The Separation Wall built unilaterally by Israel has been turned by Palestinians into a canvas to showcase the Jewish state's Most Wanted - past and present.
We were trying to squeeze through a hole in the Wall. The driver of the truck next to us was so close I had been able to literally reach out to touch him.
After more than half an hour now, we were just that little bit closer to the checkpoint between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. Thankfully there was a wall of graffiti art to keep us entertained. We crowded round to the right-side of the bus, trying to identify the faces of the famous Palestinians that had been painted on it, most of whom were convicted or accused of terror crimes against the State of Israel.
Political expression on the Palestinian side of the wall at Qalandia checkpoint
Marwan Barghouti, Leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement serving five life sentences in Israel for crimes including the murder of 26 people.
This was by all measures, pretty good graffiti work, life-like and eyecatching, particularly the work of one “Vince Seven”, whose signed off on some of the larger works. Quite the considerate chap, he's painted most of his slogans in English - very useful for the non-Palestinians among us - and left his paints along the bottom of the wall. A foreign-looking youth was using them to do some touching-up, oblivious it seemed, to all the vehicles passing through the checkpoint this busy morning.
“They should clean the wall,” quipped Raouf, a Ramallah-based Palestinian photographer, after a while.
“They should clean the wall,” quipped Raouf, a Ramallah-based Palestinian photographer.
After much tedious inching, we finally got to the front of the line. We were told to get off the bus, collect our respective baggage and yes, wait, again. A young Israeli soldier with her blond hair spilling out of a baseball cap came to inspect them. There was a token unzipping of luggage cases, but none of the unpacking and repacking that goes on at the international borders. Still, it would take a while to process the entire busload of passengers, so she paused to take a drag on a cigarette halfway through. One of the Palestinians working for the festival was asked about what she was going with a group of foreigners.
“She was questioned because she's Palestinian,” someone pointed out to the rest of us helpfully.
Was this a display of power as some people saw it, or just procedure? Do foreign tourists have an easier time than the Palestinians at the checkpoints because the Israelis are trying to look good in front of us? Or is it because let's face it, as a collective, we have a better track record of not trying to kill them?
Like everything else here, your perception depends which side you stand on. The soldier seemed to have chosen to ignore the souvenir straw bags with “Palestine Festival of Literature” emblazoned across. You couldn't really miss them. Their owners had not done a very good job of stashing them away in their carry-on baggage.
When my turn came, I had a chance to take a closer look at the soldier girl. Lean and of medium height, it seemed doubtful she would be able to maneuver the rifle slung over her left shoulder. Her nonchalance made it feel like she would rather be tucking into banana pancakes on a Thai beach with other Israeli backpackers, in their low-slung fisherman pants and shiny shades.
As I took my passport back from the soldier girl, I heard one of my fellow English passengers comment snidely, “Israelis only have a 12th-grade education.”
I am sure she had a point in there somewhere. More than the Israeli soldier girl who was just well, doing her job.
(This post is a part of theasiamag.com's coverage of the Second Palestinian Festival of Literature, held in May 2009)
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