The security check isn’t the worst part. The security check itself, at least for internationals, feels innocuous, even reasonable. But the checkpoint is not about security, at least primarily; it is about waiting. The checkpoint is the place where you experience the Zionist entity’s lack of time for you, whether you are an international coming from the West Bank, a West Bank resident, an East Jerusalem resident, or a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. There is no bypass line for Israeli citizens or internationals – and while this may be something good because such a line would only radicalize the apartheid situation, it also emphasizes the lack of respect Israel has for the the people in the West Bank generally.
The waiting is indeterminate; you don’t know how long you will wait. I’ve been through in ten minutes, in thirty minutes, in over an hour, and I know others for whom the line has been multiple hours. The procedure is slow – three at a time, airport style scanner and metal detector, everyone show their ID or passport, and their permission or visa is checked if applicable. When something goes awry, when the soldiers decide they need to make a problem for someone who tries to cross with a permission, everyone is looking at them. It is a place of highly focused attention, and yet boredom at the same time because everyone is waiting to be out of here, and some are more afraid than others that they will not pass at all.
The checkpoint could be built in a way that emphasizes security, a way that treats those who pass through as humans rather than problems. It would be slightly more expensive because it would have to be staffed at a level where the wait times were shorter and more predictable, and it would have to be built in a way that doesn’t make you feel you are in a cattle sorting machine. But I believe the principle reason it is not built or run that way is because of the racist ideology in this place – if you aren’t Jewish, you just aren’t worth spending money on here.
I’m starting to see that asking the question of whether Israel is a “democracy” is just the wrong question. Of course it has some characteristics of a democracy in the sense that there are elections, but it lacks the essential characteristic of democracy that is a universal concept of citizenship and religious equality – on those grounds it looks more like an apartheid state because it is set up to systematically favour one ethnic group over others. But I think it’s just much more useful to think of Israel as a Zionist country, a country where the ideology of Zionism dominates both the political system and all the state institutions. Of course there are slightly different versions of Zionism, so the political scene is not completely homogeneous, but the dominant principles of Zionism – that Jews should migrate to Palestine and that Jews should dominate over other peoples in the land of Palestine – are pursued by all political stripes.
I realized this after the Israeli president’s recent absurd move to give financial and moral support to a settler group which lives in a settlement illegal even by Israeli law. His proposed solution is rather than to tear down (or leave? this wasn’t even mentioned as a possibility) the houses on the private Palestinian land where they sit, instead to cut them into pieces and re-assemble them at another settlement, which although illegal by international law is legal by Israeli law. This will cost something like ten times what it would cost to tear down and rebuild the houses, and it’s unclear why the state is even obliged to do that – shouldn’t they hand the settler’s a bill for the demolition of their houses, the same as they hand Palestinians bills for the demolition of the houses that they had no choice but to build because they couldn’t get building permits to build on their own land?
The fact that the Israeli president would venture such extreme financial support for a group which exists to prevent the peace process from moving forward makes it clear that what dominates this country is not its democratic character, which implies equal rights and no racial supremacism, but Zionism – an ideology in which Jews are more valuable than other people, and therefore in which it makes sense to give massive financial support to groups colonizing private Palestinian land, while spending always as little as possible to pacify an Arab population.
In Israel, the Arabs are second class citizens because Zionism prescribes it that way. So long as Israel remains a Zionist country the question of whether it is a democracy or not simply misses the question.