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The Details of Dispossession

The Humanitarian Lie

by AMIRA HASS

Each detail described here, every shred of reality, is liable to be considered as a whole, which would dim its severity. Detail: Hundreds of people gather each morning at three narrow steel revolving doors, and the gates do not turn because some unseen person has blocked them by pushing a button. The number of people crammed behind them grows and grows, and they wait for an hour, and the anger at another day being late for work or for school is piled on top of previous residual tensions brought on by anger, bitterness and helplessness.

However, it is not the crowdedness and waiting and anger that define the checkpoints and roadblocks, or in this specific instance, the new Qalandiyah checkpoint. Nor is it the crowdedness and compressed atmosphere of the rest of the inspection route, before the magnometers and the closed rooms in which the soldiers sit and inspect documents, or the other revolving doors. Or even the other "details": the cameras that make the soldiers and commanders seeing and unseen, the snarling voice in the speaker that issues commands in Hebrew, the terrifying concrete wall above and around, and the devastation left by Israeli bulldozers and planners outside the cage that Israel calls a "border terminal," in what was once, and no longer is, a continuous stretch of residential neighborhoods, soft hillsides and the Jerusalem-Ramallah road.

Nor are the 11 "detainees" at the inspection route’s exit an adequate detail: nine teenage boys aged 18 and under, one adult, and a 23-year-old university student, all of whom committed a serious crime on Monday: After waiting in vain for the steel gates to turn, which would lead them to the inspection route, on their way to classes and work, they decided to jump over the fence–one hoping to get to an English test on time, the other fearful of being fired if he again arrived late to the printing press where he works. But they were caught. The student was handcuffed from behind, and was sat down next to a guard booth in the closed military compound. The other ten were placed outside the compound, in the mud that became thicker with every drop of rain. And the soldiers demanded that they sit down. They could not sit, because of the mud, and only went into a kneeling position. After half an hour, the bent knees begin to hurt more and more, and the pants are soaked with water and grow tight over the knee. The hands turn cold, but the soldiers don’t change their tune: "Sit, I told you. Sit."

But the cold and the rain are not the story, nor is the soldier eating his combat rations and watching the detainees apathetically, nor the telephone calls by this writer until after two hours they are permitted, how compassionately, to stand up, nor their release–including that of one individual whose frozen hands are imp! rinted by deep red cracks from the handcuffs, nor the fact that the 14-year-old in the group had to wait another 20 minutes after his release until the soldier who took his birth certificate (after all, he does not yet have an identity card) could be found. The question of whether the detention would have continued longer had the writer not been present is also marginal.

Also of secondary importance is the decision to open the "humanitarian gate" (which is intended for the passage of those in wheelchairs, parents with baby strollers, and Palestinian cleaning workers employed by a contracting firm), in the morning to women and men above the age of 60. Another detail that in itself diverts one’s attention from what is important.

What is important is that the army and the Israeli citizens who design all of the details of dispossession–and the roadblocks are an inseparable part of this dispossession–have transformed the term "humanitarian" into a despicable lie.

Through the checkpoints, road closures, movement ban, and tr affic restrictions, through the concrete walls and barbed wire fences, through the land expropriations (solely for the purpose of security, as the High Court of Justice, which is part and parcel of the Israeli people, likes to believe), through the disconnecting of villages from their lands and from a connecting road, through the construction of a wall in a residential neighborhood and in the backyards of homes, and through the transformation of the West Bank into a cluster of "territorial cells," in the military jargon, between the expanding settlements – we Israelis have created and continue to create an economic, social, emotional, employment and environmental crisis on the scale of a never-ending tsunami.

And then we offer a little turnstile in a cage, an officer who is briefed to see an old man, a bathroom and a water cooler – and this is described as "humanitarian." In other words, we push an entire people into impossible situations, blatantly inhumane situation! s, in order to steal its land and time and future and freedom of choice, and then the plantation owner appears and relaxes the iron fist a bit, and is proud of his sense of compassion.

However, even the important matter–that is, the humanitarian deception–is only one detail in a full set of details in which no single detail is representative in itself. Isolated fragments of the reality are read as being tolerable, or understandable (security, security), or may make one angry for a moment and then subside. And among all the details, the reality of colonialism intensifies, without letup or remission, inventing yet more methods of torture of the individual and community; creating more ways to violate international law, robbing land behind the legal camouflage, and encouraging collaboration out of agreement, neglect or torpor.

AMIRA HASS writes for Ha’aretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.