APARTHEID LOOKS LIKE THIS
The scene: a military checkpoint deep in Palestinian territory in the West Bank. A tall, thin elderly man, walking stick in hand, makes a detour past the line of Palestinians, many of them young men, waiting obediently behind concrete barriers for permission from an Israeli soldier to leave one Palestinian area, the city of Nablus, to enter another Palestinian area, the neighboring village of Huwara. The long queue is moving slowly, the soldier taking his time to check each person’s papers.
The old man heads off purposefully down a parallel but empty lane reserved for vehicle inspections. A young soldier controlling the human traffic spots him and orders him back in line. The old man stops, fixes the soldier with a stare and refuses. The soldier looks startled, and uncomfortable at the unexpected show of defiance. He tells the old man more gently to go back to the queue. The old man stands his ground. After a few tense moments, the soldier relents and the old man passes.
Is the confrontation revealing of the soldier’s humanity? That is not the way it looks – or feels – to the young Palestinians penned in behind the concrete barriers. They can only watch the scene in silence. None would dare to address the soldier in the manner the old man did – or take his side had the Israeli been of a different disposition. An old man is unlikely to be detained or beaten at a checkpoint. Who, after all, would believe he attacked or threatened a soldier, or resisted arrest, or was carrying a weapon? But the young men know their own injuries or arrests would barely merit a line in Israel’s newspapers, let alone an investigation.