by Stephen Maher
Crossing the checkpoint into Ramallah was an experience, which I will remember for the rest of my life. The word “checkpoint,” or machsom in Hebrew, doesn't really do the experience justice. The machsom would be more accurately described as a gateway to another world. The tourist-friendly, historic atmosphere of Jerusalem, while only five miles away, is light years from al-Bireh, the first town across the Qalandia checkpoint before entering Ramallah proper. The run down, poverty-stricken area is marred with dilapidated buildings, graffiti, and littered with disabled automobiles in various states of disrepair.
The Arabs, in their tattered and worn rags, bear little resemblance to the wealthy Jewish nightclub patrons wearing fashionable designer clothes and carrying expensive handbags purchased from the large new malls on the other side of the wall, itself a sickening and enraging eyesore. The people here are penned in, excluded from the wealth and pomp of Israeli society, not merely informally, as are the Jerusalemite Arabs, but literally and directly by a massive concrete barrier complete with sniper towers to ensure its total impermeability.
The border between Israel and the West Bank is approximately 320 km, but the wall is 820 km long, snaking and zigzagging deep into Palestinian territory in order to annex the most valuable land and water resources, protect the illegal settlements, and divide what remains of Palestinian lands into isolated bantustans, destroying even the territorial contiguity within the West Bank. The checkpoints, which make movement from one bantustan to another a very time-consuming and often humiliating affair, also assist in achieving these goals.
Crossing to the Arab side of the wall and seeing for the first time “life on the other side,” a sense of rage and despair overwhelmed me. My colleague, with whom I had been conversing, continued speaking to me as I nodded vacantly, my thoughts elsewhere. The grotesque injustice, the inhumanity, and the racism of Zionist ideology were immediately apparent. It was, to put it mildly, a total shock to the system. I felt like running away, crying and screaming. I wanted to smash the wall down with my bare hands, and with it the whole establishment and rotten ideology, which maintained and fed it. Surely this could not be the real world.