This trip has been intense thus far yes, but everything reached a new high when we approached one of the busiest checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank. Sitting on the bus we were told by our Welsh-born Israeli guide, Lydia, that there are absolutely no pictures at the checkpoint. While we’ve been talking about many serious topics surrounding the conflict this was the first time I felt such an intense sense of urgency in her voice. As we began thinking about it, however, we wondered why documenting these checkpoints is so forbidden. If the Israelis wholly believe that what they are doing is both legal and necessary to the security of the Jewish people why do they feel the need to assure there is no evidence?
The moment we stepped off the bus was the first time I felt truly uncomfortable. Lydia told us the soldiers were just barely okay with letting her bring groups of foreigners into the area to witness the checkpoints and I could so palpably feel the tension. As we stood by the entrance I felt such a strong urge to know each one of their stores in-depth. I wanted to know if the men coming back from their work in construction were heading back to a wife and four children, or an aging father, or a home full of warm and boisterous extended family. I wanted to know how they felt each time they had to go out of their way and pay extra simply to make their living. Was it worth it for the young male students traveling to get a good education? Would they be able to live their passions or would they be turned away at another checkpoint? To me it seems like such a lack of independence. Melissa told us that ” it all depends on the whim of the Israeli soldier”. How can one person, one young man usually, hold that power over another young man, the only difference between them being that one is Israeli and one is Palestinian? So often one will describe a “security fence” and one will describe a “separation wall” while talking about the same issue. Even between Lydia and Hazam (our Palestinian driver) I can feel the tension of the conflict. They may have sympathies for or a desire to understand the other side but they are still working on either side of the divide. The complexities and intricacies of the view points continue to amaze and overwhelm me.
The more Palestinian faces we see trudging through the checkpoint on their elongated joinery home the less I want to leave. Despite how unwelcome and out-of-place I was I felt as though I could have stayed there simply watching forever. How many families will I see pull out their identification and submit to an occupation before I lose the abilities to see the Israeli side? Similarly, how long might it take for me to see enough possible bombers get caught before I understand the Israeli justification? It seemed impossible last night, but the conflict has only gotten more real as another day goes by. In this reality sits a seemingly vast extent of “It’s complicated”. I cannot think of a better or more frustrating word to describe what I’ve learned, seen, and felt on the beginnings of this trip.