February 6, 2004
Unjust Practices Against
[Bethlehem, West Bank] Bethlehem
is a crazy place. I have no idea what's going on. There have been
invasions into Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. A person was killed,
others were arrested. Bethlehem is still under a closure -- whatever
that means. And some sort of curfew for various places at various
times. Who knows what is going on where? Is it because the Israeli
security (separation, apartheid) wall is being built near the
checkpoint? Does a closure mean that Palestinians are not allowed
in or out? Or only at certain times? Or no one is allowed to cross
the checkpoint? Or just internationals? Or just Christian Zionists?
Or just UN delegations? Or just Jewish visitors to Rachel's Tomb?
This morning a close Palestinian
taxi-driver friend of mine dropped off a man at the main Bethlehem
checkpoint. For doing his job, Israeli soldiers detained him outdoors
in the cold and drizzle for four hours. They told my friend that
he needed a permit to take a person to the checkpoint. What? A
permit to take someone to the checkpoint? What the heck is that?
I have asked a dozen people, and no one has ever heard of this.
I think it was just an excuse to hold my friend. It's the standard
policy of harassment and humiliation. My friend has driven thousands
of people to various checkpoints over ten years, and today he
suddenly needs a permit? Of
course, this kind of thing is not unusual. Dozens of men and women
are detained every day. Sometimes I have seen hundreds standing
I visited several checkpoints today
to try to get a handle on what was going on. After visiting them,
I still had no idea. I passed through the main checkpoint several
times without incident. I asked the lone soldier posted there
for walkers if I could pass back and forth. Sure, no problem at
all for me. But there wasn't one other person walking through
the checkpoint either time I was there. I did see about thirty
Palestinian men spread-eagle on the outside rock wall across the
road from me. I guess they had violated some law that I hadn't.
Things like the detainment of my
taxi driver friend and holding men with valid Israeli papers really
make me angry. Come on! These are men who obey all of the Israeli
rules, and they still get treated like trash. It has nothing to
do with improper behavior. Nothing to do with anything they personally
have control over. They get treated like garbage because their
parents happened to be Palestinian. Is this fair? You know how
my taxi driver friend sees his detainment? He say, "thank
god I wasn't arrested and taken away."
I've always struggled with the injustice
I see here everyday. It's very difficult for me to process and
understand. In fact, I don't understand it. I find it incredibly
difficult to believe that I am living in the modern civilized
world and democratic state policies exist that include blatant
forms of racism.
The Dalai Lama observed in "The
Art of Happiness" that "some people in modern Western
society tend to go through life believing that the world is basically
a nice place in which to live, that life is mostly fair, and that
they are good people who deserve to have good things happen to
them. The inevitable arising of suffering undermines these beliefs
and can make it difficult to go on living happily."
I think this is my problem. I don't
expect people to have to endlessly endure unjust situations. Naively,
I think the world is fair or -- like my good neighbor Ed offers
-- that it should be. When I see the situation, and it never changes,
I feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall. Alternatively,
my taxi-driver friend sort
of accepted his undeserved trouble. He understood that because
he is a Palestinian living in an area controlled by the 37-year-long
Israeli occupation, life is not fair. Today he was just glad that
it wasn't worse.
Checkpoint, empty except for two bulldozers on the left.
Bethlehem driver, waiting at Beit Jala.