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For the last sixteen months my staff has suffered the humiliation of Israeli checkpoints twice a day, once coming to work and once going back home. Daily, I’m briefed of the horror stories, which unfortunately have become part of our ‘normal’ life, about the events that take place at the checkpoints — extended delays (at times 4-5 hours to travel what should take 20-30 minutes), shouting matches, walking through mud, climbing mountains, being refused entry, etc, etc, etc.
However, today’s briefing was special, so special I had to document it. One of my mangers lives in Bir Zeit, 7 minutes from Ramallah. When he arrived at the Surda checkpoint, two hours prior to the start of the workday, he was faced with a new type of Israeli solider. As part of Sharon’s reinforcement of all checkpoints around Ramallah to prevent Palestinian Authority President Yaser Arafat from reaching Christmas prayers in Bethlehem, Israel deployed Lebanese phalange soldiers to deal with the population. These are the pro- Israel soldiers that joined the ranks of the Israeli defense forces in Southern Lebanon when Israel invaded that country in 1982.
With about two hundred people stopped while on their way to work in Ramallah and in perfect Lebanese-accent Arabic, the solider ordered the Palestinians to make 4 rows as follows; pretty women, ugly women, men over 40 years old, and men under 40 years old. Out of necessity to make it to Ramallah and earn a living, three lines were formed, all females, men over 40 and men under 40. This bastard Israeli solider then proceeded to walk past the female line separating them into his taste of pretty and ugly.
When he reached a female friend of my manager he demanded that she stop chatting with the men. My manger made a remark to her that he must be Lebanese. The solider heard the remark and pulled my manager out of line and asked to see his identification card. When he saw on the card that his family name was Zeideh and that he was a Christian Palestinian (Palestinian I.D. cards are required by Israel to state a person’s religion) he loudly chuckled that he was better than the other Muslims in the row. My manager, being very politically aware himself, provoked the solider by lying and telling him that he was an Orthodox Christian, even though he is Marionette, just like the solider. The solider quickly reacted in the opposite tone and shouted to him that if that was the case then he is the scum of the earth. Little did the solider know that the Zeideh family is part of the family tree of the Khazen family, which is one of the famous families of Lebanon.
The solider then asked my manager if he was ever in Lebanon. When he refused to answer, the solider told my staff member that he wanted to ask him one question. How do you pronounce the word, tomato? My manager replied by offering two options as an answer, tomato, or tomoto. He asked the solider which one he wanted to hear. This infuriated the solider because it was now revealed that this Palestinian knew that in Lebanon one method of discrimination was for soldiers to hear this word pronounced, which can identify if your accent is Palestinian or Lebanese. In Lebanon, once that was known then the age-old divide and conquers tactics used.
From that point the solider grabbed my manager and a physical clash was about to ensue. Luckily, another higher ranked solider approached and saw that the situation may be explosive and thus put everyone waiting on his or her way.
This is the racism, the discrimination, the humiliation, the naked arrogance and the military occupation that Palestinians have been screaming to the world about. This is what the Palestinians will end, with or without the U.S. consent! Merry Christmas.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American and General Manager of the Arab Palestinian Shopping Centers (www.apic-pal.com). He lives in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.