Today I am leaving Palestine. Of course that means, I’m already “in Israel”, at least according to common speech. But it is not so easy to get to “Israel” from the territories, although it helps to be white.
This morning I thought leaving at 5am was responsible enough, needing to get to my share taxi in Jerusalem by 7am. But oh no, it’s Ramadan which means the checkpoint is insane on friday morning. Of course, this made for an interesting learning experience. I thought going through the checkpoint wouldn’t be too bad, so I opted to walk with the huge crowds of men rather than find a taxi to take me around, through the settler checkpoint (which I prefer to avoid). The line was big, but moving. A crowded mass of Arab men, huddled, pushing towards the front, desperately wanting to get to al-Quds for friday prayers. I met a few people in the crowd, including a nice Palestinian-American who explained that, although he had an American passport, because he was here as a green card he has none of the rights a non-Palestinian american citizen would have in this place. I was the only non-Palestinian in the crowd, the only one wearing a backpack, I stuck out like a sore thumb. But I didn’t feel out of place, the checkpoint is for anyone.
Actually, the whole time waiting in the line I felt a kind of total detachment from the situation I was in. It was beautiful, I wish I’d taken pictures – the sun was rising, moon was setting, and I was amongst hundreds of Arab men, all dressed in their friday best, all off to pray. I spent the time thinking about apartheid, thinking about what it means to be cut off from your holy site by a state more interested in spreading its privileged israeli lifestyle into more and more settlements, leaving palestinians the crumbs and making their lives hell. Would it be acceptable to make Jewish crowds of mourners wait like this to protect Arab citizens? Clearly not (the existence of the Hebron settlement is proof of this, perhaps). I felt good standing there, weirdly, because I knew that the experience I was having would make me stronger in the future – would make me more able to explain passionately and convincingly the situation here. It gave me a greater ability to stand in solidarity with the people here.
However, once I got through what I thought was the checkpoint, I had simply entered the checkpoint. The crowd was huge, and the line was not moving at all. I waited for 15 minutes and gave up. I calmly asked the soldiers if I could pass through the “humanitarian” gate, which bypassed the second checkpoint, but my story about having a plane to catch did not fly with them. “This is the rule today”, they responded.
Their “rule”, however, is only worth the paper that money is printed on. A fistfull of sheckles and I found a local to drive me to the nearby settler checkpoint. I got ripped off a bit – I thought he meant he would drive me into Jerusalem, but in fact he couldn’t cross the checkpoint himself. On the other side of the checkpoint I was lost – not knowing when a bus would come, but taxis demanding to take me to the airport as soon as they found out that was where I was going. I ended up taking a taxi. It didn’t cost anymore than the taxi from Toronto to the Toronto airport, and it was a lot more useful (it saved me having to take a taxi into Jerusalem, a bus to Tel Aviv, and a train to the airport. I might have made it in time, but it would have been a very annoying trip).
The airport itself is something I’ve been stressing about since last night. But there was nothing to worry about, I wasn’t investigated or seriously questioned. They searched my bag, but there was nothing to find. They didn’t go through nooks and crannies, where they might have found a Palestinian change purse, and the postcards I’ve written but won’t mail till Canada.
The worst thing about the airport, it turns out, is that it’s “in Israel”. And what I mean by that is I’m surrounded by Israeli culture, I feel my grip on Palestine slipping away. It reminds me of when I felt my grip coming back, looking out the windows of the service arriving in Jerusalem six weeks ago.
I like Palestine. You can find pure people here, strong people, you can find strength holding itself against power. It makes me hate the weakness of the west, our inability to disrupt, our deep drugged state in which the status quo is our golden cow. Israel, I don’t care about Israel. Other than its zionist politics, I find nothing about it that interests me. Every cultural achievement I see as part and parcel of a society built on lies, built on the fundamental denial of indigenous rights, a denial which isn’t just in the past but which is re-affirmed in every moment so long as the refugees demand to return.