Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Omar and the Checkpoint:
The Essential Story that is Rarely Told
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, March 3, 2014
Omar is a 7-year-old boy from Gaza. His family managed to
obtain the necessary permits that allowed him to cross the Erez checkpoint
to Jerusalem, through the West Bank, in order to undergo surgery. He was
accompanied by his father. On the way back, the boy and his father were
stopped at the Qalanidya checkpoint, separating occupied East Jerusalem
from the West Bank. The father needed another permit from the Israeli
military to take his son, whose wounds were still fresh hours after the
surgery, back to the strip. But the soldiers were in no obliging mood.
This story was reported in its painful details by an Israeli rights
activist Tamar Fleishman, of Machsomwatch (checkpoint watch). Her name is
synonymous with the Qalanidya checkpoint, because she has been hovering
there for countless hours, reporting on the Israeli military’s infuriating
torment of Palestinian travelers. Her report, although painful to read,
shed a light on a side of the Israeli occupation that oftentimes goes
unnoticed. Many speak of Israel’s checkpoints dotting the occupied
territories, but few truly appreciate the real experience of living life
imprisoned between checkpoints, by being held hostage to the temperament
of unruly soldiers.
Omar’s “body was still full of anesthetics
(as he) collapsed on the metal bench at the shed in front of the DCL
offices at Qalandiya checkpoint,” Fleishman wrote in the Palestine
Chronicle. “It was very cold as the day turned into evening. Omar’s father
took his leather coat off and wrapped it over his son. Omar didn’t open
his eyes. Neither the healthy eye nor the one that was swollen from the
surgery. He kept sleeping. He seemed to be in a state between sleep
and loss of consciousness.”
The story goes on, and seems to never
end. Omar is a representation of every Palestinian child and his dad
embodies every Palestinian parent living under occupation.
heartrending photo, also taken by Fleishman, is of him lying awkwardly at
the metal bench, covered by a black leather coat. The boy was likely
unaware of much of the reality that encircled him. He might have heard his
father pleading his case to the soldiers; or felt the gentle caressing of
his hair by a Palestinian mother, also held at the checkpoint; he might’ve
even sensed the cold air penetrating his skin to his frail bones. Or he
might’ve felt nothing at all. But still, Omar, is every sick Palestinian
and his story symbolizes the very depravity at the heart of the Israeli
Omar is not a poster child for victimhood. His pain
and that of his dad should not merely invoke sights of petty, or
philosophical diatribes of how the occupation is killing Israel’s soul, or
reignite yet more arguments of what ‘solution’ to the ‘conflict’ we
like most. Neither the action of the soldiers, that of their military and
political superiors, or of those who have armed and financed them (mainly
the United States and European countries) are in the least influenced by
fervently debated political and academic discourses. They simply have the
means and power to maintain such a colossal matrix of control that turns
the lives of ordinary Palestinians into a never-ending nightmare, and they
have no reason to stop.
And why should they? Israel’s military
occupation is a hugely successful business venture. Jewish settlers are
rarely aware of how their presence in occupied land constitutes a
violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. It’s a
war crime. But do they know that? And if they do, should they care?
They live in government subsidized housing, connected through a very
costly road system - preserved for ‘Jews only’ back to Israel - enjoy
numerous perks, ones that even those living in Israel cannot access.
Settlers siphon Palestinian water from West Bank aquifers, while
Palestinians barely get by with a small share of their own water
resources. Settler children receive excellent healthcare, the best
schooling, and their parents cruise around with nice cars as they enjoy
the finer things in life. Most Palestinians subsist at a low-income and
live life negotiating access through checkpoints, from the day they are
born, until the day they die, and every day in between.
leaders thrive at the political support they receive from settlers, and
cringe at the very thought of losing favor with the most messianic and
ultra-nationalist and rightwing among them. The Israeli army is deployed
throughout the West Bank - aside from ensuring that the Palestinian
population is thoroughly subdued – to safeguard settlers and settlements.
The checkpoints, like those of Qalandiya, are there to serve that purpose.
As in many checkpoints in and around the West Bank, the fast lane is
reserved for Jewish settlers, who are ushered in with ease. While
Palestinians have to squeeze between concrete walls, giant cement blocks
or fences as they wait to plead their case to the soldiers.
of the checkpoint’s waiting areas look like massive cages. Ma’an news
agency reported on January 6 that a man was crushed to death at the
Ephraim/Taybeh checkpoint near the West Bank city of Tulkarem. 59-year-old
Adel Muhammad Yakoub from the village of Balaa “died as a result of
extreme overcrowding,” it reported. “Some 10,000 Palestinian workers
cross through the checkpoint every day and that inspection procedures at
the checkpoint go very slowly causing dangerous levels of overcrowding
inside the checkpoint.”
Yakoub left behind a wife and seven
children. Now, 9,999 workers continue to cross through the Taybeh
checkpoint. Even if the Israeli army increased the number of soldiers that
process the permits for Palestinian workers, or enlarged the cage-like
fences a few feet to the right or left, the fundamental question remains:
what will compel Israel to end its occupation, tear down its walls,
fences, and bring this horrific and protracted episode to an end?
How long will it be before Palestinian workers push back the fences and
soldiers who take part in the collective and daily torment of hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians?
As for the rest of us, will we
continue to espouse this banal debate: one side that justifies Israel’s
action, at times in the name of God and his ‘Chosen People’ and at others
in the name of ‘security; and another side that is stuck promoting
Palestinian victimization as if an end in itself, without much
understanding of the true political underpinnings, or the sheer desire to
carry out tangible acts of solidarity for the likes of Omar and his dad?
Omar was finally woken up by his distressed father, who managed
to produce the boy’s original birth certificate (a copy, said, Fleishman,
is unacceptable); and both, after a long wait, were allowed to go home to
Gaza before Erez was scheduled to close. But still, another Omar must be
waiting at some checkpoint, somewhere, with his original birth certificate
in hand, accompanied by a distressed relative, beseeching the sense of
morality of an unfeeling soldier, who has none.
- Ramzy Baroud is
an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor
of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).