Checkpoint by Sidsel Wold (Palestine)

This is a resumé of Sidsel Wold´s book from 2006 published in Norwegian by Gyldendal.

Sidsel Wold has been the correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting corporation (NRK) in the Middle East for many years. The NRK cherishes its neutrality, but what does a correspondent do when injustice stares her in the face and she is on a sabbatical from her job?

Maybe she writes a book about her stay in Jerusalem. She writes from up close. You can smell the streets, see the flesh from the suicide bombers, smell the smoke from the water pipes and feel the November rain; you can see the living rooms, the tea-cups and the veiled girls…

Checkpoint takes its name from the many checkpoints that break up the daily lives of Palestinians, and ensures that the different Palestinian societies remain apart. To live in Gaza, or a refugee camp on the West Bank, or in a Palestinian-controlled part of the West Bank, or in Tel Aviv with an Israeli passport – these are completely different realities.

Gaza is hell on earth – and this was 2006! The main topic there seems to be death and martyrdom, and the murderous, blind violence meted out by Israel – or shall we call it the Zionist state?

The book makes a few points very clear that are familiar to those that know Israel, briefly summarised:

  • the settler invasion by the Zionists was well organised and well funded
  • the will to displace the indigenous population was there from the start
  • the Palestinians were ill equipped to withstand the onslaught, which essentially pitted the first world against the third world
  • the campaign to squeeze the arabs has gone on relentlessly since 1948
  • after the second Intifada the Wall came up, and security returned to Israel. With it, the will to make a meaningful peace with the Palestinians disappeared. They also disappeared

Wold brings a lot of nuance to our understanding of Israel, with its immigrant populations from myriad countries. It is criss-crossed by sectarian and social fault lines, but unified in its loyalty to the Israeli state. As an example, the rise of Likud is tightly linked with the rise of the political power of the Jews of Arab origin (sephardim, mizrahim) who had been held down by the Askhenazi Jews of European descent (those that spoke Yiddisch).

A few more points are worth mentioning, like the role of religion and tradition. For the Palestinians, religion and tradition often mean a patriarchical society where a womans´s destiny is to bear children and obey her husband. The theme is drearily familiar. It is hard to see how emancipation will take place in a situation where men are oppressed and locked into their roles as breadwinners and fighters. With the demise of the PLO and the rise of Hamas, the space for secular social  politics is limited.

On the Jewish side of the fence, religion also plays a central role, both as provider of identity for all Jews, and as a provider of destiny for religious settlers and the Orthodox. Both these groups seem to inhabit a universe where reason cannot penetrate.

It is often overlooked that about 1.2 million non-jews, mainly muslim arabs, carry an Israeli passport. They enjoy far more freedom than their relatives (figuratively and literally) in the West Bank and Gaza. But they are not wanted. They are not Jews, after all, and this “Nationality” is known by the state and has a huge effect on your prospects in Israel. Whether you are a Jew or not, is a question only the rabbis can decide (Wold does not state this latter fact anywhere, but Shlomo Sand has a lot to say on the issue of Israeli identity politics). And as unwanted citizens, they are discriminated against. Simply put, this is apartheid. One set of rights for me, one for the others. In this case the other is the Goy.

Sidsel Wold uses her skill and charm to connect with Jew and Palestinian, and she has the sensitivity and non-judgmental attitude which allows her to make meaningful connections with people and observations about life in Israel. And yet – her blood boils at the checkpoints.

“As I stand in line, I spot an elderly Palestinian in a green jacket and checkered keffiyeh on the other side of the road. He´s trying to move south on the West Bank. Clearly he was born long before the state of Israel saw the light of day. Two Israeli soldiers, a man and a woman, stop him. The old man gesticulates and tries to talk his way through the control post. A third soldier, sitting smoking on a concrete block with his legs crossed, looks the old man up and down.

– what, won´t they let you through? says the soldier and smiles mockingly. He´s enjoying himself. As always when I am upset, I put on my dark sunglasses. The female IDF soldier lights a smoke and leans into the concrete block.
– but I pass through here every day, says the Palestinian with mounting desperation
– “but I pass through here every day”, repeats the soldier and laughs out loud
– so, you´re here every day? That doesn´t mean you will get through today, you know! says the soldier teasingly. He looks at his colleagues, and they all laugh. The old man turns around slowly and starts on the long journey back.” (page 189)

This episode says it all, really. Occupation destroys the soul of the occupier. It´s about as far from the Jewish spirit as one can get.

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