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General History

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Showing 1 - 20 from 38 entries

> Images of a tour in Palestine 100 years ago
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> The moral economy of a checkpoint
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The moral economy of a checkpoint
   
submitted by Jerusalem Quarterly
20.01.2008

On the Importance of Thugs
Rema Hammami

Jerusalem Quarterly
Ed. 22-23

For almost three years, the final leg of the commute between Birzeit University and Ramallah meant a one- to two-kilometre walk through the obstacle course of rubble mounds and concrete blocks of the no-drive zone known as the Surda checkpoint. On either side, knots of transit vans jammed into the narrow road waiting to carry passengers off to their final destination (for many travellers, this was simply another checkpoint). The worst days were those when trigger-happy Israeli soldiers suddenly prohibited the stream of travellers from this daily hike, and literally thousands of students on one side and as many villagers on the other were stuck. More usually, soldiers set up shop a few hours a day and toyed with the droves of walking commuters - stopping all or a select few for interminable searches of bags or identity cards, or trying to ‘organize’ the transit vans and checkpoint peddlers by ramming into their stands or vehicles with their jeeps. At the checkpoint three people were shot to death by the Israeli military, another two died in traffic accidents among the crush of transit vans, at least one man died of a heart attack as he was wheeled across on a metal stretcher, two babies were born behind a rubble mound, untold numbers of young men were beaten by soldiers - often in full view of everyone - and no one can count the numbers of injured at the demonstrations that were staged in a futile attempt to get rid of the thing.

On an early morning in December 2003, I arrived for my walk and realized something was up: there were hardly any vans, no taxis, no peddlers and down at the bottom of the hill, in the dip of the road, a large group of people stood in front of a military bulldozer. I went over to Abu Abed, the organizer of the Ford vans on the Ramallah side of the checkpoint, and asked if it was a demonstration.

“No, they want to clear the checkpoint away,” he answered, “but all those people got stuck coming from the other side and now they want to be heroes - for nothing. The bulldozers been trying to remove the concrete blocks, but they won’t get out of its way.”

So another day of clearing away the checkpoint had come. I went over to the rainbow-coloured coffee van/stand that had been servicing the drivers for almost two years, and asked them what they thought. They gave me the national anthem: “Al-humdulillah. We’re happy that the people don’t have to suffer anymore.” A camera crew made its way down to the bottom of the hill - this was the only type of checkpoint event they came out for.

Then I saw Iyad and Ibrahim, two of the porters, pushing their empty carts up the hill. Iyad was glum. “Ayadat. It’s gone on holiday. They want to open it up.” So what do you think? I asked. “I’m not worried,” he said. “It will be back.”

It wasn’t long before Abu Abed came over to let off some steam. “Look, here I had 150 vans working this side. Count them. Each one is probably looking after ten others. That’s 1,500 people who aren’t going to eat in a few days. See these two boys from Jenin,” he gestured. “This one’s family put all of their money into his van two weeks ago. Now what are they going to do?”

For the remainder of the article, see:
http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org/details.php?cat=2&id=8

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