Thursday, September 27, 2007


by Eileen

(Well, I suddenly have internet access, so I have a flurry of posts to get out. This is a reflection written by one of my wonderful teammates.)

The last two Friday nights, the Israeli army set up a ‘flying’ (temporary, mobile) checkpoint just outside Tuwani. Checkpoints on the highway beside Tuwani are a regular occurrence. One jeep, four soldiers and a string of spikes across the road constitute a checkpoint. Each time the soldiers show up, we go down to the road to monitor what is happening. We document the checkpoint, as well as any searches that take place and are present to respond in case of abuses.

Typically these temporary checkpoints last a few hours. Soldiers stop cars, check ID’s and search a few trunks. Much of the traffic in the area is actually foot traffic, people walking from villages around Tuwani to and from the nearby city of Yatta. Men, women and children, including infants in their mothers’ arms, are checked. Aside from settler traffic on the highway, which does not have to stop, soldiers mostly see a lot of tractors and sheep trailers. I wondered this Friday if they were going to search the sheep!

After seeing this countless times and failing to see the point, last night I asked one young soldier on duty what they were doing. He said they were “looking for stolen cars or weapons.” Still curious I followed up, “Do you find a lot of weapons this way?” “No. The people with the weapons see the checkpoint and make a U-turn. There’s nothing we can do.” Since I felt he understood me, and also because I was tired of standing around on a cold windy night, I pressed a bit and said, “So that makes this kind of pointless, huh?” Now were both smiling, and he said, “Yes. If it were up to me, I’d be home in bed.”

They can’t possibly find anything using this method. Not that I'm convinced there's anything to find. The soldiers and jeeps are visible from a half mile away. Anyone who might be trying to move contraband could simply wait until the soldiers leave. Everyone knows this, including the soldiers.

But there must be some point to it. Otherwise why are these soldiers ordered time and time again to set up these checkpoints?

On Saturday, soldiers again set up a flying checkpoint just outside Tuwani. This group of soldiers seemed particularly dangerous. They were wrestling with one another and pointing the laser guides of their automatic weapons at objects in the darkness. They were rude and rowdy, particularly as the evening wore on. When they turned up the American rock and roll music, I wondered if this is what the US occupation in Iraq looks like.

After waving a pick-up truck along, one soldier pointed the laser guide of his automatic weapon at the abdomen of the young boy riding in the back of the truck. The boy said something, and then the laser point moved, appearing next on the child’s face.

It was then I thought I could see the point, tragic and awful as it is. It isn’t about finding weapons or stolen cars. It’s not about finding the bad guy. It’s a display of power. Checkpoints are a way of reminding everyone, even the kids, who’s in charge. If that’s the point, then these flying checkpoints certainly do that.

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