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Yesterday afternoon we walked through the deserted and dusty streets of Nablus- the only water I saw was the mud made by the sewage running through one street that we had to stand in while Israeli soldiers hassled us, checking our passports and questioning us. As we walked further, we watched the ground for any of our belongings that were lost when soldiers attacked us the day before. We found Philip’s lucky hat in the middle of the road, torn and run over by a tank. It will go nicely with his ripped t-shirt. Bashar’s phone seems gone for good. I was talking on it with the lawyer when it was knocked away from me by the soldiers. My other phone was recovered, somehow, by Jordan in the midst of the fray.
Many of the houses we passed were destroyed. From those that were half standing, people hung their heads out the top floors calling out to us hellos and offers for tea. A little girl ran out with roses. Otherwise the streets were completely empty. The Israeli imposed curfew has not been lifted on the east side of town. The shops were all closed. Any cars we saw were crushed, save for a pickup truck that had been moved in a pile of grass and rubble by a tank, now far above the street.
As we walked, scurrying really, in order to clear the next checkpoint and make it past the Israeli’s before it got dark, my sole of boot broke away all together, so I wore one flip-flop and one boot, calling myself shoebooty after Archie Bunker’s sad-sack childhood story. I was also hiding the minidisks I have of people telling their stories and the film from my camera- things the Israeli military does not want us to get out with.
We were held at the checkpoint for two hours. The soldiers said we might be suicide bombers. One Israeli solider who looked 18 -all young Israeli women are required to serve in the military for about 2 years, while Israeli boys are required to serve from ages 18 to 21, and then for three weeks a year until age 45- said, "You never know. They’re sending 17 year old girls to do it." Another soldier, about 18 and sporting an Israeli army machine gun, apologized for the inconvenience, saying "It’s because of those dogs that we have to do this." This is what Palestinians have to put up with all the time, anytime, under the "normal" occupation, that they want to travel from one Palestinian town to the next. Although some are permananet, many of these checkpoints are created by soldiers in different spots each day, making any sort of clandestine passage, or even the simple planning of one’s time to include delays, impossible for Palestinians. No matter what the mood of the soldiers, the process is humiliating. Palestinians have no freedom of movement. They are expected to smile at the soliders while they are detained, searched, jabbed and poked, wondering if they’ll be forced to undress in front of everyone or whether they’ll be shot, while their passports are run through military processing and they’re questioned relentlessly for simply passing through their own towns. If Palestinians are allowed to work, they often lose their jobs because of constantly being late from lengthy checkpoint delays. And this, of course, leaves out how many die because ambulances are held, as are cars with the sick and wounded, or women in labor, and food and medicine deliveries that are not allowed to pass.
As we stood in the dirt, detained at a checkpoint while trying to leave Nablus, tanks rolled past, kicking up dirt and churning black smoke. Another group of soliders drove up and we were requestioned and our passports run through their system again. This time they let us pass. By then it was dark. We walked on the dirt road, still with tanks and military cars speeding past. The only light was a crescent moon and a few stars. We had missed our ride that a doctor in Nablus had set up for us. It is too dangerous for Palestinians to drive in the West Bank after dark. We knocked on a door of a house on the side of the road that we thought belonged to a friend of the doctor. It didn’t, but the family welcomed us in anyway and brought coffee. They began calling around to find us a ride, and offered us a place to sleep for the night. They laughed and took pity on my feet in the flip-flop and boot and insisted I take a pair of their shoes. They gave us tea and helped us practice Arabic. It was the first time I felt safe in hours. Our fear is of the Israeli soliders that continue to terrorize the West Bank, and the snipers that shoot from the settlements.
The family hugged and kissed us goodbye as we headed off to meet the ride they’d just arranged, which would be waiting on the other side of the next checkpoint. We were almost skipping under the crescent moon as walked on, so happy to have been able to knock on a stranger’s door asking for help and being treated with such kindness and love. An Israeli military jeep came speeding toward us, driving at us on the side of the road, stopping and questioning us, asking for our passports and demanding that we get in the
back of the jeep. We were evasive enough, answering questions without revealing that we’d just been visiting a Palestinian family, which would endanger them. We began walking off, but the jeep backed up, following us, yelling further. We were detained again. When we got out of that and began to walk, the jeep turned around and began following us again, yelling that we had to walk on the other side of the road, the side the jeep was now driving on in order to harrass us on the right side of the road. It drove like that, yelling at us over its loud-speaker, harrassing us for a half hour or more. It flagged down a settler’s car, a man and woman with a gun. They told us it was dangerous to be there. They did not tell us that it was the settlers and soldiers we needed to fear, those who have shot at us, detained and harrassed us every day, those who shoot into the dark all night long, making sure no Palestinian can freely move on their own land and through their own lives.
Kristen Schurr lives in New York City.