Living off balance - Occupied West Bank

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
It was Saturday morning when we boarded a bus in Bethlehem to head into Jerusalem and of course that meant passing through the checkpoint to move from the West Bank into Israel proper. We had connected with a Canadian girl who now lives in Bethlehem and is married to a Palestinian guy and she could understand and speak a bit of Arabic so she was to be a great help to us.

It's helpful to note that she could cross the line fairly easily with her Canadian passport, but her husband who is Palestinian, was not allowed to cross over out of the West Bank. Because they live and stay in the West Bank we asked them what they do for fun. There are not many parks or large park like areas there and there are no cinemas so what would they do on a day off. They replied that they used to go hiking in the countryside and that even some of those paths were changing because of the wall that was being built.

As our bus eased into the checkpoint, we expected that at most we would have to show our Canadian passports, but that was not to be. A nineteen year old soldier with a long ponytail and an M16 in her grasp, came on and spoke to the bus driver who then stood up and pointed to me and a few others and spoke in apologetic arabic tones. Thankfully the young lady I was sitting beside interpreted to me that we were to exit the bus immediately.  So I and six or seven others got up asking nobody in particular if we should bring our bags with us or what was happening, and we exited the bus to stand outside it.

It was an uncomfortable feeling standing there while the rest of our team was on the bus, really uncomfortable.  I never felt in immediate danger, but my naivety and my sense that a Canadian passport would cover a multitude of problems dispelled my initial fears.  It's the way things could go wrong quickly, that's where more of the fear lay.

Just a few days earlier a Palestinian judge had been shot dead at a checkpoint and the official spin on it was that he had attacked a border guard. The real truth was probably closer to the story that he had been pushed by the butt of the guards gun and had stumbled to the ground and got up giving the soldier a push, who in turn because he had a gun handy, instinctively turned and shot the judge dead. It seems this happens often here.

It's the way things could go so wrong so quickly with so many guns nearby that caused me to be nervous and fairly cautious. That and the tone of our english translator who had been pulled off the bus beside me. Her words were initially fairly tense and short. What to do, where to stand, how to stand there.

The ponytailed soldier entered the bus and began to go through passports while we stood outside with the other guard and his M16 beside us. Canadian girls tone began to relax as she began to understand what was happening to us, there by the bus on that lovely sunny day in March.

She said to me that this is what happens here to throw people off routine, to keep people on their heels. They will change the rules at any time, just to change the rules. For a while last year, and without notice they would not allow any internationals to travel on these busses. Just one day you would get to the checkpoint and not be allowed to go further. That lasted until months later an international tried to travel on the bus and was allowed. That meant the policy had changed and so all the internationals began to use it again. But there was no notice of these changes either way.

Today it had looked like they just wanted to pull off six or eight people to change things up, just to keep people off balance. Which in my estimation, had worked nicely. Keep up the tension levels, keeps people from getting too familiar or too relaxed into rhythms and routine.

With a level of relief settling on us and the rest of our team teasing us, we and the locals showed our papers and reentered the bus, we were good to go.

Just probably not quite the same.
That's the normal of living in an army occupied zone.

A Checkpoint in Bethlehem
One of the checkpoints in Bethlehem.

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