A Visit To Shu’afat Checkpoint / August 26, 2013
Here are some brief impressions of our time with Ronny at the Shu’afat checkpoint. First, it was shocking to see the watchtower and high walls topped with barbed wire surrounding the area, giving the impression of Aushwitz or of a US prison I have visited, not of a Jerusalem neighborhood. It was hard to understand the necessity for such a massive barrier between people of the same city especially when there was daily commerce between them, and this was not a prison. The dirt, disrepair, and obvious illegal drug center showed at best, clear government disrespect and neglect, and at worst, provocation and abuse. Inside Shu’afat, normal life was bustling. It was mid-morning. Women were marketing, men were delivering fruits and vegetables from trucks to vendors, and we visited a clinic where women and children were waiting to be seen, and the manager graciously spoke to us about medical and psychological services in the area. Leaving Shu’afat we were detained because my husband, my husband did not have his passport. The young Israeli soldier and another armed guard would not let my husband go back into the Jewish section of Jerusalem without showing his passport (which he had left at the hotel) despite his having many other valid forms of ID including a New York State drivers license with his photo. The fact that I was there with my passport and other ID which had the same last name and address as my husband made no difference. Ronny explained we were colleagues visiting Israel for the first time. My husband said he was not aware that he was required to carry his passport when traveling through Israel. I asked who we could possibly be that would necessitate detaining us and the soldier answered “you could be leftist sympathizers” as though it were obvious that to have a leftist point of view was reason for detention and potentially criminality. Ronny and I returned to the hotel for the passport, returned to Shu’afat with it, and showed it to the soldier. He glanced at it and let my husband go. The message I got was that the soldier had the power to cause inconvenience to us and he would use it if he felt like it. The message came through even more powerfully and very distressingly when as we walked through to the other side of the checkpoint, we saw a young man at the top of the wall carefully separating a section of barbed wire, and then climbing/jumping down to leave Shu’afat. My husband said this man had just been turned away inside. The “escape” was in full view of the watchtower and guards. If this man’s papers were incorrect, why was he let over the wall? If the soldiers were going to allow him to go through without correct papers, why did they make him climb the wall and cut himself on the wire, and jump 25 feet? It all felt very crazy – about arbitrary intimidation and expression of power, not about safety.