Israel and Palestine

Life in a Ghost Town

Visiting Hebron for a group of young Europeans is an unbelievable experience in the very sense of the word: it is hard to believe what is in front of your eyes, hard to believe that something like Hebron can even exist; yet it does, and this post is about what I saw there.

The bad habit of dividing cities in two.

Hebron, which paradoxically in Arabic is al-Khalil (the friend), is the largest city of the West Bank, home to approximately 250,000 Palestinians and the main economic hub of the region. It’s chaotic and rowdy, its streets filled with cars and trucks, women loaded with dozens of shopping bags, kids running to school and men pushing wooden carts overflowing with lemons and all kinds of vegetables, yelling to attract costumers and carelessly blocking the traffic. At first sight, just the ordinary crazy middle-eastern city; but as we approach the entrance of the old city everything gets worryingly quiet and – like in a creepy fantasy movie- you know that something bad is about to happen. Down the street there’s a checkpoint: a checkpoint in the middle of the city? Yes, get used to it because Hebron is no ordinary city: it’s two city in one, or, better said, it’s a partially occupied cityIMG_7040

Hebron is a holy place for both Muslims and Jews: it holds the Cave of the Patriarchs, which according to the Bible and the Quran was built by Abraham and contains the tombs of the patriarchs and the matriarchs of the Jewish people: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebekah, Sarah and Leah. This explains the attachment of the Jewish people to this city and probably also the messianic fervour that guides the most extremists to settle here, in a land that doesn’t belong to them but that they desperately want. In 1998, following an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hebron was divided into two sections. H1, about 80% of the city, was given to the control of the Palestinian Authority, while Israel maintained control over H2, which contained significant parts of the commercial centre as well as the Israeli settlements. Today in H2 live about 35,000 Palestinians and 700-800 Israeli settlers.

I won’t indulge in talking politics and history because I’m neither a politician nor an historian; all I want to talk about is the everyday life I experienced in this crazy reality where nothing, nothing is normal.

The Ghost Town

After going through the checkpoint that divides H1 from H2 we enter in Shuhada street: Abdallah, our friend and guide, says with a grin “Welcome to the Ghost Town”. IMG_7053The view of the empty street is eerie: in 2002 all shops were closed “for security reasons” and Palestinian movement of any kind was essentially forbidden, turning the central thoroughfares into a desolated string of closed doors. The sadness is overwhelming: in large sections of H2 Palestinians cannot drive cars and every movement is controlled by the Israeli soldiers who get to decide who comes in and who doesn’t. This means that even ambulances need to ask for permission to enter the area: “A while ago a pregnant woman from the Abu Eishea family was stopped at this checkpoint and she wasn’t allowed to go to the hospital”, Abdallah tells us. “She gave birth at the checkpoint with only two ambulance operators helping her from the other side and only after the childbirth she was allowed to be carried to the hospital”.

We walk up the street to reach the settlement in the area called Tel Rumeda; we enter it while our Palestinian friends wait for us outside, under the vigilant eye of a soldier. There’s a small military base inside with soldiers walking around. I take a picture and with a friend I approach one of them: he’s a clumsy kid, pale and skinny but with a huge gun in his hands. He tells us he’s 19. “Must be boring to sit here all day long huh?” my friend says. He seems to have no clue of what he’s doing there, the contrast between his innocent face and that gun is impressive.

After Tel Rumeda we climb up the hill to reach its top, from where we can see all the city. Obviously enough all the control towers and the military bases are on the summits of the surrounding hills, in crucial positions from where it’s possible to scan every centimetre of the city. All the Palestinian houses at the same height have been demolished and all the tallest buildings have been closed down. It feels incredibly oppressing. Omar, another Palestinian friends, tells us how during the Second Intifada every night soldiers were shooting from this point to the Palestinian houses. Every night Hebronese families would hide in the bathroom, the safest part of the house because the less exposed, waiting for the shooting to end. On top of this there were frequent curfews during which Palestinians were not allowed to go out, not even for groceries. “The longest one was of 40 days”, Omar says. “We had to cross the fields and avoid all main streets to go buy something to eat”.

IMG_8779Violence, violence, violence.

Down the hill, in the heart of the old city, the open market quietly discloses a bit of life. The roof of the market is a net covered with trash thrown by the settlers who live in the houses above. We stop at every door because in every building there’s a family with a story to tell. Abdallah starts telling the story of the Sedeer family with growing anger in his voice, as we approach an old house which confines with the settlement:

Abed Al Rahman and his brother Shad in this house for 15 years and heir family has been living here for eight generations. In 2002, 300 settlers attacked their house, broke all the doors and threw the water tanks from the roof. Since then they’ve been continuously attacking their family, trying to force them to leave. In 2005, as Abed’s wife was to the roof checking the water tanks one of the settlers from Tal Rumeda shot her 5 bullets. She was pregnant.  She was transferred to the hospital and the doctors managed to save her child, but she died. Four years later, their kid went out to buy sweets and a settler threw a chemical water on him from the roof, hitting his eyes and making him blind.

The Israeli army continues failing to prevent these attacks and despite the frequent aggressions it doesn’t intervene and it tacitly allows the settlers to perpetuate their violent actions.

Propaganda for everybody!

IMG_7090Walking in the old city one feels like in an open-air museum of horrors: the walls seep grief and hatred, a hatred so thick and tangible to be perceivable in the air. These walls have turned into canvases scribbled with accusation and insults from both sides, leaving very little space to messages of hope and peace. What strike the most however are the Israeli propaganda posters attached everywhere: “This land was stolen by Arabs. We demand justice! Return our property to us!” recites one poster. Another one quotes the Bible : “1967, Liberation of Hebron and re-establishment of the Jewish community. ‘The children have returned to their own border’ (Jer 31:17)“. IMG_7196Many other “explanatory” signs are scattered around the main streets for unaware tourists to read: “After signing the Hebron Accords in 1997, Hebron was divided, leaving Jews the access to 3% of the city”. Too bad it doesn’t say that H2 actually constitutes 20% of Hebron, that Palestinians are not allowed to walk freely or to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs while settlers are escorted by dozen of soldiers and can even enter the mosque; too bad it doesn’t say that there are cameras on every rooftop to control every movement of every citizen, but when a settler hits a Palestinian those cameras magically turn on the other side. Too bad it doesn’t talk about the crazy settlers who try to run you over with their car as you walk in “their land”. I guess the sign is just too small for all this information.

As we walk on one side of the road, on the other side we cross a group of American Jews on a guided tour in the holy city. I then learn that young Jews all over the world are given the opportunity to participate to the Birthright, or Taglit: a free trip to Israel, to visit the land of their ancestors. I wonder what their tour guide is telling them: probably a very different story from the one Abdallah is telling us. In that very moment the paradox of the whole situation overwhelms me: I realize that some of them may think the same thing: they probably think that Abdallah is lying to us, while to me it seems as they have been distributed sunglasses to protect them from the truth and shields against reality; they have probably even been told that hummus is the traditional Israeli food and that the keffiyeh is a traditional scarf for Jewish weddings (as a settler told one of my friends outside a Palestinian shop). The ugliness of manipulation of history reveals itself to me with all its frightening power.

Is anyone up for some more Apartheid?

IMG_7215To take a break from our tour we stop at Munir’s shop in Shuhada street; a small room packed with colourful hand-made pottery, embroidery and old postcards. Munir offers us coffee and tea and then tells us how hard it is for him to carry on his business: Shuhada street used to be the trade centre of the city, but after its closure it is only visited by occasional tourists. He shows us pictures of the street in the ’90, portraits of an unrecognisable hustle. He has hundreds of anecdotes about his troubled everyday life: “One day I found the car of a settler parked in front of my shop, in a way that I couldn’t get in”. I waited for him to come back and asked him the reason of his behaviour. “I went to pray in the Synagogue”, he said. “Did God tell you to block my entrance?”, Munir asked. The settler stood silent and then left. “I have my ways to deal with them”, Munir adds.

The Ibrahim mosque is in front of his shop, patrolled by several soldiers, and the street who runs beside it is divided in two by a tall grid. Palestinians on one side, Israeli and foreigners on the other. What is this if not apartheid? Ah yes, I forgot: “Security reasons”.

IMG_7183The part of the city behind the mosque is a pile of debris, a display of the destruction left by the bombings of the Second Intifada. Behind the hill more settlements stand out in the landscape with their perfect red rooftops and their barbed wired walls, so purpose-made different from the surroundings, so arrogant and invasive, careless of the fact that they are all illegal according to International  law.

We leave Hebron unsure of what we experienced, full of anger and dismay. After seeing life here, any justification for Israel’s  behaviour and policies towards Palestinians in Hebron is simply unacceptable. Don’t these people deserve to live a normal life? Don’t these kids deserve to play something different from “kill the Jews?”. And don’t these Israeli soldiers deserve to spend their best years having fun, travelling and seeing the world, instead of playing with their guns and discharging their boredom on the first unfortunate Palestinian passing by? IMG_7173

After a week spent in this beautiful and sad city, without being an historian nor a politician of one thing I am more than certain: Hebron must be freed. 

More detailed information about the economical, political and social situation of Hebron can be found here.

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The Caveman

Among the steep hills between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, in the shadow of settlements on both sides and with a view on the Holy City there’s a small shack built of wood and metal sheets, surrounded by olive trees and a flowery garden: a little spot of paradise among destruction and occupation. The man who lives there is a shining example of resistance: his name is Abed, the Caveman. IMG_7417 Abdel Fattah Abed Rabbo is a 48 years-old man who decided not to give up his land and to stay. The Israeli government has already bought all the surrounding land but insists on its decision to acquire his five hectares of stony hillside. The purpose, Abed says, is obviously a new settlement which would become the biggest in the Jerusalem area.

Abed welcomes us in his “living-room”: an open space filled with flower pots and rickety couches, closed by curtains and decorated with paintings made by his supporters. A radio transistor dangling from the ceiling on a string buzzes in the background. He serves us a smoky herbal tea made with herbs from his garden, let us get comfortable and watches us while we get accostumed to this strange place. Then he starts telling, with the tone and the pace of a story that he has told a million times.

“This land belongs to my family since the time of the Ottoman empire: I have papers proving it from the Ottomans, from Jordan and even from the Israeli Government”. Shortly after 1948 and the birth of the state of Israel Abed’s mother had the presence of mind to register the land to the Israeli authority, while they were chased from their village and became refugees. Today Abed’s family, including his wife and his children live in Desheisheh refugee camp, but he prefers living in the nature. He’s been living here for twenty years now. “This is the only way I have to keep the land, but someone must always be here. I take turns with my son and I absent myself for maximum twenty minutes to go to the shop. I live waiting for the day that they’ll prevent me to come home”.

Many offers have been made to him so far, up to 50 million dollars. The last one was from Rami Levy, one of the biggest Israeli businessmen: he wanted to buy the place to build a wedding hall and promised Abed to return it to him in 5 years. When the American ambassador in Israel visited Abed he asked him: “What is that you want?”. His brillian answer was: “I want Obama to come here and have a cup of coffee with me“.

This is the truth: despite international law declared them illegal Israeli settlements keep popping up like mushrooms in all the strategic points of the West Bank and especially on the borders: the land-grabs are continuous and Palestinians almost never have a choice but to sell. Settlements are the most effective way to control what is left of the Palestinian territories; they are part of a well organized system made up of checkpoints, bypass roads, control of water and electricity and a series of legal loopholes that allow them to keep occupying Palestinian land. Abed’s obstinacy and courage are therefore his only weapons against this infernal machine.

However, his enemy doesn’t give up; the Israeli government already brought him to court several times with various pretexts: they claim that the shed is illegally built, just as the bathroom, the path, the doves’ house…Many international NGO’s helped him face these trials providing him lawyers and financial support, but there seems to be always a new reason to try to break him down and not all the strategies used to persuade him are legal: with a grim on his face Abed tells us how one day he came to the house and fed water to his doves. Immediately after the birds started to fall and die, making him realize that the water was poisoned.

In our two-days work at Abed’s land we planted trees along his path and helped him keep his land clean. When we left he had tears in his eyes: we hugged him and promised to come back; leaving that little endangered paradise behind our backs we hoped that all of our work won’t be destroyed to make space for more injustice. During all this time Abed became quite famous: many local, Israeli and international newspaper wrote articles on this serious and strong caveman who peacefully resists the occupation. Will the media attention be enough to save his cave? As Abed told us while calmly sipping his tea: “You see that olive tree outside my house? He’s very old but also incredibly strong. I’m just like him: I resist”IMG_8048

“Youth and Checkpoints in Palestine” by Abdallah Maraka

This is an article written by my friend Abdallah Maraka, a university student and a tourist guide in Hebron.

Palestine, a state in the Middle East, recently became the core of conflicts not just in the Middle East but in the world. Over the last forty years of  Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land, Israel implemented a policy of movement restrictions including checkpoints, earth mounds, trenches, gates, road blocks, bypass roads, the wall, and a complex system of permits.

I’m not going to write now about the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, but I would like to write about the youth in Palestine. The youth who represent approximately eighty percent of the population in Palestine. The youth who are living under occupation and who, for the major part, grew up under the occupation, the Palestinian youth who are dreaming about freedom every day in their life like any other young people in the world.

There are a lot of restrictions that youth face in Palestine. but I would like to focus on one type of restrictions which are the checkpoints, yes the checkpoints, which are like ghosts haunting them, because they are to be found any time inside a city, between cities or even at random, mobile locations, appearing and disappearing overnight. Internal checkpoints are located in many areas inside the cities, local inhabitants know them very well because they must pass through these kinds of checkpoints every day. When they go to school, or to work not only do they have to pass them, but they also have to go through a whole branch of dehumanizing and racist procedures.

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The checkpoint we went through in Hebron, between H1 (the part of the city under Palestinian control) and H2 (the part under Israeli control)

As you pass a turnstile gate, the soldier who controls this gate can close it any time he wants depending on his mood. When you are passing this gate you should not be carrying any metal items, electronic devices, and coins. And the soldier should scan these things for security reasons. Sometimes you need to take off your clothes if the soldier wants, regardless of the weather on that day. Even the Palestinian girls are sometimes forced to take off their cover without any consideration of the fact that they are humans and have rights. This is a small part of the procedures happening in the checkpoints that all young people face every day when they are moving from a place to another within the same city.

Now let’s talk a little bit about the mobile checkpoints. You cannot predict when and where you will face this kind of checkpoints, as they appear suddenly. For example, if you are going to visit your relatives and you are faced with a mobile checkpoint, you will not be surprised if they stop and ask for your ID without any reason. And if you have the courage to ask the soldier the reason for this inspection, the answer will depend on the soldier’s mood but the expected answer will be: “for security reasons” with a silly smile on the soldier’s face. Is this a really convincing answer?!

I live in a city called Hebron in the south in Palestine and if I want to see my friends living in other cities in the West bank, for example, visit someone in Ramallah (which is located in the middle of the West bank) I will probably have to pass through seven checkpoints without counting the mobile checkpoints. Going to Ramallah takes normally between 40 to 50 minutes without the checkpoints, but now, it takes more than an hour and a half. The most famous checkpoint on this road is called (Al-Conteener checkpoint) which is a source of continued suffering and ordeal for Palestinians especially for the youth.

Finally, I have only one thing to say to the whole world: as a Palestinian, I cannot accept this awful situation that the Israeli occupation forces us to be in. Freedom is our goal here in Palestine, it is not just a dream. Our rights will finally be respected one day and  we will be free from all the checkpoints and other occupation restrictions.

Refugee in your own country

In the last few days I’ve seen so many things that it’s hard for me to decide where to start from: I left home thinking that I already knew everything about Palestine and the conflict only to come here and realize that what Palestians have to face every day cannot be described with words. The more I know the more I feel powerless and yet I am conscious that I want knowledge; that I need it to keep my humanity complete, that only if I keep my eyes open I can say to be alive.

On one of the outside walls of Aida refugee camp someone wrote “Humans wake up!” IMG_7605We pass by and take pictures, then we go home and we share them thinking that we can do something about it, that we can show them and talk about them and raise awareness, but do we really wake up from our comfortable torpor? Walking in the narrow muddy alleys of this refugee camp I had the impression of living a bad dream. The reality I’ve been living in clashed with the one I saw there, as if that was not a real life situation but an artificial village, a simulation of life. Truth is, that was the reality and I had just been sleeping all my life. Waking up to reality is extremely unpleasant and irritating because it takes its share of humiliation and the admission that we’ve been wrong all along. Waking up hurts, but it is necessary to deserve living.

At a first glance, Aida refugee camp seems a quite decent place to live. A Palestinian friend tells me “Do not deceive yourself, this is a five-star camp”. Still it feels odd to enter in it by a huge door topped by an enormous key and a graffiti saying “We will return”, as if you were entering a parallel world cut out from reality.

This refugee camp was built in 1950 by the UN to host the people fleeing from 17 demolished villages of the northwestern area of Jerusalem, during the 1948 war. It was initially made up by 94 green, fabric tents tents and hosted 1,125 refugees, with the promise that they would have shortly returned to their houses. In 1956, UNRWA replaced these tents with cinder block housing units, each with one or two rooms measuring just 9×12 meters. New rooms started to appear on top of each other like sand-castles and the camp became a city in the city, with its shops and its schools.  Although the camp’s population continued to grow, its area didn’t and the current population is over 4,700 refugees living in 277 housing units: the result is a huge fake doll-house effect, an overcrowded labyrinth that gives the feeling to be trapped inside it. Nobody ever returned, because their houses do not exhist anymore. IMG_7295

In the Aida Youth Center we met Habashi and Karim, two activists who have grown up in Aida and who work in this center for the kids of the camp organizing various activities, sports and trainings. They took us on a tour and showed us the buildings: many have bullet holes in the walls, a mark left by the frequent gunfire and the strikes and invasions operated by the Israeli army during the first and the second Intifada. The tallest building of the camp is a school with no windows. “You want to know why there’s no windows?” Habashi asked. “In 2002, 20 kids were wounded by a bomb thrown by the soldiers, so they had to brick up all the windows”.

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While I watch little boys running around and hiding behind the corners I ask myself: how is it like to be afraid to go to school? To be afraid of playing soccer in the streets because a random gasbomb can be thrown at any time? To grow up playing at throwing rocks at the soldiers? Psychologically speaking it is devastating: in Gaza, a place where kids are 40% of the total population, the vast majority of the kids have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Only here you can find kids who try to commit suicide, kids who have no desire to live anymore. As Habashi guides us in the maze of streets and stairs he tells us how he used to live in one room with 17 people, and they used to take turns to sleep. He was put in prison when he was 18 with his 15 years-old brother. Why? “You are terrorists” was the answer. I never thought a kid could be a terrorist, never thought a kid could be jailed for throwing stones at the soldiers who stole him his childhood.

All refugees kept the key of their houses, and all of them have an ID who identifies them as refugees, the only paper they have to proove that they have the right to return. There are 85 refugee camps for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, Syria and Lebanon, and 5 million people holding their refugee ID. None of them did anything to deserve it and yet only the walls here are screaming to this injustice: poems and paintings of colorful lands filled with olive trees, forgotten landscapes of the old destroyed villages. “Here only the birds and the butterflies are free”, says the wall. The people don’t say anything anymore, but on their chest they hold on to their key.

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Welcome to Palestine

On my way to Bethlehem yesterday I met an Italian guy; a Jewish from Rome, visiting his brothers in Tel Aviv. After a really nice chat he told me: “Ti do un consiglio spiccio da pischello: non dare fiducia agli Arabi, mai, neanche se ti sorridono. Potresti rimetterci la vita”. (I’ll give you a practical advice: don’t ever trust Arabs, even if they smile at you. You may risk your life.”). I didn’t want to argue so I just kept silent but I realized that what my Israeli friends had told me the day before was true:”We -the leftist who oppose the government- are a minority. The vast majority just hates the Arabs”.

Hate is something difficult for me to understand: we all use the word hatred, but do we really mean it? Do we feel hatred growing in our stomach like a black smoky and suffocating cloud, so big that we need to let it out and have it devour the objects of our hatred?. Tal -one of the Israeli guys who hosted me- told me: “When I was doing the mandatory military service in Hebron I got scared: I saw little Jewish kids playing in the settlements, just a few steps away from Palestinian kids, and I saw the hatred in their eyes”. How can a child hate someone? The answer is not hard to find: when you grow up indoctrinated and brainwashed by your family, your religion and your culture, your perception of reality is distorted, your opinions are pre-constructed, your judgements are biased. Your mind is not free because your thoughts are channeled and it becomes hard to look at things objectively. Again, to me it all comes down to education.

However, taking off this prejudice-coated-glasses  is not impossible: it is not impossible to look at a Palestinian and inevitably notice that you have the same features, the same food, the same bad words and the same land under your feet. It is not impossible to see on a map how much land the Israeli government occupied from 1948 and keeps occupying with illegal  settlements: how many trees are uprooted, how many houses are destroyed, how many people are imprisoned. The cruelty of the military is under everybody’s eyes and yet very few accept to see it.

I arrived in Bet Jala in the afternoon and there I met the others volunteers and Rajeh, the coordinator of the camp. He took us to our house -an ex-school in the center of the village- where we had to come to terms with the extreme cold. It seems a paradox, but no house has a heating system in Palestine and this year’s snow took everyone by surprise. Coffee and tea have been our heaters for the past two days and I have never felt so much cold in my life: I cannot even think of how the refugees in the camps must feel.

Rajeh and his immense ranks of cousins have many stories to tell: they are my same age and yet they’ve been through so many unpleasant experiences: daily questionings, searchings, arrests, threats, the simple impossibility to move. All their parents have been in prison during the first Intifada, some for up to three years. Living in an occupied territory means that you’re constantly conscious that your land is not yours, you can be put in prison at any time just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a wall can be built between your house and that of your grandparents. It makes you constantly aware of your condition and of your limits. It makes you grow up faster.

Nevertheless, I never met such energetic and active people before. Nobody gave up, nobody lost hope. Is it even possible to lose hope? Or maybe hope is forced into you by a helpless situation, where losing hope would mean letting your soul die?

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I can see the separation wall from our balcony. This morning at 8am in a small house in Bethlehem there were eighteen people from Japan, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, Belgium, Algeria and Canada having Arabic coffee together. And yet outside our house there’s a wall that is separating Palestinians from Palestinians. Crazy huh?

Well, as Rajeh says: welcome to Palestine.

The infinite loveliness of the Israeli airport security.

December 20th, 4:39 am

It’s almost 5 in the morning  and I’m going to bed in a very nice hostel in downtown Tel Aviv where the owner was kind enough to accept me at this time of the night.

This wasn’t the plan: I should have landed, gotten out of the airport and met Alon -my couchsurfing host- to go sleep at his place.

Instead I spent four hours in a cramped little room and underwent four questionings, one more unpleasant and more invasive than the other; in the end I was exhausted. It all started at the passport control, where to the question: “What is the purpose of your visit?” I answered candidly :“Tourism….and a volunteer camp with a Palestinian organization”. I rushed to add that it was a peaceful, a-politic and a-religious organization, but I was immediately sent to “The suspected people room”.

My arrival was greeted with a compassionate smile by the other people who like me had been asked to wait to be questioned. It was a small square room with a few chairs and a coffee machine that was saying: “You’re gonna need me”. I checked my misadventure’s fellows: there was an American family with Pakistani origins, two Pakistani men, an American man with his Turkish wife, an Italian businessman and a young Dutch girl. More people joined us afterwards: an Austrian guy, a French girl, two Turkish men. Quite immediately we established a tacit ritual: a smile, a “Welcome” and the question “What brings you here?”. Each of us had something suspicious apparently: the Austrian guy had an Iranian father, the Dutch girl’s name was Leila, the Italian men had already been in too many Arabic countries, the French girl vas visiting her boyfriend who’s an activist in Palestine and all the rest, well, they were Muslims, duh…

The atmosphere was really cheerful and we tried not to think about how unrealistic and ridiculous it really was; the Pakistani man -who has been living in Miami for the past 25 years- told us that this was nothing compared to what he was submitted to after 9/11. Once in a while a woman would come in and call one of us only to send him/her back after some minutes. This procedure was repeated at least three time for each person. When they finally called me, after about an hour, I was taken in a small office where a really tired young woman asked me all those questions for which I had already prepared an answer: who is this Palestinian organization that you’re going to work with, what do they do, how do you know them… She noted down names and numbers and tried to be tough, but her exhaustion after a whole day of work showed that she was just mentally going through every question without giving to much importance to the answer, just because she had to do it.

I had to wait another hour before being called in again, this time by the ” real tough” guy. The interview with him revealed to be much more intriguing: he was very superficially nice and I was very ironically sweet. His questions were quite typical but he didn’t want to know what I was doing, he wanted to know why. Why do you study arabic? Why did you choose the Palestinian territories and not some other place? Why did you underline this passage of your guidebook and not this other one? Why do you have two credit cards? Why do you want to go to Nablus? Why did you write this name on your notebook? Why did this guy with an Arabic name wrote you a message? Why did you go to Lebanon twice? And why in such a short time? It felt like regardless of my actions, they were my feelings and my opinions to be wrong. I felt the little kid confessing his sins to the priest in church,  almost feeling the need to apologize. Apologize for what? For having Muslim friends? We are in 2013 and I live in Italy, who doesn’t have at least a Muslim friend? He wrote down my name in Arabic to test if I could read it, went through my notebook and my guidebook and took my phone to check my last calls and messages. The first three were from Joey, Amira and Mohamad: a Lebanese, a Tunisian and an Iranian. The coincidence almost made me burst into laughters. “So you’re going to sleep at this Israeli guy’s place that you met on couchsurfing right? and what would this couchsurfing be?” I was laughing again, couchsurfing must really be a suspicious name… The fact that he called me in three times was the most ridiculous part: by the third time I had realized that between one questioning and the other he probably just drank coffee and didn’t really do any checking. He just wanted me to walk back, sit, wait and get up again. He wanted frustration. Unfortunately I was always the cutest girl ever, making jokes and smiling like I was at the fairground. Every time I went back to the waiting room my companions were shocked: “Again? You must really be a bad girl!”. The Austrian guy tried to comfort me: “Don’t worry, they will let you in: last time I came it was a nightmare, but when he finally told me ‘You can go’ and I said ‘Okay, you’re the boss’, the guy answered ‘No, you are the boss’.

When after the fourth questioning they gave me my passport back I realized that he was right. They had to let me in because I was not doing anything illegal. The purpose of these four hours of waiting was not defense, it was not checking if I was a terrorist: it was a mere demonstration of their power, it was showing me what they can do. Not security measures, but intimidation.  It was as Oded Na’aman -ex Israeli soldier and co-founder of the NGO Breaking the silencewrote about the checkpoints:

“The checkpoints’ primary mission is to demonstrate presence, to exhibit the army’s constant surveillance and its overwhelming force. Because the checkpoints are pervasive and involve intense interaction with the civilian population, they have become the clearest expression of the IDF’s dual message to West Bank Palestinians: you cannot hide and you cannot fight; Israel is both omnipresent and omnipotent“.

I took my passport and walked out wishing good luck to all the new people who in the meanwhile had re-filled the waiting room. Outside that bubble of crazy paranoia I found a whole different world, made up of some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. I’ve been here only for two days and I already met an old guy who shared his life with me at the bus stop, two super-old ladies who walked me for a while without speaking a word of English and a man who kept his shop open on Shabbat only to let me buy a charger and three wonderful guys who are hosting me in their apartment. A whole different world, but I will never forget the infinite loveliness of the Israeli airport security.

19 Dicembre 2013, ore 19:45

E così sono partita.

Ancora non sono arrivata quindi è presto per cantar vittoria, ma ho fiducia nella cieca fortuna.  Seduta in un corridoio dell’aeroporto Sabiha Gökçen di Istanbul non faccio altro che pensare a che cosa mi aspetta.

Ho le farfalle nello stomaco; non ricordo l’ultima volta in cui ho provato questa sensazione viscerale di eccitamento mista alla paura, come mentre davanti allo specchio ci si prepara per uscire con un ragazzo per la prima volta. È la consapevolezza di non sapere cosa mi aspetta. Quando si parte senza hotel, senza piani e senza amici, tutto acquista un sapore diverso. Per la prima volta sono sola: non ho nessuno con cui lamentarmi delle attese e con cui giocare a carte in aeroporto, ma neanche nessuno con cui dover decidere, e soprattutto nessuno da svegliare al mattino (si Amira, parlo di te). Decido solo io: se partire, se restare, dove andare. È una libertà in equilibrio.

Chissà come sarà il campo, chissà che cosa imparerò, chi incontrerò, come cambierò. Sono partita a cuor leggero senza nessuna aspettativa; i miei occhi sono vuoti e aspettano di essere riempiti, i miei pregiudizi aspettano di essere distrutti, le mie convinzioni di essere smentite, le mie mani di essere strette da altre mani.

Oggi parto per un’avventura, ma ancora non lo so.