking to him it was clear that he had never been to Nablus or had spent any time in the occupied territories outside of uniform. I told him that since he searched the car he should let all the Palestinians go and I would take full responsibility for my actions (which still weren't a crime). The soldier refused and when I compared the collective punishment of the Palestinians and his following orders attitude to being akin to what the Nazi's did he was clearly shaken. He told me I had crossed a line and he refused to discuss things any further. I persisted saying that he was treating these people like animals. He attempted to disprove this by the fact that he offered us cold food after 3 hours.
Finally they handed me my passport and the ID's to 5 of the 7 Palestinians. Apparently the other two were on a list as being "of interest." The soldier couldn't tell me what that meant but he did say that "it wasn't necessarily a bad thing." He said this as though we were waiting in the cold for four hours because they could have one the lottery. What he meant was that they weren't necessarily guilty of something but they were to be interrogated. The thing that I found the most frustrating was that they checked their ID's because my bag was suspicious, not because of anything they did.
We then waited for an hour before they announced that the two Palestinians would be detained. We tried to insist that we should be allowed to go with them but the soldiers refused. So we had no choice but to leave them with the army. I felt really awful because my actions may have been the only reason why they checked the Palestinians ID's. But even if they hadn't of found the empty grenade in my bag, they could have still checked everyone's ID. I was at Huwwara once before and they found magazines in my bag which they confiscated (even though I got those magazines in West Jerusalem).
The occupation is horrible makes Palestinian people feel so powerless, unable to control their own lives. One of the Palestinians commented that Israel was probably worried that I would show people in Australia. I thought he just meant I would show the Australian people that Israel was attacking civilians, but he also meant that Israel was worried that outsiders might test the traces of weapons that Israel was using to find out if they are legal. Israel after all has used chemical weapons that they refused to identify and continue to deny their nuclear weapons program that is common knowledge.